bake this: the triumphant return of the chocolate chip pumpkin loaf

apologies for the inferior loaf snap. SIGH. Believe me when I say that the chocolate chip pumpkin loaf has changed lives. I’ve been fixing this recipe for nearly two years and it’s been adapted by a local coffee and cookie shop, it’s united coworkers who couldn’t bear to be in the same room with one another, and it’s brought the stone-faced to damn near tears. This weekend I’m having the girls over for a clothing swap and why not ask them to don elastic whilst chowing down on the epic loaf.

2 3/4 cups sugar*
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree*
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup room temperature water
4 large room temperature eggs
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour*
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour three 1 pound size coffee cans, or three 9×5 inch loaf pans.

In a large bowl, beat the sugar and the eggs until combined — it should appear as if it were a ribbon. Mix in the pumpkin and water. Beat until smooth. Slowly incorporate the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt. Fold in the chocolate chips. Fill cans (or pans) 1/2 to 3/4 full.

Bake for 1 hour, or until an inserted knife comes out clean. Paranoid person that I am, I tend to rotate the pans midway through the baking process — this ensures that all sides bake evenly. Cool on wire racks before removing from cans or pans.

*Recipe Notes: I always use cane sugar and unbleached flour. And I beg you, I’ll even get down on my knees when I say that you cannot even think of using pumpkin pie filling for the following reasons: it’s sugar-laden, processed garbage, and it will ruin the recipe. Please ensure the can reads “pumpkin” or “pumpkin puree”.

the return of the chocolate chip pumpkin loaf: ingredients
the return of the chocolate chip pumpkin loaf: dry ingredients
the return of the chocolate chip pumpkin loaf: slowly incorporating the dry ingredients into the wet ones
the return of the chocolate chip pumpkin loaf: before the chips
the return of the chocolate chip pumpkin loaf: before the oven

pumpkin pecan butter: if you don’t nab this there’s no helping you!

To purchase the delicious Pumpkin Pecan Butter from Williams Sonoma, click here. Also, Trader Joe’s has a divine option.

Dying to Try:
*Garden Web: an informative, user-generated forum where contributors submit their recipes from muffins to spreads to thumbprint cookies.
*Smitten Kitchen’s Pumpkin Butter and Pepita Granola
*Closet Cooking’s Pecan Crusted Pork Chops with Pumpkin Butter
*The Recipe Girl’s Cheesecake Topped Brownies with Pumpkin Butter Swirl
*Breakfast Quest’s Pumpkin Butter Muffins

lick the screen: pumpkin banana mousse tart

the finished product: pumpkin banana mousse tart! Today I spent the day with my best friend. We celebrated my latest and possibly most auspicious life change to date — accepting a position at a company I respect, to do the kind of work I love, to be surrounded by people I truly admire. While we toyed of going out in our finery and dining somewhere terribly chic, we decided to have lunch and spend hours catching up, flipping through cookbooks and bad magazines. I told her to come hungry because I would fix a lunch and a pumpkin banana mousse tart I was road-testing and she laughed and wondered aloud if I was crazy to make all this effort to celebrate me. Shouldn’t my celebration be effortless? And then we collapsed into guffaws because we’re difficult women (in the best way); we don’t believe in easy. When I opened the door and saw her expectant, proud face, I hugged her doubly hard and told her that this is what I love most — making food for others.

After we dined on a healthful lunch (kale was involved, because no one puts baby in the corner) and sliced into a feather-light mousse (we’re talking down pillow, light) we fell into this conversation about purpose, sense of self and service. Although my best friend is a rationalist, a former scientist, an atheist, she listened as I relayed a message I’d gleaned from church last week. The pastor emphasized that one arrives at personal significance, at happiness, when they are willing to serve others as opposed to feeling entitled to be served. To be humbled, to be giving, to sometimes inconvenience ourselves for the sake of others — this is the mark of someone who is significant. Not the fame-whore vying for screen-caps. Not the startlet traipsing into clubs donning handbags that cost more than cars. And certainly not the person who expects or feels wholly entitled to be served without taking time to bend down, in the rain, and tie the shoelaces of someone else.

So, in a very small way, me running out in the rain to purchase ingredients for our meal and spending hours making it, and cleaning up after, is my gift to my best friend. My gift to someone who walked in the rain to celebrate another life turn. Take a moment and inconvenience yourself for the sake of someone else.

Clearly, I want you to make this tart. Frankly, you’d be mad not to. The bananas imbue a creamy soft flavor to the pumpkin, and the whipped cream really lightens the texture. And the crust yields enormous contrast against the feather-like cream and the pumpkin tart.

Onward! Today I test-drove a recipe (adapted from the great Ina Garten) I plan on fixing for Christmas in Connecticut, and it was a complete and utter WIN. Be forewarned, there is a bit of technique involved (tempering the eggs, whipping cream, folding), but don’t let it own you. It’s just a tart.

Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart: Kick Off! INGREDIENTS
For the crust:
2 cups graham cracker crumbs (14 crackers)
1/3 cup sugar*
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup ground, slivered, blanched almonds

For the filling:
1/4 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup reduced-fat milk
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree*
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 large egg yolks
1 package (2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
1 ripe banana, finely mashed
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/2 cup cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar*

For the decoration:
1 cup (1/2 pint) cold heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar*
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Orange zest, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, cinnamon, and melted butter in a bowl and mix well. Pour into an 11-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and press evenly into the sides and then the bottom. Bake for 10 minutes and then cool to room temperature.

For the filling, heat the cream/milk, pumpkin, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water until hot, about 5 minutes. Whisk the egg yolks in another bowl, stir some of the hot pumpkin into the egg yolks to heat them, then pour the egg-pumpkin mixture back into the double boiler and stir well. Heat the mixture over the simmering water for another 4 to 5 minutes, until it begins to thicken, stirring constantly. Don’t step away from this or you will get pumpkin scrambled eggs. Seriously. You don’t want this nonsense. Remove from the heat.

Dissolve the gelatin in 1/4 cup cold water. Add the dissolved gelatin, banana, and orange zest to the pumpkin mixture and mix well. Set aside to cool.

MINOR DIGRESSION: Today I chatted with a new baker at my local kitchen supply store. Nerve-wracked, she spoke of her fear of a sunken souffle, to which I responded: DON’T LET YOUR EGG WHITES OWN YOU. That sounds a little ridiculous, true, but don’t be paralyzed by technique. Whether you’re tempering eggs or folding in whipped cream, RELAX. This isn’t NASA. We’re not building a rocket over here. Take it slow and allow yourself to fail. The first time I made a cheesecake I used confectioner’s sugar rather than granulated. Need I say more?

Whip the heavy cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until soft peaks form (the cream will look silky, having lost all of the bubbles). Add the sugar and continue to whisk until you have firm peaks (translation: the cream stands up on your whisk). Carefully fold the whipped cream into the pumpkin mixture and pour it into the cooled tart shell. Chill for 2 hours or overnight.

For the decoration, whip the heavy cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to whisk until you have firm peaks. Pipe or spoon the whipped cream decoratively on the tart and sprinkle, if desired, with orange zest. Serve chilled.

RECIPE NOTES: I beg of you: do not use pumpkin pie filling recipe. First of all, it’s garbage. Second of all, it will ruin the whole recipe. Ensure the label on the can reads: “pumpkin puree” or pumpkin”. Also, I always use cane sugar. I will admit that I used a tad less sugar that what the recipe calls.

My piping skills are still pretty shameful (I cut a whole in a ziploc bag to pipe the tart) and we ended up covering the tart in cream, as it was not only more attractive but the light whipped cream against the contrasting texture of tart and crust was DIVINE.

Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart: About to Make the Crust
Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart: Cooled Crust
Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart: Tempering the Hot Mixture
Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart: Mashed Bananas + Orange Zest
Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart: Dissolved Gelatin
Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart: All Ingredients Mixed
Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart: Firm Peaks
Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart: Before the Folding
Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart: Before the Cooling
the finished product: pumpkin banana mousse tart!

instant delish: fifteen minute pasta

instant delish: 15 minute pasta After a long day at the office, the idea of fixing dinner is exhausting. We reach for the thick bundle of take-out menus, and after an hour we have delivery remorse. After thirteen some odd years working for various corporations, I’ve learned a bit about cooking instant, healthy meals. It’s possible to be satiated and not pass out from a little work in the kitchen beyond shoving a processed frozen dish in the UV (note: I do not and will never own a microwave).

I’ve never quite understood this ridiculous fear of pasta. During the Atkin’s nonsense, I wanted to hail loaves of multi-grain bread and whole-wheat pastas in every direction. Let me say this once: PASTA IS NOT YOUR ENEMY, the garbage you put on it is, and the white versions are. If you opt to use whole grains, and infuse your dishes with a healthy amount of protein, greens, and flavor, you’ve got an instant delish dish.

My pasta mainstay came from sifting through the fridge and throwing a smattering of items together in a bowl. What I love about this dish are the varying flavors and textures – you get the spice from the hot sausage, the bite from the nutty al dente whole wheat pasta, the luscious creaminess from the sundried tomato and ricotta mix and the verdant flavor from spinach. The measurements are a generous portion for one. Enjoy!

1 hot pork sausage link (you can opt for turkey/chicken)
1 1/2 cups of whole-wheat/multi-grain penne
1 cup of spinach (packed)
1 heaping tablespoon of ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon of sundried tomato pesto (store-bought, or check out this recipe)
1 teaspoon of pecorino romano cheese (who are we kidding? I love my cheese and tend to add more)
salt/pepper to taste

Add pasta to a bowling, salted pot. I tend to cook my pasta 1-2 minutes under the package instructions as I prefer the al dente (to the tooth) texture. But if chewy works for you, rock it out!

Remove the sausage from its casing and break up into pieces. I use clean hands, because I’m of the Nigella Lawson school that if you’re squeamish about handling the food you’re about to eat, you probably shouldn’t be eating it. In a medium, hot saucepan with a drop of olive oil, add your parsed sausage and cook until lightly browned.

Add your spinach, salt and pepper. While the sausage, spinach and pasta are cooking, in a bowl mix your sundried tomato pesto with your ricotta. Add a pinch of pepper.

Drain the cooked pasta and add it to your spinach and sausage mixture, ensuring the pasta is completely coated with all the flavors and juices. Toss into your bowl and add cheese to taste.

Note: Today, I cheated and used white pasta, but typically the taste is infinitely better with the nuttier, heartier whole wheat variation.

instant delish: 15 minute pasta
instant delish: 15 minute pasta
instant delish: 15 minute pasta

sometimes divine dishes come from flubs in the kitchen!

whole wheat penne with hot chicken/turkey sausage, spinach and diced onions It astounds me that I’m unable to procure hot turkey sausage in the alleged gourmet mecca that is Park Slope, Brooklyn. While there are shops dedicated to showcasing newfangled nuts and cheese and imported pate, I can’t locate a goddamn turkey sausage to replicate my friend’s gemelli + hot turkey sausage + grape tomatoes + spinach recipe for this week’s brown-bag lunch. OH THE HUMANITY. Anyway, at my local supermarket I discovered a package of organic hot chicken/turkey, pre-cooked, casing-free. It completely escaped me that I needed uncooked ground sausage. I stared at the translucent onions sizzling, the sausage browning, the spinach wilting, and I grew nervous. I wondered how the flavors would merge, if the difference in sausage texture would somehow ruin the dish, if the presence of chicken would disrupt the subtle flavors. But I pressed on. Mixing in whole-wheat penne (instead of the gemelli) and pecorino romano cheese (rather than parmesan), this dish was an epic win! And incredibly healthy!!!

whole wheat penne with hot chicken/turkey sausage, spinach and diced onions
whole wheat penne with hot chicken/turkey sausage, spinach and diced onions
whole wheat penne with hot chicken/turkey sausage, spinach and diced onions

lick the screen: homemade apple pie with the kids!

homemade apple pie, in connecticut I firmly believe that you need a repertoire – a steady host of recipes that you can practically fix in your sleep. Seriously, prop the food processor up on your pillow and the vegetable peeler poking out from under your blankets. This apple pie, adapted from Ina Garten, is my go-to show-stopper. Although I will buck the trend and proclaim, quite loudly, that GRANNY SMITH APPLES ARE WRONG. They are divine for sampling with brie and aged gouda cheeses, but they’re criminal in a pie. The flavor lacks the complexity and depth that varying apples can easily yield. I tend to use a mixture of tart and sweet and the inclusion of orange zest and juice cuts through the acidity of the astringent lemon and imbues a lighter flavor to the apples.

From this weekend, I’ve learned that apple pies are fabulous when you’ve got little helpers. From tossing the filling (aside: I’ve heard this horrific rumor that one could purchase CANNED PIE FILLING? This isn’t true, right? Who would do this, and more importantly…WHY?) to measuring the ingredients to rolling out the dough (kids, I’ve discovered, are mad for rolling pins), baking is not only a fun event but they’re learning a little chemistry and science.

If you want a revision of your staid apple pie, I implore you to bake this delish version! Although the recipe comes courtesy of Ina Garten, I’ve made some minor adjustments to make it mine.

4 pounds apples, peeled, quartered, and cored*
1 lemon, zested
1 orange, zested
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 teaspoon to sprinkle on top*
1/4 cup all-purpose flour*
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
<a href="Perfect Pie Crust
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

apple pie, in progress Directions
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut each apple quarter in thirds crosswise and combine in a bowl with the zests, juices, 1/2 cup sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Roll out half the pie dough and drape it over a 9- or 10-inch pie pan to extend about 1/2-inch over the rim. Don’t stretch the dough; if it’s too small, just put it back on the board and re-roll it.

Fill the pie with the apple mixture. Brush the edge of the bottom pie crust with the egg wash so the top crust will adhere. Top with the second crust and trim the edges to about 1-inch over the rim. Tuck the edge of the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust and crimp the 2 together with your fingers or a fork. Brush the entire top crust with the egg wash, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, and cut 4 or 5 slits.

Place the pie on a sheet pan and bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until the crust is browned and the juices begin to bubble out. Serve warm.

*Notes: While Ina prefers to use only Granny Smith apples, I offer instead that you use a combination of three apples: Honeycrisp, Red Delicious and Gala – the variation gives the pie a wonderful tart/sweet flavor. I tend to find Granny Smith pies too tart and uninteresting. Additionally, I use cane sugar rather than granulated. Cane sugar has made a significant difference in my baking yielding a deeper, sweeter taste (not overly sweet as that may sound, but a richer flavor). My flour is always unbleached.

apple pie, in progress
apple pie, in progress

what we covet, what delivers us comfort & mischief in the kitchen…

sunrise We covet what we lack – a home that overlooks a vast forest with crimson leaves lit up by fire, a web of stars blanketing a midnight sky, a patio fashioned with stones and surrounded by verdant land, and a home that smells of temperate ovens and warm pastry. We covet the unfamiliar sounds – the tinny of a little girl’s giggle when tickled, the cackle of a boy, eyes filled with mischief, as he plays a game of catch with a wig and plots his next monster attack. Their eyes are the blue of hyacinths. Their world is blissfully innocent and small; a holocaust is a chipped crayon, a misplaced coloring book, and clouds that break, threatening their play. We covet what we quietly desire – that which is unknown, the stuff of black and white television shows and bedtime stories – windows, rooms, a roof and the familial love which exists within. For me, I’ve never known a home bustling with children and extended family – a place where laughter is the loudest sound and solitude is a luxury.

the divine gamelli & sausage pasta I spent the weekend with an old friend and I fell rapturously in love…with her daughter. I’ve shied away from girls, as I’ve a history of broken women, mothers, their unloved daughters and their misery, which seemed subterranean, bottomless, and I wondered if I could ever love a girl as much as she’d required me to, simply for the fact that I wouldn’t know how. Frightened that I’d never be a revision of what came before. So whenever I’ve visited my friend I cleaved to her eldest, a boy of five, wide-eyed, inquisitive and raucous for her daughter unnerved me. Not because she wasn’t dear and pink and confection-sweet, but because I didn’t know my way with her. Until this weekend, when I clasped her small hand in mine on the way to church. Until she requested that I snap barrettes in her hair whilst warding off monsters and reading stories (Felicia, please!). Until she proudly announced that I was her new friend. My heart warmed in a way that I hadn’t conceived, never thought possible, and for a woman who routinely skewers her friends for being five minutes late, I had an infinite amount of patience for their miniature tantrums, requests for twirling, and competitive timbre.

I fell in love with spending time with the unknown – a loving, happy family. We made a homemade apple pie, dined on delicious pasta, feasted on roasted squash with sausage stuffing and played endless rounds of GET THE MONSTER, FELICIA! So I snuffed out the monsters, watched the children take turns rolling out the divine dough my dear friend and their mother made, and was a little heartbroken en route to New Haven, but felt at turns comforted to have a family who wholly embraces me as one of their own. I haven’t yet found a way to articulate how this great gift humbles me, comforts me and gives me a joy that is priceless.

Believe me when I say that I’ve plans to marry into a family that could fill stadiums.

As I could never leave a weekend without some mischief in the kitchen, my Liz was kind enough to share her simple, affordable recipe for a quick and delectable weekday dish and kindly indulge my food snaps.

the divine gamelli & sausage pasta Feast on gemelli pasta, hot turkey sausage and spinach, as adapted from Food and Wine magazine.

3/4 pound gemelli or penne
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1 pound hot (spicy) turkey sausages, casings removed
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 cups coarsely chopped baby spinach (4 ounces)
1/2 pint red grape tomatoes (I’m not a fan of the grape tomato, so I’d likely use sundried in this dish)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the gemelli until just al dente. Drain the gemelli, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.

Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the sausage and crushed red pepper and cook, breaking up the meat with the back of a spoon, until no trace of pink remains, about 5 minutes. Add the spinach and tomatoes and cook just until softened, about 3 minutes.

Add the gemelli and the reserved cooking water to the skillet and cook over moderate heat, lightly crushing the tomatoes, until heated through, about 2 minutes; season with salt. Transfer the pasta to bowls, sprinkle with the Parmesan and serve.

the divine gamelli & sausage pasta
the divine gamelli & sausage pasta

instant delish: ricotta + honey + toasted almonds + flaked coconut

 instant delish: ricotta + honey + toasted almonds + flaked coconut Kill me now, why don’t you?! A few nights ago a host of us fellow bakers talked shop, riffed if you will, on desserts. The oddest thing about the whole conversation was our cheese obsession. Taking something which is savory and reconfiguring it as sinfully sweet. True, there is the ubiquitous port and cheese platter — the creamy gorgonzola laden with walnuts and unctuous honey, the dried cranberry and goat affair, but I’m thinking instant, delicious and texture play.

Believe me when I say that this dessert took under five minutes to make. I nabbed ricotta cheese (part skim), honey, sweetened coconut flakes and toasted some slivered, blanched almonds in a pan, and voila! Instant delish. Tinker by added toasted pistachios for Middle Eastern flair or add in a dash of cocoa (or melted dark chocolate) and diced pear. The permutations are endless.

Don’t obsess over specific measurements. Unlike baking where meticulous chemistry is paramount, you can tinker to taste with this.

instant delish: ricotta + honey + toasted almonds + flaked coconut

epic eats: penne with butternut squash sauce & grilled chicken!

penne pasta with butternut squash sauce, grilled chicken and basil Tape your socks down, kids, because I’m about to knock them right off! Ages ago, I read somewhere that photography is instinctive. You could learn technique, mechanics, aperture. You can even invest in a tripod and SLR, but at the end of the day you have to love your subject. And you have to wholly connect with every photo you take. Much like how I give a small piece of me away every time I commit pen to paper (or hand to keyboard, as is the fashion these days), I’m realizing that I love taking pictures of food. Simply because I love the tactile act of cooking, of creating something from nothing, and reveling in the finished product’s magic. And while I’ll go the distance for a muffin or a molten cake or a buttery blueberry almond crumble, I’m finding that the more I relax, let the days pass if you must, cooking has become easier for this Type-A girl.

Believe me when I say that akin to the epic butternut squash lasagna epidemic of 2007, you will worship at the ALTAR OF SQUASH after you hoover this delish dish. I first discovered this recipe from Giada De Laurentiis. I’ve fiddled with it a bit, and I’m presenting my adapted version below. To give you an idea of taste: picture macaroni and cheese with a bit of tang. The consistency is creamy, hearty and rich and you won’t even realize you’re eating a vegetable – it’s that divine. And after I inhaled BOWL #1, I chopped up some sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil and added that to bowl number two. I love texture and flavor plays, so you’ve the sweet basil against the tangy squash with the crisp chicken and chewy tomatoes. The cacophony of flavors will murder you. FAINTING OVER HERE, PEOPLE.

butternut squash penne pasta with basil and grilled chicken

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons (for the chicken)
1 pound butternut squash, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon Kosher (or sea) salt, plus 1 teaspoon (for the chicken)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus 1/2 teaspoon (for the chicken)
1 cup chicken stock
1 pound penne (you can use rigatoni or any ridged pasta that can take the heft of the sauce)
1 pound chicken breast, diced (you can add more to suit your taste)
3/4 to 1 cup part skim milk
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan, 2 tablespoons Pecorino Romano
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil, chopped

Warm 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butternut squash, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Saute until the squash is golden and tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the vegetable stock, bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the squash is very soft, another 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the squash mixture to a blender or food processor and puree.

Learn from Felicia: Before you start any endeavor in gastronomy, check to see if you have all the ingredients and that they haven’t expired. I was all fancy-free and fabulous until I realized my three boxes of chicken stock had expired this past JUNE. So I raced out (in purple pj’s) to my local market, while the squash was sizzling, to nab some stock. Don’t go to ruin. Prepare.

Bring a large pot of salted water (think salted like the Mediterranean) to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta.

Meanwhile, warm the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Season your diced chicken with salt and pepper, and brown (4-5 minutes).

Once the chicken is cooked, add the sauce, milk, cheese, basil, sundried tomatoes and salt/pepper to taste. I tend to like a full-on pepper situation, but flavor to your needs. Serve pipping hot!

butternut squash penne pasta with basil and grilled chicken
butternut squash penne pasta with basil and grilled chicken
butternut squash penne pasta with basil and grilled chicken
butternut squash penne pasta with basil and grilled chicken
butternut squash penne pasta with basil and grilled chicken

eat this: arugula pesto pasta with grilled chicken, roasted pumpkin seeds & salad

Arugula pesto pasta with grilled chicken Tonight, I feted one of my closest friends and gave her one of the greatest gifts one could give to another friend – a homemade meal and cozy conversation. When I plotted my menu, I kept thinking about Ina Garten’s mantra: keep it simple and delicious, and always try to prepare as much of the meal in advance. Pesto can be blitzed the day before and sealed in tupperware. Chicken can always be re-heated, and cooking pasta “to the tooth” takes 8-10 minutes.

Last year, my first meal in Rome was a simple rigatoni pasta with creamy arugula pesto, and it felt as if it was the first time I’d ever tasted pasta it was that simplistic and that extraordinary. So, I set out to recreate that magical moment for my dear friend, Cheryl.

Clearly, I needed some help. Simply Recipe’s Arugula Pesto is OUT OF CONTROL. I was intrigued by the technique of browning garlic with skins on — it yielded a pungent, yet sweet flavor juxtaposed with the raw, almost acrid taste of raw garlic. Both imbued the pesto with a deeper, layered flavor. My only adjustments:

  • I added a smattering of roasted pumpkin seeds to the finished product (roasted a whole sugar pumpkin for 20 minutes to soften. After, I cut in quarters and roasted for another half hour. Scooping out the seeds, I garnished my pasta with the delectable crunch – a nice texture play against the al dente pasta and the creamy pesto)
  • I tossed in diced, sautéed chicken. Dice up a fat chicken breast, season with salt and pepper. Sauté on in oiled skillet for 5-8 minutes
  • Did I mention that my friend Cheryl is a VEGETARIAN?! After six years of friendship, how did I not know this? Surely my head has been in an oven or some other foreign object that suppresses sound. I was horribly apologetic and Cheryl was incredibly kind. After a quick chicken elimination, she was entranced by the arugula pesto.

    We wondered aloud: HOW COULD WE GO BACK TO BASIL PESTO? That inferior, traditional pesto when the arugula version was peppery, complex and shades healthier.

    The salad was easy. Kale, pre-washed herb salad and leftover arugula, dressed with a simple vinaigrette. We finished off with cold apple crumb pie, hot tea, and watching bits of The Office.

    ready for blitzing!
    Roasted pumpkins
    Grilled chicken
    getting the arugula pesto ready!

    lick the screen: apple crumb pie

    IMG_2220 It’s been said that the most beautiful sound is your child’s voice and the most wondrous smell is something blooming in the oven. Although the jury’s out on the former (my vote is for laughter), the latter gives me pregnant pause. To say that I have a passion for food would be an understatement. I’ve been known to flee through markets and pile outrageous things in my cart simply for the fact that it gives me pleasure. The scarlet of a Gala apple and the blush pink of a ripening raspberry, the crisp edges of a slightly burnt cookie gives me joy on the level of delirium. Other than your love and compassion, I firmly believe that food is the greatest gift you can give to someone else.

    As a freelancer, I miss carting my baked goods into an expectant office. I miss the gasps and chews and well-done nods. I miss the way a friend’s face transforms after a first bite. It’s tough, I’ll admit, when you bake for one and sharing with others isn’t as easy as it once was. But I press on, whirl the stand mixer and knock on neighbors’ and friends’ doors.

    After a delicious girl-getaway to Rhinebeck, where we picked apples from deciduous trees and ran through pumpkin patches like giggling children. We foraged through trees, crouched and towered until our buckets overflowed. Believe me when I say that I couldn’t wait to fire up the oven and bake something soothing and sweet, and have the whole of my home smell of nutmeg.

    Update: After five minutes of cooling (I have the patience of a toddler at Christmas), I dug into the pie, and believe me when I say that I FUCKING WEPT. I cried for the almonds, the light crumble topping and the butter that melted on my tongue, and the juxtaposition of the sweet and tart apples. YOU NEED TO MAKE THIS. If not, I can’t even help you people.

    Ingredients: Apple Crumb Pie from the Martha Stewart Baking Handbook (translation: bible)
    1 1/2 cups flour*
    1 cup plus 2 tablespoons, blanched almonds, finely ground
    1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar*
    1/3 teaspoon salt
    1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces

    3 1/2 pounds assorted apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices*
    Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
    1/3 cup sugar*
    3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
    1/4 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

    In large bowl, whisk together flour, almonds, sugar and salt. Using pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with a few larger clumps remaining. I don’t have a pastry blender and neither should you, so you have three options:

    A. Blitz in a food processor
    B. Use a stand mixer to get large clumps and finish off with your hands to render the consistency of fat peas
    C. Go crazy and buy that newfangled pastry blender

    Using fingers, squeeze mixture together to create pea-size pieces. If not using right away, cover and chill until ready to proceed.

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Evenly and firmly press half of crumbs (about 2 1/2 cups) into bottom, up sides and onto rim of 9-inch glass pie plate. Press firmly onto edges. Freeze pie shell for 15 minutes or until firm.

    In large bowl, toss together apples, lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Pour mixture into chilled pie shell, mounding apples slightly in center. Dot with butter. Sprinkle remaining crumbs in clumps over apples to cover completely.

    Bake for 1 hour, rotating halfway through, or until crust turns golden and juices begin to bubble. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

    Pie can be kept at room temperature, loosely covered with plastic wrap, for up to 2 days.

    *Recipe Notes: I always use unbleached flour and cane sugar. For this particular recipe, I used a combination of Macon, Gala and McIntosh apples from my recent upstate apple-picking jaunt.

    you want the consistency of small peas.
    before the apple crumb pie (with almond) goes into the oven
    apple crumb pie: the unveiling
    apple crumb pie: the unveiling