Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagna

Today marks the beginning of something I’ve been looking forward to, and I don’t mean that my kitchen renovation is underway—we are still waiting, but we do at least have good news today. After a few false starts related to the delivery of our new cabinets, we finally got word from Matt, our contractor: “We have the cabinets!!” So that hurdle is cleared and now the real chaos (the tearing out of the existing kitchen) is slated to begin on Friday (Yay)!

The delay gave me enough time to whip up a few dishes that I would have otherwise missed, including this one, which is a flavorful shout out to the significance of this day.

What I’m referring to is Autumn Equinox, otherwise known as the first full day of fall, but affectionately known at my house as the start of soup and stew season, the unpacking of my favorite sweaters, the countdown to the first flick of the switch on the gas fireplace, and the return of the hot toddy, and I am loving all of the above.

In fact, it feels like the perfect time to introduce you to one of my favorite homemade autumn-themed dishes, this butternut squash lasagna, which I first started making almost 10 years ago. This comforting casserole is layered, not with Italian seasonings or tomatoes or mozzarella, but with flavorful, seasonal vegetables, including onions and kale, two kinds of mushrooms and oven-roasted butternut squash. Nestled between the vegetable layers you’ll find a lemon-scented ricotta, shredded fontina and a creamy, cheesy bechamel that is spiked with even more butternut squash. It is rich and satisfying, even without meat, and makes my taste buds very happy.

Layer upon layer of comforting fall flavor!

There is nothing complicated about this meal but, like any lasagna, it does take some time to pull together. My suggestion is to break it up into two days; prep the separate components ahead of time, so assembly and baking will be a snap on the second day. The other thing that is great about this dish is that you can customize it to increase the amounts of favorite ingredients and reduce any of the others that are not favorites. If you prefer more squash and less kale, just swap the amounts and change up the layering.


Ingredients

1 medium or large butternut squash, peeled and cubed* (see notes)

1 large bunch curly kale, washed and stripped of heavy stems*

12 oz. fresh mushrooms (I used a combination of cremini and shiitake)

1 medium onion, chopped

14 oz. whole milk ricotta, strained of excess liquid

2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

Zest of one lemon (organic is best)

1 large egg

4 Tbsp. butter (either salted or unsalted is fine)

4 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

2 cups whole milk

1 bulb roasted garlic

1 cup shredded gouda cheese*

A few shakes ground white pepper

Freshly grated nutmeg (about 6 passes on a microplane)

Enough lasagna noodles or sheets for three layers of it in your preferred pan*

2 cups shredded fontina cheese*

About 1/3 cup grated parm-romano blend


*Notes

Part of the squash will be cubed and roasted, and the rest will be simmered and mashed to be blended into the bechamel. I usually use the smooth neck part of the gourd for roasting, and the round part, which usually appears stringy after cleaning out the seeds, gets boiled and mashed to be added to the bechamel sauce. Keep this in mind as you prep the squash.

For this year’s version of my recipe, I went heavier on the kale than usual. It would be perfectly fine to use half as much, and perhaps double the mushrooms or increase the butternut squash to make up some of the volume. You could also substitute swiss chard or spinach; it all depends on your palate.

I chose Gouda and fontina cheeses for this dish because of their creamy, meltable texture and rich, nutty flavors. Some other cheeses would work well in this dish, including Havarti, Gruyere, raclette, mild white cheddar or Monterey jack. I do not recommend mozzarella, which has too much “pull.” 

Normally, I use a special square lasagna baking dish, but we are in the middle of planning for this remodel, and darned if I can find it! No worries, I pulled out a glass 9 x 13 and it worked great. The noodles do not have to be boiled first; I usually just moisten them for several minutes in hot water while I get everything else into place. If the noodles are layered next to ingredients with plenty of moisture, they will cook just fine.

We are still trying to trim down the pantry, so I used the random lasagna noodles we already had!

Prep the Squash

Divide the squash so that you have uniform cubes from the neck of the squash, which you will toss in olive oil, salt and pepper, and then roast at 350°F until evenly browned, about 40 minutes. Allow it to cool on the pan before transferring to a separate bowl. Set aside until you’re ready to assemble the lasagna.

Add the remaining squash (from the bulb end) to a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until fork tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.


Prep the Kale

Strip the heavy stems and wash the kale leaves. Working in batches, pulse handfuls of the kale about six times in a food processor, until kale is a fine texture. Sauté in olive oil until wilted and lightly browned on some of the edges. Just before cooking the last batch, sauté the chopped onion in the skillet first, then add kale. Season this final batch with salt and pepper and combine with previously cooked kale. Set aside.


Prep the Mushrooms

Clean and dry the mushrooms, then trim the stems and slice evenly. Brown the mushrooms, about one-third at a time, in olive oil. Season the last batch with salt, pepper and a few sprinkles of dried thyme leaves. Combine all mushrooms in a separate bowl and set aside.


Prep the Ricotta Mixture

Drain the ricotta in a mesh strainer over a bowl. Stir occasionally to evenly strain the excess liquid from the cheese. Different brands will release varying amounts of liquid, but 30 minutes should do it. Discard the drained liquid. Add lemon zest, fresh garlic and black pepper to the ricotta. Stir in egg. Set aside for now if you’re working ahead.


Make the Bechamel

Remember, this is just a fancy French word that means “thickened cream sauce.” It’s easy to make! I prefer to make the bechamel just before assembling the lasagna, but if you are pressed for time, it’s fine to make it ahead and then re-heat in a pot until it is a smooth, pourable consistency. There are several steps for this component, and several flavorful add-ins, so I’ll describe it in pictures.

Heat a large sauce pot over medium heat. Add butter until melted. Whisk in flour and cook until it is bubbly, lightly browned and fragrantly nutty. Add the milk, about half at a time, whisking the first amount until smooth before adding the rest. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce is thickened and bubbly. Whisk in about 2/3 cup of the mashed butternut squash and cook until heated through. Stir in shredded gouda, whisking until melted. Use an immersion blender, if you have one, to blend the bechamel sauce to a super-smooth consistency. This is not an essential step, but I love the silky texture that is achieved with the blender. Keep the sauce warm enough to be pourable and spreadable for assembling the lasagna.


Assemble and Bake

Ladle about 1/2 cup of the butternut-bechamel sauce into the bottom of a 9 x 13 glass baking dish. Then, layer the individual components as follows:


Cover casserole with plastic wrap or foil and allow it to rest for at least 30 minutes, to give the noodles time to absorb some of the moisture from the other ingredients. Preheat oven to 350°F, with rack in center position.

Remove wrap or foil and bake about 45 minutes, or until layers are bubbly throughout and cheese on top is browned in several places.

Let the lasagna rest about 10 minutes before cutting and serving.




Challah Dressing with Venison Sausage and Kale

Somehow, this combination of random freezer leftovers worked itself into the dressing my husband, Les, declared on Thanksgiving to be his “favorite ever.” When we made the decision to scale back Thanksgiving for pandemic safety and change up the menu to experiment with new flavors, I thought immediately of the crudely labeled white butcher-wrapped package in my freezer. The venison sausage had been gifted to me a few years ago by a friend I knew from pool hall, where I played in a 9-ball league. Johnny does both bow and rifle hunting, and in a good season, he’d have venison to spare for lucky friends like me. And if you were in the right place at the right time, you’d be lucky enough to taste his venison jerky. Wow.

I’ve wracked my brain to decide how to describe the flavor of venison to any reader who has never tasted it. Texture-wise, it’s similar to beef, but extremely lean so it’s firmer and drier. The flavor is more wild than beef, but less gamey than lamb. Some say venison is an “acquired” taste, but I’ve been eating it since I was about 6 years old, so I can’t say for sure. My stepdad was a deer hunter, and it wouldn’t have been unusual for me to come home from first grade and find a deer carcass hanging upside down from a tree. In my teens, I’d enjoy a free day off as my rural high school was closed for the first day of deer season. Kind of hard to have classes with half of the upperclassmen (and the teachers) all out. I remember eating venison in soup and chili from such a young age, and once biting into a piece of overlooked buckshot. My enjoyment of this wild game meat is as old as any other food memory I have.

I have no excuse for not using the venison sausage sooner, except that I hadn’t felt inspired, and I feared that after four-plus years in the freezer, the sausage would be too far gone to use. But I may as well have a look, I thought, and when I finally was able to unwrap all five layers of plastic film, I found that it was not the total disaster I’d expected. The outer edges were browned and smelled like the freezer, but inside the meat was red, smelled sweet and was perfectly usable.

Only the outside of the venison was discolored from the freezer. I cut those outer edges off and used the red meat inside in the dressing.

So use it I did. I cut away the freezer-burned outer edges and used them to make some homemade cookies for our dog (don’t worry, I researched to learn that freezer-burned meat isn’t dangerous, and Nilla loved them). And the rest of the venison sausage, about 10 ounces, became the star of my dressing.

With non-traditional flavors already at the center of our holiday table, I browned up the venison sausage and used it to flavor this dressing, which also included cubes of challah (also from the freezer) and kale with celery and onions. For a spicy kick, I added a few pinches of dried chipotle flakes. Butter and vegetable broth completed the dish, and—well, it was awesome.


Ingredients

10 oz. ground venison or venison sausage

1 or 2 slices of uncured smoked bacon, cut into 1/2″ pieces

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 medium onion, chopped

3 ribs celery, chopped

Kosher salt and black pepper

1 fat handful kale leaves, washed and heavy stems removed

3 Tbsp. salted butter

2 1/2 cups vegetable broth (low sodium preferred)

4 cups challah cubes, dried in low oven

1 egg, lightly beaten


Instructions

  1. Crumble venison sausage and cook it with bacon slices in the cast-iron skillet. When browned, transfer sausage to a bowl.
  2. Heat olive oil in same skillet, and sauté onions and celery until slightly softened. Add chopped kale and continue to cook until wilted. Season with salt, pepper and chipotle flakes. Transfer mixture to the bowl with the sausage. Refrigerate if working ahead or proceed to the next step.
  3. Place a large saucepan over medium heat. Melt butter, then add vegetable broth and heat until butter is melted and liquid is warm.
  4. In a large bowl, toss to combine challah cubes and half of the buttered broth. When moisture is mostly absorbed, add the remaining broth and toss again. Fold in beaten egg until mixture is uniform and fully moistened.
  5. Fold in venison sausage mixture and blend to combine. Transfer dressing to a buttered casserole dish. Refrigerate until ready to bake.
  6. Preheat oven to 350° F. Bake dressing, covered, for about 35 minutes. Remove cover and bake 15 minutes further, to crisp up the top.
The delicate and eggy challah was a pleasant contrast to the earthy flavors of the venison and kale. A total winner!

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Here’s a behind-the-scenes extra idea for leftover dressing:


And, in case you’re wondering about the venison cookies for Nilla:

I mixed the freezer burned extra venison with some canned pumpkin, rolled oats, brown rice flour and an egg, then scooped and baked them at 300 for about an hour. I love to spoil our dog! ❤

Harvest Turkey Salad

Thanksgiving leftovers are a little bit like family—you can wait ‘til they arrive, and you sure are glad to see them go. So far, we’ve enjoyed full leftover plates, grilled cheese sandwiches made with leftover turkey and other accoutrements, and of course the comforting leftover turkey gumbo that I shared yesterday.

On the fresher side of things, how about a fall harvest-themed salad option that makes the most of leftovers in a bright new way? There are plenty of autumn ingredients in here, but lots of fresh and healthful things to soften the reality that you’re still eating leftover turkey.

For me, a salad must hold a variety of interesting flavors and textures, so this one has shaved fennel for a little crunch, dried cranberries for a little chew, roasted bites of butternut squash for soft sweetness, thin slices of gala apple for a little snap and an easy citrus-maple vinaigrette for a whole lot of mouthwatering goodness in every bite. The prep is minimal and the salad is pretty.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I made this salad more than a month ago, with a roasted turkey breast that we purchased at Costco for sandwiches and salads. It was filling but light, and it gave my taste buds a bit of that autumn pizzazz I was craving so much. But I know this salad would be just as good today with leftover roasted or smoked turkey breast, or if you downsized Thanksgiving this year for safety reasons and didn’t do a turkey, you could easily swap in cubes of deli roasted chicken. Heck, leave out meat altogether and make it vegan. As always, I hope you find inspiration and flavor in my recipe. Enjoy!

It’s fresh and light, but satisfying with so many fall flavors.

Ingredients

2 cups butternut squash cubes

Extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and black pepper

1 fat handful fresh washed kale leaves, rough chopped and thick stems removed

1 fat handful baby spinach leaves

4 romaine heart leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces

1 cup chopped leftover turkey (or deli chicken)

1/2 fresh gala apple, washed and sliced thin

1/2 fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced thin

1/2 small red onion, sliced thin

1/4 cup dried cranberries

2 Tbsp. roasted, salted pumpkin seeds

Citrus-maple vinaigrette (recipe below)

Challah or brioche croutons (instructions below)


Citrus-maple vinaigrette w/sunflower oil and thyme

2 Tbsp. orange muscat champagne vinegar* (see notes)

1 Tbsp. maple syrup*

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

1 Tbsp. toasted sunflower oil

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil                                                                                           

2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped

*Notes

The orange muscat champagne vinegar is a product from Trader Joe’s. If you cannot find it, I’d recommend substituting half apple cider vinegar and half freshly squeezed orange juice.

If you need to swap the maple syrup, I’d recommend half as much honey or a teaspoon of regular sugar.

Instructions

Most of this recipe needs no instruction; I don’t need to tell you how to slice an apple or sprinkle on dried cranberries. But here’s a bit of info you may find helpful for the prep of the other ingredients.

  1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil.
  2. Toss squash cubes with a tablespoon of olive oil, and arrange the cubes on the cookie sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 minutes, or until fork tender and lightly caramelized. Cool completely.
  3. In a large, deep bowl, drizzle a tablespoon olive oil over the chopped kale leaves. Using your hands, reach into the bowl and “scrunch” the kale throughout the bowl. As you massage the greens, they will soften up and wilt in volume. Give it a light sprinkling of kosher salt and pepper and then let it rest while you prep the other salad ingredients.
  4. Make the dressing: combine vinegar, maple syrup, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl or glass measuring cup. Gradually stream in sunflower oil and olive oil, whisking constantly to emulsify the dressing ingredients. Alternatively, you could combine all dressing ingredients in a lidded jar and shake the daylights out of it. Whatever works for you.
  5. Massage the kale once more, then add the spinach and torn romaine leaves and toss to combine.
  6. Drizzle about half of the citrus-thyme vinaigrette over the greens and toss again. Transfer the greens to a platter or individual serving plates.
  7. Add the cubed turkey to the salad. Scatter the pieces of onion, apple and fennel evenly over the greens. Sprinkle with dried cranberries and roasted pumpkin seeds and drizzle the remaining dressing over the entire platter.
  8. Serve with croutons, if desired.

Homemade Croutons

Cut up stale challah or brioche into large cubes or torn pieces. Drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and arrange the bread pieces on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 300° F for about 30 minutes, tossing occasionally to ensure they dry uniformly. When they are crisp but still slightly soft, remove from the oven and cool completely. For this salad, I pulled leftover sourdough pumpkin challah from the freezer. The cubes roasted up nearly the same color as the butternut squash! 🙂

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Spiced Pumpkin Hummus

Amid the pies, cookies, muffins and lattes that have unfairly typecast pumpkin as being exclusively sweet, I’m flipping the script and respecting the savory side of this autumn favorite. This tasty twist on hummus is a simple appetizer that you can put together last minute for your Thanksgiving pre-feast. It’s satisfying, but low-fat, good for you and vegan.

All you need to make it is a can of garbanzo beans, a little pumpkin puree, some tahini and your preference of savory spices, and I’ll give you a few flavor ideas that will work splendidly.

Hummus is a blank canvas for your favorite flavors. This time, canned pumpkin and garam masala are making it special.

As with any hummus, you need to have a food processor or blender to be successful. For tips and tricks to make your hummus super smooth, you may want to check out my recipe for easy hummus at home. If you’re in a hurry, don’t worry; I’ll also walk you through it in a slideshow below. This is easy stuff.

At our house, a green plate means the dish is suitable for vegan guests.

Ingredients

1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), preferably low sodium

2 cloves garlic, minced (optional but recommended)

1/2 cup pure pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

2 Tbsp. tahini (sesame paste)

1/2 tsp. savory spice* (pick a favorite or use one of my suggestions below)

Extra virgin olive oil (2 or 3 Tbsp., depending on taste)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

*Notes

I used garam masala for this batch of hummus, but you might try chai spice, chipotle or ancho chile, cayenne, chili powder, cumin or smoked paprika. Make it your own!


Instructions

Follow along with my pictures, or skip ahead for the written instructions and downloadable PDF for your recipe files!


  1. Pour the garbanzo beans and their liquid into a small saucepan over medium heat for about 8 minutes, or long enough to see moderate bubbling as it boils lightly.
  2. Drain the beans through a mesh strainer, but do not discard the liquid; you’ll need some of it for blending the hummus.
  3. Transfer the beans to the food processor bowl and pulse a few times until it has appearance of a coarse meal. Add the garlic, a pinch of salt and two tablespoons of the reserved liquid and pulse a few more times.
  4. Add pumpkin, tahini, spices, and several twists of freshly ground black pepper. Pulse until combined, and then run the processor constantly while streaming in additional bean liquid, a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture reaches your preferred consistency. This will only take a minute or so. Stop and scrape down sides as needed. Taste hummus and adjust seasonings to taste.
  5. To finish the hummus, run the processor constantly and slowly stream in olive oil. This adds a touch of healthy monounsaturated fats, as well as a silky creamy texture.

Transfer hummus to a covered bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve. Drizzle hummus with olive oil and sprinkle with additional spice or chopped pepitas, or both, for a pretty presentation. Serve chilled or room temperate with pita chips, crackers, vegetables or my soft pita breads.

Pita chips, cut-up veggies and crackers are all great for serving any kind of hummus.

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Pumpkin Chipotle Deviled Eggs

At our house, the Thanksgiving “pre-feast” is almost as traditional as the feast itself. Even in this weird pandemic year, which finds us home alone for Turkey Day, we will have an eclectic spread of snacks and finger foods that will serve as sustenance until dinner.

We always have deviled eggs in the mix; they are a perfect little bite, savory and delicious, and packing enough protein to fill our bellies in a healthy way rather than just scarfing on carbs. As I mentioned back in the spring when I shared an egg-stravaganza, deviled eggs are a blank canvas for any flavor that strikes your fancy. This time, it’s the savory side of pumpkin, highlighted with a little garlic and ground chipotle powder.

By the way, this recipe would also work great with equal substitution of pureed sweet potato, if you prefer.

The pumpkin and chipotle flavors are a savory surprise with these deviled eggs.

Ingredients

6 hard-boiled eggs

3 Tbsp. pure pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

2 Tbsp. canola mayonnaise

1/4 tsp. ground chipotle powder

Sprinkle of garlic powder

Kosher sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Instructions

The pictures tell the story, but you’ll also find written steps below, and a link for a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.


  1. Cut hard-boiled eggs in half lengthwise and drop the yolks into a small bowl (I used the small bowl of my food processor, but this is not essential).
  2. Add pumpkin puree, mayonnaise and spices to the cooked yolks.
  3. Process or mash together until the mixture is completely uniform. Add another small spoonful of mayonnaise if needed for creamy consistency.
  4. Fill the cavities of the egg whites with the yolk mixture. You can spoon this in for a quick finish, or take a simple shortcut for a more polished presentation by using a small zip top bag with a snipped corner.

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Autumn at the Beach Sangria

In my book, the only thing better than autumn is a trip to the beach during autumn. My husband, Les, and I turned fantasy to reality last week, with a long overdue getaway to the North Carolina coast. Our trip was a make-good of sorts, given that our plans to go last year were totally thwarted by a snarky storm named Hurricane Dorian, which showed up just in time to force evacuation.

Being at the beach in October is the best of everything—clear skies, warm water, small crowds—and our weather was spectacular for the five days we spent there. One of the first things we did, of course, was map out a plan for snacks and drinks. I knew that Les would enjoy fruity, tropical drinks, and I planned to make autumn-spiced sangria for myself. What I didn’t expect was discovering a way to merge the two. Lo and behold, with some creative blending that’s exactly what happened with this sangria, and we both loved it.

The tropical notes came from fruit juices (pineapple and mango), plus this dandy summer edition Captain Morgan rum, which tastes like a creamsicle dipped in rum. And I had made a simple syrup using autumn spice herbal tea bags, which infused the whole blend with aromatic cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and vanilla. The resulting sangria was all at once fruity, spicy, tropical, sweet and totally refreshing. We were dipping our toes into the waters of the cooler season, but hanging onto summer for dear life!

Yes, it really was this perfect.

I’m sneaking this sangria into my series of Halloween-inspired cocktails, even though it technically doesn’t have a darn thing to do with the occasion. But it scared away all of our stress and exhaustion, so there’s that. Maybe you could think of it as the drink version of that one trick-or-treater who always shows up on your doorstep without a costume. Just go with it. 😀


Ingredients

We liked this sangria so much, I made another batch when we got home from the beach!

1/2 bottle fruity Spanish red wine (I used a tempranillo blend)

4 oz. Captain Morgan Caribbean rum (orange and vanilla twist flavor)

4 oz. autumn spice simple syrup* (1:1 sugar-water blend, steeped with 4 tea bags)

4 oz. pineapple juice

4 oz. mango juice

1/2 navel orange, cleaned and thinly sliced

1/2 Meyer lemon, cleaned and thinly sliced

1/2 lime, cleaned and thinly sliced

Club soda or flavored seltzer (optional, poured on top at serving)

*Notes

I made a batch of the spiced simple syrup ahead of our trip. We also used it to add pizazz to a bourbon old fashioned, which was pretty awesome, too. Heat 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan to the boiling point. Turn off heat and steep the “Fireside Vanilla Spice” herbal tea bags for about 15 minutes. Remove the tea bags, heat to low boil again and add 1/2 cup sugar. Stir until dissolved, then cool completely and store in a covered jar in the fridge up to one month.


Instructions

Add fruit slices to a pitcher or large bottle, then add wine, rum, syrup and juices. Stir to combine. Steep several hours or overnight to blend. Serve over ice. Top with additional rum float if desired. Enjoy it with someone you love, preferably while watching the ocean.


Hello, “Pumking!”

The arrival of fall gives me all kinds of warm fuzzies, not the least of which are the comfort foods I’ve been sharing for the past month. But there’s another thing I look forward to beginning in September each year, and that is the return of the Pumking. Thank goodness this seasonal brew will be around another month or so, because I do love it.

This pumpkin and spiced imperial ale has become, for me, synonymous with autumn. My first experience of it was nearly a decade ago, much sooner than it showed up in the cold beer aisle or on local tap menus. The brew is crafted in small batches by Southern Tier Brewing Company in Lakewood, New York. This is my old stomping ground, and though my visits to the area are few and far between these days, I have a deep sense of loyalty to certain businesses there, just as I have passion for “supporting local” in my current home of North Carolina.

I had occasion to visit Southern Tier’s flagship tasting room seven years ago, when I made the trek “home” for a family member’s memorial service. My beer connoisseur cousin and his wife were also in town, and our meeting place was Southern Tier. As with most local breweries, the tap offerings far exceeded the variety available for commercial distribution, and Southern Tier had some great seasonals, but we were all in love with the Pumking. The beer has an almost creamy texture, with warm spices, pumpkin (of course), and hints of caramel and vanilla, but without tasting too sweet.

The Pumking family also includes Warlock, a stout with the same great pumpkin and spice flavors. It’s a little sweeter and heavier, but would also be terrific in a chili!

I will enjoy drinking it for its own sake, but I also plan to use it in other recipes, including bread—and you can bet I’ll find a way to slip it into an ice cream, too! To get things started, I’ve whipped up a fall-inspired chili that makes the most of savory roasted sweet potatoes and canned black beans, plus green chiles and fire roasted corn. Did I mention that it’s also vegan-friendly? Serve it up with your favorite cornbread and another bottle of Pumking—oh my, that’s tasty!


Pumking Black Bean Chili ingredients

1 lb. sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks

1 medium onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

28 oz. can peeled tomatoes in puree (I used Cento brand)

1 small can green chiles, diced

1 cup fire roasted frozen corn

1/2 cup cooked wheat berries* (optional, see notes)

Half bottle Pumking imperial ale (enjoy the other half while you cook)

Chili spices* – chipotle powder, sweet Spanish paprika, cinnamon, smoked black pepper, cumin

*Notes

Wheat berries are the dried whole grain of wheat, and they add terrific texture and fiber to this chili. You can read more about them in my summer post for Healthy Wheat Berry Salad. If you cannot find wheat berries in your favorite food store, it’s fine to omit them. The other ingredients will provide plenty of body for the chili.

Combine your preferred spices into a bowl. Use whatever chili seasonings you like. If you aren’t sure how much to use of each, may I suggest: 1 tsp. chipotle powder, 1 tsp. sweet Spanish paprika, 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1/2 tsp. ground cumin, 1/2 tsp. smoked black pepper, 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon.


Let’s make it!

Follow along with these slides, or scroll to the bottom of the post for a PDF version of the recipe you can download and print. Enjoy!

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Autumn Weekend Brunch

If I took all the sweet, warm, comforting flavors of the fall season and combined them into a single weekend breakfast, what would it look like?

Pumpkin, maple, cinnamon, apples, pecans…it was a chorus of autumn voices singing across this plate!

Yes, I believe it would look a lot like this pumpkin challah French toast, stuffed with a cinnamon-y sweet and creamy maple-mascarpone filling and topped with a warm apple and pecan relish. I couldn’t resist throwing this over the top, given the surprise outcome of the sourdough pumpkin challah I made last week. The maple spice swirl inside the braided round loaf inspired me to repeat those flavors in a “go big or go home” recipe. The result is this French toast—with a luxurious, custard-like center, spiked with maple and spice and everything nice, and topped with a fresh apple and toasted pecan relish for a contrasting texture and bite.

Is it decadent? You bet. Sweet? You cannot imagine. And the only way to bring harmony to such a sweet and creamy brunch item is to serve it with a fall-inspired cranberry-cider mimosa. The prosecco bubbles, plus the tart and tangy flavor of the cranberry are welcome relief to so much richness.

Welcome back, Autumn! We’re so glad you’re here. 🙂

I’ll describe how I made this, but of course, I already had the sourdough pumpkin challah, which is not easy to find. If you enjoy baking bread, you might consider making your own. Or, to replicate the big autumn flavors in this dish, I’ll offer suggestions that allow you to use a regular challah or brioche, either of which should be much easier to get your hands on from the bakery department of your supermarket. My posts are meant to inspire, and however that happens at your house, enjoy!


Ingredients

4 large slices challah or brioche, slightly stale* (see notes)

3 oz. mascarpone*

2 Tbsp. maple cream*

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

3 eggs

2/3 cup whole milk* (see notes for pumpkin adjustment)

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

pinch of kosher salt


*Notes

Challah and brioche are similar “eggy” breads—each has a light and delicate crumb, and both are perfectly suited for French toast, including this recipe. The primary difference is that brioche is made with butter and challah (being a popular Jewish bread) is frequently made with oil. Leave the slices unwrapped overnight, as the stale texture will force them to better absorb the egg mixture.

Mascarpone is an Italian-style cream cheese, but a bit richer and denser. I buy it in small tubs at Trader Joe’s. Regular cream cheese would also work fine in this recipe.

Maple cream—oh, sweet wonderful maple cream! This delightful confection is pure maple, but in a different form from syrup. It’s made by heating the syrup then whipping until it’s a spreadable texture, similar to peanut butter. It is positively decadent. If you cannot find it, substitute about 1 tablespoon maple syrup.

If using regular bakery challah or brioche, reduce milk to 1/2 cup and add 1/4 cup pure pumpkin puree to the egg mixture before soaking.


Instructions (a.k.a. “feast your eyes”)

  1. Using a handheld mixer, whip together the mascarpone, maple cream and cinnamon until smooth and spreadable.
  2. Spread maple-mascarpone mixture onto two slices of the challah or brioche, then top with remaining pieces to make two “sandwiches.”
  3. Whisk together eggs, milk, pumpkin (if using), vanilla and salt. Pour some of the mixture into a flat glass baking dish and place the filled sandwiches in the egg mixture. Drizzle the remaining mixture over the sandwiches and turn several times for about 20 minutes until most of the mixture has been absorbed.
  4. Heat a skillet or griddle over medium-low heat. When it’s evenly heated, place sandwiches on the griddle and cook until the underside is golden brown. Turn sandwiches over, taking care not to allow the top piece to slip off. Cook until the second side is golden brown.
  5. Serve warm with maple syrup, or go crazy and make the warm apple-pecan relish (below).

For warm apple relish topping:

To this point, pumpkin has enjoyed all the attention in my autumn-inspired brunch. But apples have equal star power this time of year, and this is their cue to step in and share the spotlight. This chunky topping provided textural contrast and flavor to the soft and creamy french toast.

1 medium firm apple, chopped into bite-sized pieces

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice (to prevent browning)

2 Tbsp. chopped toasted pecans

1 Tbsp. maple sugar (or syrup)

1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon

Squeeze lemon juice over apple pieces in a small microwave-safe bowl and stir to toss. Microwave for 30 seconds, just long enough to warm and slightly soften the apple bits. Stir in pecans, maple sugar (or syrup) and spice.


For the cran-cider mimosa

This brunch cocktail was exactly what we needed to slice through all the sweet, rich flavors of the French toast. If you prefer, you could easily adapt this to non-alcoholic by substituting selzter or ginger ale for the prosecco. My suggested amounts are for one cocktail.

2 oz. chilled apple cider (I used spiced cider from Trader Joe’s)

2 oz. chilled cranberry juice cocktail

2 oz. chilled prosecco or other bubbly (champagne, seltzer, ginger ale)


Layer ingredients in a champagne flute just before serving the French toast.


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“Beer” Can Honey Roasted Heirloom Chicken

We are a few days into the Jewish New Year, and I’m taking a new approach to roasting an heirloom chicken in my favorite blend of flavors—honey, garlic and rosemary. Honey is a big deal during Rosh Hashanah, as it represents the hope for a sweet new year. Any kind of honey is appropriate, but I am fond of a local unfiltered sourwood honey, and I just picked up a new jar a few weeks ago. Despite its name, it is sweet with a rich and earthy flavor, and it is strong enough to stand up to the plentiful garlic and aromatic rosemary.

For a special occasion such as Rosh Hashanah, I didn’t want to go too casual with beer, so for this recipe, I’ve emptied the beer from the can and filled it with white wine. Oh, and to shake things up a bit, we’re also roasting this wine-filled, beer-can chicken in the oven—not on the grill. The liquid inside the beer can contributes to the juiciest, most tender chicken, and this effort did not disappoint.

This heirloom chicken smelled sooo good as it roasted, and because it involves more love and care, plus a few hours, it qualifies for Sunday Supper status. Alongside this mouthwatering chicken, we plated some of Les’s garlic-parm mashed potatoes (which are pretty amazing, even as leftovers) and fresh Brussels sprouts, roasted with sliced shallots and tossed in a glaze of lemon-infused olive oil and pomegranate-flavored balsamic. Pomegranate, like honey, is also symbolic at Rosh Hashanah, and the hope is that our blessings in the new year will be as numerous as the arils (seeds) in the pomegranate. We are hoping that for you as well. 🙂

The lemon oil and pomegranate balsamic was a great combination for Rosh Hashanah. This recipe would also be terrific at Thanksgiving.


Ingredients

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped

2 Tbsp. honey* (see notes)

Juice of 1/2 lemon

2 Tbsp. dry white wine*

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp. kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

4 pound heirloom chicken*


For the beer can:

3 additional cloves garlic, crushed

1 sprig fresh rosemary

3/4 cup dry white wine


*Notes

Any flavor of honey will work, but I’ve used sourwood honey, which is a liquid form of honey. Solid or crystallized honeys are not recommended here.

“Dry” wine means wine that is not sweet, but it can still be confusing to know which kind of wine will work best for a recipe. Aim for a “neutral” flavor of white wine, such as pinot grigio, rather than an oaky wine as Chardonnay. I used a white blend of chenin blanc and viognier, which has a soft and delicate floral essence, and it worked out great.

An “heirloom” chicken is a specialty item, usually an older or heritage breed of chicken, and raised in an ethical manner. Birds raised this way will be more expensive, but well worth it. My chicken also happened to be quite large—it weighed in at a little over 4.5 pounds!

This may have been the largest chicken I’ve ever roasted.


Instructions

  1. Combine all marinade ingredients in a large bowl and whisk until smooth.
  2. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season all over with kosher salt and black pepper. Place the chicken in the bowl with the marinade and turn several times to evenly coat the bird. Allow chicken to rest 30 minutes.
  3. Remove all oven racks, except for the lowest. Preheat the oven to 450° F. Note in step 6 that this is not the final roasting temperature, just the beginning.
  4. Empty the beer can (don’t worry—I poured it into a frosty pint glass for my sous chef-husband), and replace it with the wine, crushed garlic and rosemary sprig.
  5. Center the beer can on a rimmed baking sheet (we used the base part of our broiler pan). Carefully place the chicken over top of the can, so that it is nearly fully inside the bird. The wine and aromatics will season the bird from the inside and will keep the chicken moist. Pour remaining marinade all over the bird.
  6. Cover the top of the chicken loosely with a piece of foil, to protect it from burning in the oven. Transfer the chicken on the baking sheet to the lower rack of the oven.
  7. Roast for only 10 minutes at 450°, then reduce oven temperature to 325° and roast about one hour, or until juices run clear when a thigh is pierced with the tip of a knife. The time may vary based on the chicken’s weight. For best results, use a thermometer to confirm the temperature in the thickest part of the thigh is 165° F.
  8. Remove chicken and rest for 15 minutes.
  9. Return oven temperature to 400° F, and roast the Brussels sprouts.
Just hanging out while the brussels sprouts get their roast on.

Ingredients for Brussels Sprouts

1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise

Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 shallot, sliced

4 tsp. lemon-infused olive oil (or regular oil + juice of 1/2 lemon)

4 tsp. pomegranate-flavored balsamic vinegar

Look at the caramelization on those brussels sprouts! The balsamic-oil dressing was tossed on them only for the last few minutes of roasting.

Instructions

  1. Spread sprouts onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat, and arrange sprouts, cut-side down.
  2. Roast for 15 minutes. Whisk together the infused oil and flavored vinegar. Scatter the sliced shallots onto the roasted Brussels sprouts, and then toss the vegetables with the oil-vinegar blend. Roast an additional 5 minutes, then remove and serve.
Dinner is served!

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