Pumpkin Flan

Another pumpkin recipe. #Sorrynotsorry. 

But seriously, how amazing would this pumpkin flan be as the final note to an intimate Thanksgiving gathering? I can't even. It's elegant, lighter and far more imaginative than the standard pumpkin pie that we've all had about a million times throughout our lifetimes, am I right?

I love the idea of individual servings if your Thanksgiving table has say, 8 guests or less. Any more than that and you're just asking for a mild panic attack- and no one wants that. But for a smaller affair I think it's a fine idea. It makes people feel special when they receive their own fancy little dessert! 

Bonus: It's even easier to make than pumpkin pie! And since this is basically just a pumpkin pie filling of sorts minus the crust, no one will even miss the traditional standby. Plus, with a yummy built-in caramel sauce, your guests will surely shower you with ooohs and ahhhs.

I chose to decorate my pumpkin flan with pretty jewel-like pomegranate seeds, but don't stop there- fresh whipped cream and toasted pumpkin seeds would also make delightful accents to this dainty dessert.

serves 6
Cooking spray
1 cup sugar, divided
1 cup heavy cream
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 cup pureed or canned pumpkin
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. salt
Pomegranate seeds, for garnish (optional)

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray six ramekins with nonstick cooking spray and arrange ramekins in a baking pan with high sides. 
2. Heat 1/2 cup of sugar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring often, until sugar caramelizes and turns dark brown, about 7-8 minutes. Working quickly so that sugar does not harden, divide caramel equally among ramekins.
3. Bring heavy cream to a simmer in a saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside. Add remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, eggs, egg yolks, pumpkin, vanilla, spices and salt to a medium sized bowl and mix until smooth. Slowly add hot cream to mixture, whisking until combined.
4. Divide filling evenly among ramekins and fill baking pan halfway with boiling water. Transfer baking pan to oven and bake until custard is just set, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.
5. When flans have cooled, place a dessert plate on top of each ramekin and invert (carefully run a butter knife around the edge if flans do not slide out easily). Allow caramel syrup to pour over the top of each flan and garnish with pomegranate seeds if desired. 


Apple Snickerdoodle Bran Muffins

These are quite possibly the best muffins I've ever made. On the first try too! Just nailed it. I love it when that happens.

Usually it takes some tinkering to get a recipe just right, but it must have been a lucky day for me because these apple snickerdoodle bran muffins turned out light, fluffy, soft and so moist, even well into the next day.

Snickerdoodles just might be very favorite type of cookie; I love their soft chewiness, and who can resist that sprinkle of cinnamon sugar on top? So the idea of reinterpreting snickerdoodles in muffin form was something I had to try. I added apples for a nice Fall vibe and threw some bran into the mix to keep things at least slightly healthier than the cookie version. But with a cinnamon sugar swirled into the batter along with a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar on top of each muffin, these muffins are unmistakably snickerdoodle-y.

Paired with a smear of butter, snacking on these muffins with a warm cup of coffee over the last couple of days has easily been the high point of my week.

Is that a teeny bit sad? I don't care.

makes 6 jumbo muffins or 12 regular muffins
for the cinnamon sugar:
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

for the brown sugar swirl:
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. salt

for the muffins:
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup bran
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
2 eggs, room temperature
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup milk, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 medium apple, peeled, cored and diced

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and fill a muffin tin with paper liners. In a small bowl, mix together 1/4 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Set aside. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 teaspoons flour 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Set aside.
2. For the muffins, combine flour, bran, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a medium sized bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, melted butter, milk and vanilla extract.
3. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to mix until ingredients are well incorporated. Gradually add apples and brown sugar swirl mixture in a swirling motion througout batter.
4. Fill muffin cups until nearly full and sprinkle the tops with cinnamon sugar. Bake for 18-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean (jumbo muffins will take longer to bake compared to regular muffins).


Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies with Maple Icing

I'm not really sure how long all this pumpkin hoopla is supposed to last, but it's showing no signs of slowing down in my neck of the woods. So far this month I've made pumpkin chocolate chip cookies (twice), pumpkin pie filled donuts, pumpkin cannoli and one insanely good pumpkin sage lasagna...I could really go for a slice right about now.

That's a whole lotta pumpkin, isn't it? Now before you go making up your mind about me that I'm some sort of pumpkin-obsessed freak, it's not my fault. Hear me out: most of the time these pumpkin recipes call for something like half a cup of canned pumpkin, leaving you with another two thirds of the can to go through. What else am I to do but come up with another pumpkin recipe to use up the rest? 

See? Not a pumpkin freak, just persistent in my refusal to let anything go to waste (which is an entirely  different breed of freak).

These cookies were simply the result of me trying to finish up another partial can of pumpkin, and when rummaging through my pantry I dug up some oats and golden raisins that needed to be used up too. Hooray, pumpkin oatmeal cookies are happening!

In an effort to jazz them up a little, I made a simple maple icing to drizzle over the cookies. Drool.

These cookies contain very little sugar- only 1/4 cup- so feel free to add more if you like a sweeter cookie, but I prefer to keep the sweetness on the subtler side to let the flavor of the spices stand out and to balance out the sugary kick of the icing. 

These cookies are dense, chewy and full of Fall flavor. And the best part is they come together in about 20 minutes start to finish! In short, they are the perfect thing to make with your leftover pumpkin that's sitting in the fridge. They're even worth running to the store for to buy more pumpkin only to use half a cup. Besides, the leftovers will give you an excuse to make more pumpkin things.

makes 1 dozen cookies
for the cookie dough:
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 1/2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/4 cup golden raisins

for the maple icing:
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1 Tbsp. milk
1/4 tsp. maple syrup

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pumpkin puree, egg vegetable oil and vanilla extract in a bowl and mix until combined. Set aside. Mix together flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices in a separate bowl. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, mixing with a wooden spoon until just combined. Do not overmix. Fold in golden raisins.
2. Scoop cookie dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer to wire racks to cool.
3. To make the maple icing, whisk together confectioners sugar, milk and maple syrup in a bowl. If icing is too thick, gradually add more milk 1 teaspoon at a time. If icing is too runny, gradually add more confectioners sugar until desired consistency is reached.
4. When cookies have cooled completely, drizzle cookies with icing and set aside for a few minutes to allow icing to harden.


Vegan Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese

Ah, mac and cheese. I could sing thy praises for a lifetime. You are the chunky knit sweater of foods. Your warm, chewy, cheesy goodness is like a warm hug for my insides, and you have always been there to provide sustenance after many a drunken night.

I shall never tire of you, but alas, your excessive caloric composition prevents me from enjoying you as often as I desire. 

Oh, what's that you say now? A vegan version? With an autumnally appropriate butternut squash sauce? And a crispy, golden panko-sage topping? 

Sign me up. 

Whatever it takes to keep me enjoying this classic comfort food whenever the mood strikes and with a guilt free conscience is fine by me.

Ok, weird ode to mac and cheese over. But seriously, this vegan recipe is currently floating around in my top three favorite mac and cheese preparations (trailing by a hair behind truffle/garlic/fontina mac and lobster mac), and once you try it I suspect it will sit high up on your list, too. A rich, silky sauce comprised of pureed butternut squash and a base of cashew b├ęchamel- which is my new favorite thing to use in like, everything- is tossed with pasta, topped with an aromatic panko and crispy sage breadcrumb topping (swoon) and baked to perfection.

Side note- how cute are the pasta noodles I used?! Technically the shape is called Tirale, but in this house they will be affectionately referred to as Mohawk Macaroni:


serves 4-6

for the panko-sage crust:
1 Tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan butter substitute
1 clove garlic, smashed
8-10 sage leaves
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

for the macaroni:
2 cups cubed butternut squash
1 lb. dried pasta
1/4 cup cashews
1 1/2 cups plain almond milk
2 Tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan butter substitute
2 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2-3 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
1 clove garlic, grated
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1/4 tsp. ground mustard

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place squash in a steamer basket set over boiling water and cover. Cook for about 15-20 minutes or until easily pierced with a fork. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly, then transfer to a food processor and blend until completely smooth. Pass through a mesh strainer to remove any remaining lumps.
2. Boil pasta in a pot of salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.
3. To make the panko sage breadcrumbs, melt 1 tablespoon of Earth Balance in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add sage and smashed garlic, cooking until sage is crisp on both sides, about 1-2 minutes. Remove sage leaves and drain on paper towels. Add panko to skillet and stir to combine. Cook until breadcrumbs are golden and toasted, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and crumble sage leaves back into pan. Reserve mixture for later use.
4. To make the cashew b├ęchamel, blend cashews and 1/2 cup of almond milk in a food processor or high speed blender until smooth. Melt Earth Balance in a medium saucepan and add flour. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until flour is cooked through and mixture has turned golden brown, about 3 minutes. Gradually add the remaining cup of almond milk and all remaining ingredients, stirring to combine, and cook until mixture has thickened, about 3-5 minutes.
5. Remove bechamel from heat and fold in butternut squash puree until completely incorporated. Add pasta to pot and combine with sauce. Spoon into greased individual ramekins or a 9x9 inch baking dish. Sprinkle generously with breadcrumb mixture and bake for about 20 minutes.


Roasted Apple Bourbon Praline Ice Cream

Who has two thumbs and is really excited about the onset of Fall (even though she spent all last weekend at the beach)? This gal!

Overused phrases aside, I've been wanting to make this ice cream for ages but had to wait until the temperature dipped below 80 degrees to justify turning on the oven. #CaliProbs

This week my prayers for cooler weather were answered and I was finally able to roast up a delightful spiced apple concoction to swirl into my boozy bourbon ice cream. Boozy ice creams are the best for a couple of reasons:

1. They have booze in them! 

2. Alcohol doesn't freeze, so adding a bit of booze ensures a luxurious, velvety smooth and easily scoop-able texture to your ice cream (I always add about a tablespoon or so of vodka to my sorbets for this same reason). Just be sparing, lest you wind up with a melty, un-freezable mess on your hands. Less is more.

A smattering of chopped candied pecans rounds out the recipe perfectly. I tend to enjoy my ice creams without a lot of bits and bobs; call me a purist but normally I'm of the belief that ice cream should not need to be chewed. Rather, it should melt languidly in your mouth, you know? But in this case the pecans add a lovely toasted note that I would miss otherwise, and the finished product is the stuff that Fall inspired ice cream dreams are made of.

A little part of me thinks that I should lock up this recipe in a vault, package it and sell it for $11 a pint and build an ice cream empire on the foundation of this Roasted Apple Bourbon Praline Ice Cream - it's that good. But honestly, it's too yummy not to share, so here you go, my friends. Have at it. I suppose my dreams of world domination via ice cream can wait...

makes about 1 quart
for the roasted apple:
1 large or 2 medium sized apples, peeled cored and finely diced
1 Tbsp. bourbon
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground allspice

for the ice cream:
2 cups half and half
1 cup heavy cream
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cinnamon stick
Pinch of salt
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
3-4 Tbsp. bourbon
1/4 cup candied pecans, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Add diced apple, bourbon, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice in a medium sized bowl and mix to combine. Transfer to a small baking dish and roast for about 45 minutes or until apples are tender, stirring mixture once or twice throughout cooking process. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly, then transfer to a small food processor and puree until smooth but slightly chunky in texture. Set aside.
2. Bring half and half, vanilla extract, cinnamon stick and salt to a simmer in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, cover and allow to steep for 20 minutes.
3. Whisk egg yolks and sugar in a medium sized bowl until pale and fluffy. Gradually whisk warm cream mixture into yolk mixture, then transfer mixture back into saucepan. Heat over medium low heat, stirring often, until custard thickens and temperature reaches about 170 degrees. Remove from heat, discard cinnamon stick and stir in heavy cream and bourbon. Transfer into a bowl set over an ice bath or place in the refrigerator for a few hours to chill.
4. Freeze in an ice ream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. After about 10 minutes or when ice cream has partially frozen, gradually add roasted apple mixture and candied pecans, little by little, for a swirl effect. Transfer to a container and freeze until solid.


Minty Tropical Green Smoothie

 I like to think that I'm somewhat of an early bird- I can rise and shine with the best of them, and I loathe sleeping in late. If I sleep in past 8:00am I can't shake the feeling that I'm racing to catch up with the rest of the day.

But every now and then I do need a little help catching the proverbial worm...they can be slippery little suckers sometimes. On days when I'm feeling sluggish a cup of coffee might certainly do the trick, but I'm not always in the mood for the bold flavor or strong jolt of 'alertness' that coffee provides first thing in the morning, and I definitely don't want to find myself roped into a daily caffeine habit, so I try to limit my intake to just a couple of cups per week anyway.

So, when coffee isn't on the agenda but I still need a little pick me up, this green smoothie is just the thing! It's such a sweet, gentle and sunny way to start the day. And with its velvety smooth texture, vibrant tropical flavors and a zing of minty freshness, I promise you can't even taste the obscene amount of kale in this smoothie that makes it so good for you. Plus, the chia seeds add some protein and fiber to keep you going strong until lunchtime...those pesky worms won't stand a chance.

makes 1 smoothie
1/2 cup frozen banana slices
1/2 cup frozen pineapple chunks
1-1/2 cups packed loose kale leaves, stems removed
1 small handful fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 tbsp. chia seeds 
1 cup coconut water

1. Soak chia seeds in 1/4 cup coconut water for about 5 minutes. Add chia seed mixture and all remaining ingredients into a high-speed blender and pulse until a smooth consistency is reached. Pour into a glass and enjoy immediately.


Chilled Melon Soup with Thai Chile Oil

I hear this California Indian Summer has every intention of sticking around for a little while longer, and while I'm mighty grateful for a slight dip in the temperature over the last couple of days, the fact of the matter is that I'm still lugging the fan around from room to room at home, sticking my head in the freezer in the kitchen and maxing out the A/C in the car.

But surely there must be other ways to stay cool besides sticking your face in a blast of cold air? Ah, yes. With food of course! Duh. While there are any number of lovely foods you could eat to help you chill out, I for one can't think of a better way to beat the heat than with a refreshing, cold soup. Heaven forbid we turn on the oven when it's pushing 90 (or even 80) outside!

This chilled melon soup comes together with minimal effort- just whiz all the ingredients in a blender, stick it in the fridge to chill and that's that. Well, that could be that if that's all you want, but why not double down on the cooling effects of this dish by whipping up a hot, spicy chile oil to drizzle into your soup?

What's that? You didn't know that eating spicy food can actually help to cool you down? Let me break it down for you real simple like: Eating spicy foods raises your internal temperature which causes you to sweat, and as the moisture evaporates, you are effectively cooled down. So there you go. Plus, it's super tasty and makes your melon soup way more badass.

serves 4
for the soup:
1 cantaloupe or Tuscan melon, seeded and chopped
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
1 large shallot, minced
1/2 cup water
3 tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
Thai basil leaves, for garnish
Thai chiles, thinly sliced, for garnish

for the chile oil:
1/2 oz. dried Thai chiles
1/2 tsp. Szechuan peppercorns
1/2 cup olive oil or peanut oil
pinch of salt

1. Place melon, cucumber, shallot, water and olive oil in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth, Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until chilled.
2. To make chile oil, place chiles and peppercorns in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground.
3. Heat olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat and add chile and peppercorn mixture. Continue to cook over moderate heat for an additional 5 minutes. Add salt, remove from heat and allow to cool completely before using.
4. To serve, ladle chilled soup into bowls and garnish with chile oil, chile slices and Thai basil.