Sunday, December 31, 2017

"The Macy's Culinary Council Thanksgiving & Holiday Cookbook" - Blue Cheese Potatoes au Gratin - Christmas Day

Date I made this recipe:  Christmas Day, 2017

The Macy’s Culinary Council Thanksgiving & Holiday Cookbook
Published by Macy’s in commemoration of the 85th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
ISBN:  978-0-9779890-5-8; copyright 2011
Recipe:  Blue Cheese Potatoes au Gratin – p. 23

Let me just cut to the chase:  These are some of the best potatoes I have ever eaten! 

There.  Now that I have your attention, let me just say that it took me long enough (six years) to cook from this cookbook, but it was well worth the wait. 

The recipes in this book were all contributed by chefs who were members of Macy’s Culinary Council:  Rick Bayless; Michelle Bernstein; Cat Cora; Tom Douglas; Todd English; Marc Forgione; Emeril Lagasse; Wolfgang Puck; Marcus Samuelsson; Tim Scott; Nancy Silverton; Ming Tsai and Takashi Yagihashi. 

If you are into cookbooks and cooking like me, you probably know most of these names.  Maybe you have their cookbooks.  I have met personally Cat Cora and Marcus Samuelsson, and have eaten also at Marcu’s Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem.  If you’re like me, you gush a little.  These people are all kick-ass chefs who know their way around a kitchen, but yet were happy to share their skills and expert observations with Macy’s shoppers.  I like that.

My husband and I didn’t really observe Thanksgiving Day this year because we still had leftovers from the pre-Thanksgiving family dinner we had the week before.  Initially, I was thinking of making a belated T-Day dinner and earmarked several T-Day recipes in the book, but then as I am wont to do, I changed things up and went in another direction.  The other direction was a beef brisket (not in this cookbook) accompanied by these Blue Cheese Potatoes au Gratin and a Roasted Beet Salad (also from this cookbook, page 111).

I have to say that the brisket was okay, the beet salad was very good, but these ‘taters were just amazing.  As these things go though, they almost didn’t happen.  When we went grocery shopping on Christmas Eve, I was pretty convinced that I had enough blue cheese for the recipe.  Turned out I didn’t, and then it turned out that Andy inadvertently munched his way through some of what I had on hand during his daily “cheese and crackers hour.”

You know how people look when they’re caught eating let’s say ice cream straight out of the container?  This is what Andy looked like when I “caught” him eating the cheese!

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?  I told you that I was using that in the potatoes!”  He claims that the cheese stock was already depleted before he touched it, but I don’t know about that.  I do know that I wish I had taken a photo of him stuffing a cheese-laden cracker into this mouth because it was pretty funny and also evidence of his near-crime!

This left me then low on cheese and low on choices.  We had other cheese in our refrigerator, but some were too hard, some were the wrong flavor profile, and some were similarly textured, like feta, but just not right.  This left me with goat cheese and you know what folks, when I used it in this recipe, I discovered I inadvertently (and out of necessity) hit the jackpot.  The texture of blue cheese is not exactly the same as goat cheese, but they blended well together, and the dish was delicious. 

What I really loved though, was that you simmer the potatoes in the cream before baking them in the oven.  This lets the flavor infuse, and also pre-cooks the potatoes so your potatoes come out soft and creamy.

This recipe was submitted by Eugene Flynn, owner of Amanda’s restaurant in Hoboken, NJ, who caters a pre-parade event for parade staffers and their families.  I just looked at his restaurant menu and he serves these potatoes with a sixteen-ounce grilled Angus Sirloin and I am so going there and getting that when we return to NJ this summer.  Road trip!

This cookbook is divided into holidays – Thanksgiving and “Holiday”– and each chef contributes a menu as follows:

  • Parade Party:  Emeril Lagasse
  • Left Coast Thanksgiving: Tom Douglas
  • New Classic Thanksgiving:  Marc Forgione
  • A Southern Thanksgiving:  Cat Cora
  • Leftovers for Lunch:  Nancy Silverton

  • Friends and Family Cookie Exchange
  • Holiday Brunch:  Wolfgang Puck
  • Holiday Open House: Tim Scott
  • Christmas at Home:  Rick Bayless
  • Feast of the Seven Fishes:  Todd English
  • An American Julbord:  Marcus Samuelsson
  • Dumpling Party: Ming Tsai
  • Hanukkah Dinner:  Michelle Bernstein
  • New Year’s Eve Party:  Takashi Yagihashi

 Almost every recipe is accompanied by mouth-watering photos which I always love and some chef commentary to boot.  Honestly, there were few recipes from this book I didn’t want to make and had to work hard to limit it to two and only two.

Even though I made these potatoes (and beet salad) for Christmas, they are the perfect accompaniment for any meal, especially a roast or a meatloaf, so knock yourself out.  Just keep your eye on both your husband and your cheese supply!

Blue Cheese Potatoes au Gratin – Serves 8 to 10
2 tablespoons butter
1 quart heavy cream
3 pounds Idaho russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick (preferably on a mandoline)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
5 ounces Maytag blue cheese, crumbled
Kosher salt
Ground white pepper

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Butter a 9- by 12-inch baking dish.

Pour the cream into a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat and slowly bring to a boil, watching carefully so the cream does not boil over.  As soon as the cream reaches a boil, add the sliced potatoes and salt and stir to combine.  Bring the mixture back to a simmer (stirring often so the potatoes don’t stick to the bottom) and cook until the mixture has thickened, and the potatoes are almost fully cooked, about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat.

Layer one-third of the potatoes in the bottom of the prepared baking dish.  Sprinkle one-third of the blue cheese evenly over the potatoes and season with a little salt and white pepper.  Repeat the layers twice, ending with the blue cheese.  Pour any cream left in the pan over the potatoes, and cover the dish loosely with foil.

Bake until the potatoes are cooked through, about 45 minutes.  Remove the foil and continue to bake until the top is browned and lightly crusted, about 15 minutes more.  Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Ann’s Note:  As noted above, I ran out of blue cheese and so added goat cheese and loved the results.  I think you too can play with the cheeses you use so long as you get something similar in texture and taste. 

"Cucina Rustica" & "Patsy's [NYC Restaurant] Cookbook" - Pasta with Sausage and Fennel Sauce and Pasta Bolognese - Christmas Eve 2017

Date I made these recipes:  December 24, 2017 - Christmas Eve

Cucina Rustica by Viana La Place & Evan Kleiman
Published by William Morrow & Company, Inc.
ISBN: 0-688-16063-8; copyright 1990
Recipe: “Little Ears” Pasta with Sausage and Fennel (Orecchiette con Salsicce e Finnocchio) – p. 188-189

Patsy’s Cookbook – Classic Recipes From a New York City Landmark Restaurant by Sal J. Scognamillo; Foreword by Nancy Sinatra
Published by Clarkson Potter Publishers
ISBN: 0-609-60954-8; copyright 2002
Recipe:  Penne Bolognese – p. 109

As is usual and customary, I made once again a pasta dish for our Christmas Eve repast.  Normally, I make spaghetti and meatballs but from time to time, I’ve made a pasta sauce just to mix things up a little.  Either way, pasta and sauce of some kind is a family custom, so I set to work to find some recipes.

Reader, I found two.  When I presented these two options to my husband, and asked him to choose one, he said “Why don’t we make both?  We can always freeze the leftovers.”

For the record, we do not “freeze” in this house unless by “freeze” you mean how we are feeling right now after coming in from outside where the current temperature is -5.  This is “up” from our starting temperature of -15 below.  My feet feel like blocks of ice.  (It’s also New Year’s Eve and this is just a great way to ring in the new year, is it not?)

Anyway, as usual, and especially when I’m looking at Italian cookbooks, I got sidetracked as so many dishes sounded fantastic.  Here’s a look at Cucina Rustica’s Table of Contents: 
  • Menus
  • The Italian Kitchen
  • Antipasti
  • Insalate (Salads)
  • Zuppe e Minestre (Soups)
  • Pasta
  • Risotto
  • Polenta
  • Contorni (Vegetables)
  • Pesce e Frutti di Mare (Fish and Shellfish)
  • Pollame e Carne (Poultry and Meat)
  • Dolci (Desserts)

 For many Italian-American families, Christmas Eve is the “Feast of the Seven Fishes.”  My family never observed this, and I don’t either, so I didn’t spend much time with that chapter.  The same cannot be said though, for the soup section as I do enjoy soup, especially when the weather is cold.  I toyed briefly, with making my own recipe for Italian Wedding Soup but that recipe wasn’t in this cookbook.

Many of the poultry, meat, vegetable and dessert selections would have been fabulous on any other day but this one and so I soldiered on to the pasta section. Let me be clear that the “pasta on Christmas Eve” edict wasn’t really a family rule per se, it’s just that we started having spaghetti on Christmas Eve when I was very young and I saw no reason to deviate.

Although the pasta section covered all the bases from “Fast Spaghetti” [Sauce] on p. 152, to “Sardinian Clam Sauce” on p. 171, I settled on the sausage and fennel sauce because I like sausage, I like fennel, and I like them together!

Some of you though, may not like fennel because it tastes – slightly - of anise which is to say, licorice. Do not be fooled into thinking you’re going to be eating black candy licorice though, because fennel licorice is no where near the tangy, yet sweet candy confection.  It’s a subtle taste and it marries well with sausage.  This recipe gives you the option to add cream to the broth-based sauce and what the heck, it’s a holiday, right?  We indulged.

By the way, this book’s authors, Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman wrote also Cucina Fresca and Pasta Fresca just in case you’re in a mood to get your pasta on!

Then there’s Pasty’s Cookbook which is a “commemorative” cookbook from the famous NYC restaurant, a place so small that it is always booked, and those bookings are for the beautiful people, i.e. celebrities. In fact, the back cover is filled with quotes from some of Patsy’s most famous patrons:  Nancy Sinatra (who ate there with her dad, Frank), Tony Bennett, Rush Limbaugh, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, and Michael Feinstein.  (I have an awful feeling that many of you reading this are saying “Who?” but Google them and educate yourselves because these people were big deals “back in the day.”)

Given that all of us little people have a snowball’s chance in hell of eating at Patsy’s, it was nice of them to publish this cookbook, so we can all sample what might have been.

Patsy’s Table of Contents is similar to but smaller than Cucina Rustica:
  • Appetizers
  • Salads and Vegetables
  • Soups
  • Pasta, Risotto, and Sauces
  • Chicken
  • Meats
  • Fish and Shellfish
  • Desserts

 There’s also a small section for Frank Sinatra’s Favorites which I thought was hilarious, but the guy ate there a lot, so why not, right?  The book contains several stories about family and friends and also many photos.  I love cookbooks like this as I feel like I’m looking at a family album.

Once again, I focused my search on pasta dishes and the one that caught my eye was yet another meat sauce, this time Bolognese.  Bolognese is a hearty meat sauce which is why I was hesitant to make both it and the sausage and fennel sauce, but protein is a good thing, so we went for it.  Whereas the sausage and fennel sauce had cream (optional, but we added it anyway), this one called for 2 tablespoons of butter and of course I obliged.  It would be rude not to, plus, butter is often a key ingredient in the Bolognese sauce and I was not about to leave out a key ingredient. (Patsy’s noted that cream is traditional also, but they opted for butter.)

Each of these sauces takes little time to make which was great and you can save yourself a whole lot of time with the pasta by choosing one kind (I used ziti) and running with it instead of making both orecchiette and penne.  In fact, the two pastas remind me of a hilarious moment in Venice while on my honeymoon 26 years ago.  We stayed in a small pensione run by two older sisters who were almost dead-ringers for my twin great-aunts, Angelina and Catherine who hailed from Sicily. At any rate, these sisters also ran a small restaurant and when we went downstairs for dinner one night, I ordered spaghetti and Andy ordered rigatoni.

The sister who took our order then shuffled back to the kitchen and moments later, we heard them both yelling (in Italian).  Our order-taking sister came back out, looked at us and said “Due (pronounced “do-ay” spaghetti or due rigatoni,” which translated means “Two [orders of] spaghetti or two of rigatoni,” and not one of each!

We cracked up laughing because reader, we were the only people in the restaurant at that moment!  Those sisters were not going to mess around by cooking two different pastas, and I didn’t either:  I split the difference by making ziti and that was the end of that!

This concludes our Italian-centric Christmas Eve dinner discussion.  You can make these recipes at any time, but I think they are best appreciated on a holiday in the cold, bleak midwinter.

Little Ears [Pasta] with Sausage and Fennel (Orecchiette con Salsicce e Finocchio) – serves 4 to 6
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ medium onion, peeled and minced
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
10 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casings removed, crumbled
10 fresh basil leaves, cut into julienne
5 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves only
½ cup chicken broth
½ cup young red wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup cream (optional)
1 pound imported orecchiette
Grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese for the table

Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized skillet.  Add the onion and gently sauté over low heat until it wilts.  Add the fennel and continue cooking until both fennel and onion are soft.  Turn up the heat and add the garlic to the skillet.

Sauté garlic briefly just until it turns opaque and releases its characteristic aroma.  Add the sausage and brown over high heat.  When no trace of pink remains in the sausage, add the basil, oregano, chicken broth, red wine, and salt and pepper to taste.  Turn down the heat to medium and cook sauce until the liquids reduce and the flavors are well blended.  Add the cream, if desired, and cook just until it reduces slightly, about 5 minutes.

Cook the orecchiette in abundant boiling salted water until al dente.  Drain the pasta thoroughly and transfer to the skillet with the sauce.  Cook briefly over moderate heat, stirring well.  Serve immediately in a large shallow serving bowl topped with plenty of grated cheese of your choice.

Pasta Bolognese – Serves 4 to 6
6 medium white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
¼ cup olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ pound finely ground lean beef
1 16-ounce can plum tomatoes, with juice
2 bay leaves
¼ cup Cabernet Sauvignon
¼ cup beef broth
Pinch of oregano
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 pound penne (or spiral pasta), cooked al dente

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the mushrooms, and blanch for 2 minutes.  Drain, chop fine, and reserve.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high flame and sauté the onions for 3 to 4 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Add the blanched mushrooms, garlic, and ground beef, and continue to cook and stir for 7 to 8 minutes, until the meat is browned.  Coarsely chop the tomatoes and add with their juice, the bay leaves, wine, broth, and oregano.  Bring to a boil, reduce the hat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Remove the bay leaves.  Add the butter and parsley and season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle and stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve over the cooked pasta.

Friday, December 22, 2017

"The Gift-Giver's Cookbook" - Sour Cream Candied Walnuts - Holiday party food!

Date I made this recipe:  December 3, 2017 – Party food!

The Gift-Giver’s Cookbook by Jane Green and Judith Choate
Published by Simon and Schuster
© 1971
Purchased at Bloomington Crime Prevention Association (BCPA) Annual Sale
Recipe:  Sour-Cream Candied Nuts – p. 111

I just have to say this:  Aiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

This freaking recipe, so simple to the eye, so difficult to nail, was almost the death of me as I prepared for our annual holiday party.  By the time I nailed it, I was on my fourth round and almost ready to pitch the pan and all its contents out my back door.

Here are the basic instructions:  Mix sugar and sour cream in a saucepan, heat to 236 degrees, remove from heat and add vanilla. “Beat until mixture thickens and loses its gloss.”

It was that last instruction that just about did me in because folks, you have no idea how hard it was to get that part – the “glossy” part - right.

The first time I added the vanilla, the entire mixture became a toasty-brown color which was not necessarily wrong, but not correct, either.

Attempts “2” and “3” didn’t come out right either.  Mixture two was not smooth enough, and mixture three did not lose its gloss as directed and seriously, how hard was this anyway?

The fourth attempt finally came out right and while the nuts didn’t exactly match photos I found on the internet, they were acceptable enough to grace our party table.  In fact, one friend asked if these were the ones that were giving me problems (I emailed some friends about my frustration) because she couldn’t stop nibbling on them!

Go figure.

Normally, after experiencing frustration like this, I have suggestions on how to fix it, but this time around I don’t except that you either have to keep trying to make this right or find another recipe.  Actually, I do have one suggestion and that is to refrain from adding the walnuts until you are absolutely sure that the coating is to your liking or you’ll be crying; walnuts are not exactly cheap!

Now if the thought of making these nuts scares you (and it shouldn’t because hopefully, it was a one-off situation), there are plenty of other recipes and categories from which to choose:

  • Part I – From the Oven: Fruitcakes…and Others (Fruitcake; Breads; Cookies)
  • Part II – Sweets (Plum Pudding; Candy and Nuts; Jellies, Jams, etc.; Syrups, Sauces and Flavors
  • Part III – Sours (Spiced Fruit and Chutneys; Relishes and Pickles; Savories and Snacks)
  • Part IV – Drinks (Festive Beverages)

Many of these recipes sounded great, but I was after party food and not gift-giving food and I thought the nuts would be a piece of cake to make.  Hardly. In retrospect, I should have gone for a “festive beverage”...with alcohol, but that type of drink is not in our party lineup. (Hilariously, this 1971 cookbook calls “humus” “hoomus” which is likely the correct spelling, but it seemed totally out of place.)

It occurred to me as I was writing this that I have a few other “gift-giving” cookbooks, but none that seem to date that far back.  My “newer” ones are mostly from the year 2000 on up.  Interesting, no?  Did people just fall out of love for hand-made food gifts or what?  I may have to put my “best people” on that one.

This then, concludes my kitchen report otherwise known as “Ah, nuts!”

Sour Cream Candied Nuts – makes about 1 pound
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ½ cups walnut halves

Mix sugar and sour cream in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil and cook, stirring, until 236 degrees is reached on a candy thermometer.

Remove from the heat and add vanilla.  Beat mixture thickens and loses its gloss.  Ann’s Note:  This will take a while, and if the result is not to your liking, do not add the walnuts!

Add nuts and stir to coat them on all sides. Put on a greased cookie sheet and separate the nuts.

Nuts may be stored individually plastic-wrapped in an airtight container for 2 weeks.

"The Art of the Cheese Plate" - Tandoori Cashews - Holiday party food!

Date I made this recipe:  December 3, 2017 – Party food!

The Art of the Cheese Plate – Pairing, Recipes, Style, Attitude by Tia Keenan
Published by Rizzoli
ISBN: 978-0-8478-4982-6; ©2016
Purchased at Barnes and Noble
Recipe:  Tandoori Cashews – p. 66-67

Earlier this year, I was shopping at the store, Anthorpologie, when I spied this book and should have purchased it right then and there but didn’t.  My bad.  If I pass up a book, I almost always write down the title, so I can purchase it another time, but by the time I decided to purchase it, I found I had lost the notation with the book’s title.

Uh oh.

No worries, right, I would just go back to Anthropologie and ask them about the book.  Easy, peasy.  It was a great idea except none of the young ladies working there had any clue whatsoever.  This was not helpful!

Then I went to Barnes and Noble, and tried to enlist their help:  “Well, it’s about cheese and it has the words “cheese tray” or “cheese plate” in the title.”

I think that was extremely helpful, don’t you?

At the time, they came up blank but months later, while doing a casual browse in the same store, I found it:  The Art of the Cheese Plate.  How simple! 

Reader, shall I just tell you though that once I got my hot little hands on this book, it disappointed? First, and this may sound dense, but even though it was clear that the book was about CHEESE, I was more interested in it for the nibbles and noshes to go with the cheese.  You’ll be happy to know there are 81 recipes which is quite a few.

The second reason I was disappointed in this book was because instead of posting recipes with all the ingredients and instructions laid out in a nice little list, all of them were incorporated into the narrative that mixed cheese discussions with recipes, and none of the recipe titles were bolded or otherwise stood out, making it absolutely annoying to read this book!  Yes, there is a great Table of Contents that directs one to the recipes, but that is not how I used this book which is to say, I flipped through it. Even if I had gone to the specific page listed in the Table of Contents, it still took a minute to find the recipe itself.

This was annoying and the main reason I didn’t like the book.  The recipes sounded great and the photos are stunning, but I do not like working that hard to figure out what’s going on!

Nonetheless, I forged ahead and out of the 81 recipes listed, culled these from the herd:

  • Meyer Lemon Marmalade with Goat Cheese – p. 24
  • Papillion Black Label Rochefort with Cranberry-Gin Compote – p. 29
  • Tandoori Cashews – p. 66-67
  • Blu de Bufala Cheese with Butternut Squash Golden Raisin Chutney – p. 71
  • [Cabot Creamery Clothbound Cheddar with] Vermont Smoke & Cure Summer Sausage, Tin Wholegrain Mustard (no recipe, just a photo)

 Any and all of these sound pretty good, right?  Exactly! I particularly liked the “Cranberry-Gin Compote” since a gin martini is my drink of choice (up, very dry, with olives), but the thing is, by this time, we were “at capacity” with some of our cheese spreads, and although we always put out cheese, we don’t spend a lot of time planning which cheeses to offer, we just select a few that sound good.  With that in mind then, we selected the cashews as we felt that they would be a great little nibble to have along with our other offerings (which, as always, were numerous).

Turns out we made the right call as these were a hit.  If you like the spices of Tandoori Chicken, you’ll love these.  They are easy to make, and can be made ahead and stored.  “Made ahead” is my favorite phrase at this time of year. My only complaint is that the recipe ingredients were listed as part of the narrative, so I had to separate them into the list you see below.  Yes, I am anal, but it also meant I wouldn’t forget anything!

Tandoori Cashews – Makes 1 ½ cups
1 egg white
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup sugar
1 ½ cups unsalted cashews, roasted

Ann’s Note:  I don’t know why I get so irked when I see “freshly grated nutmeg” or even “freshly ground white pepper” (not black pepper, white) but I do.  I am not overly fond of nutmeg in general, and I am sure not going to keep buying and storing nutmeg pods when I can keep already-ground on hand.  Furthermore, I did not discern any difference in the taste, so there!

Preheat the oven to 300F.

Beat 1 egg white until soft and foamy and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients (from ginger to sugar).  Whisk in the egg white until thoroughly combined.  Stir in the cashews and mix until evenly coated.  Ann’s Note:  I believe I found roasted, unsalted cashews all ready to roll, but if you don’t, [lightly] roast them first to bring out the flavor and then add them to your spice mix.

Spread the cashews in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes, until the nuts are medium brown. Remove from the oven, toss, and stir.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack—the cashews will crisp as they cool.  Break the nuts apart before serving or storing.

Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 1 month.

Suggested cheese pairings:  Fat-Bottom Girl, Mahon, or Goudas.  Suggested wine pairings:  Champalou Vouvray Brut Method Traditionelle (Chenin Blanc) and Clos Huet Vouvray Sec (a drier Chenin Blanc).

"The Kowalski's [grocery store] 30th Anniversary Cookbook" - Cranberry Blondies - Holiday party food

Date I made this recipe:  December 3, 2017 – Party food!

The Kowalski’s 30th Anniversary Cookbook (Kowalski’s Markets is a local, family-owned grocery store chain) – A collection of Kowalski’s best recipes edited by Rachael Perron
Published by Kowalski’s Corporation
ISBN:  978-1-4675-7717-5; © 2013
Purchased at Kowalski’s
Recipe:  Cranberry Blondies – p. 301 (These bars come close to Starbuck’s famous Cranberry Bliss bars which is to say, yum!)

I must admit that I’ve been rather late to the Kowalski’s “party,” possibly because I didn’t believe they could compete with another local, family-owned grocery store, Byerly’s, but I was wrong.  Very wrong.  (PS, a few years ago, Byerly’s merged with yet another family-owned store, Lunds, to become Lunds & Byerlys.)

Whereas most of the Lunds and Byerly’s stores are behemoth, Kowalski’s is practically a bodega. Shelf space in most stores is limited, but no matter because what they lack in shelf space, they make up for in carefully curated products lines, many of which are local.  In fact, one of my business clients’ products is sold in Kowalski’s (Safesha—a moisturizing hand sanitizer made with natural ingredients.  It comes in Sweet Orange, Lavender, and Unscented.  I love this product.  For the record, L&B carries it also.)

Items I shop for frequently at my local Kowalski’s are deli salads, the salad bar, fruit, veggies, yogurt (They carry my favorite brand) and meat.  Although Whole Foods still ranks as my #1 in the meat department, Kowalski’s is no slouch.  I’ve found the meat department staff to be incredibly knowledgeable and helpful, and a couple of month’s ago, they did me a solid when the package of chicken I purchased was questionable.  In fact, let me just give a shout out to Kowalski’s in general because while I think Whole Foods edges them out in the meat department, they are #1 for takeoff in the Customer Service department.

Like other grocery stores, Kowalski’s developed its own line of grocery products, products that they sample frequently in-store on the weekends.  Many of these items, like their Kalbi Sauce (Korean sauce) become recipe ingredients.  We made their recipe for “Kalbi Meatballs” at our annual party a few years back and they were a hit.  We don’t always like using jarred sauce, but this sauce is pretty tasty, and the recipe was easy.

Most of the recipes in this cookbook are uncomplicated and easy to make.  If a recipe ingredient isn’t to your liking, the staff will help you find a substitute as it did when I made their “Date & Blue Cheese Spread” (p. 99).  We love blue cheese, but many of our guests don’t and so I asked what I could use instead.  The answer was either feta or a cheese called Quark which is also like feta but with less tang.  We used Quark and it was delicious.

The cookbook’s Table of Contents is comprehensive:
  • Breakfast & Brunch
  • Beverages
  • Starters (Hot & Cold)
  • Soups
  • Salads
  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish & Seafood
  • Pasta & Grains
  • Vegetables & Sides
  • Cookies
  • Desserts

 Nothing amiss there!

Since I was on the quest for party food, I bypassed most of these categories and landed on these contenders:
  • Crab, Spinach & Artichoke Dip – p. 76
  • Make-Your-Own Baked Cheese Dip – p. 77
  • Bacon-Wrapped Parmesan Dates – p. 82
  • Date & Blue Cheese Spread – p. 99
  • Mascarpone-Stuffed Dried Apricots – p. 102
  • Cranberry Blondies – p. 301

 As we are wont to do, my husband and I make a huge list of possible party food and then start eliminating things, sometimes because we have too many other “like” recipes in the hopper, and sometimes just because on second glance, we just aren’t as enamored.  This time around though, our rationale was slightly different as follows:

“Crab, Spinach & Artichoke Dip” – We liked this one a lot, but felt that while some guests might not like the crab portion of this recipe, and so we made another spinach and artichoke recipe.

“Make-Your-Own Baked Cheese Dip” – The list of “add-in’s” became overwhelming and so we nixed this one. 

“Bacon-Wrapped Parmesan Dates” -  This was a strong possibility, but we would have had to make them on the day of the party and we hate doing that so this one was out.

As mentioned above, we made the “Date & Blue Cheese Spread,” substituting Quark cheese for Blue Cheese, and it was good, but not as good as the “Cranberry Blondies.” 

The “Mascarpone-Stuffed Dried Apricots” sounded good, and I could have made them a day before the party, so I liked that, but by the time we got to reviewing this recipe, we just bagged it in favor of…I can’t even recall!

This then brings us to today’s recipe for Cranberry Blondies, or as our guests called them “The citrus bars!”  This recipe comes close to Starbucks' Cranberry Bliss Bars, a bar I so love that I ate them by the pound the last few Christmases before coming to my senses!  Starbucks' bars are topped by drizzled white chocolate, but these bars incorporate white chocolate into the batter – po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe.  I think we could have drizzled also some more of the white chocolate onto these bars, but we didn’t.  Maybe next time?

These were easy to make and easy to frost and even better, they freeze well!  We stored them, un-frosted, in our freezer for about two weeks and then finished them up the day before the party.  If anything, I would double the frosting because I love frosting and I especially like a cream cheese frosting so there you go!

Cranberry Blondies – Makes 24
¾ cup butter, melted
2 eggs
4 tsp. vanilla
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ cups brown sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 cup white chocolate chips
½ cup chopped pecans
Cream Cheese Frosting
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp. room temperature butter
1 tsp. milk
½ tsp. vanilla
2 c. confectioner’s sugar
½ cup dried cranberries, chopped
1 tbsp. chopped orange zest

Line a 13 x 9” baking pan with parchment paper, extending up over the ends of the pan.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together butter, eggs and vanilla until thoroughly combined; set aside.  In a small mixing bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder and salt; stir into butter mixture until thoroughly combined.  Add chips and pecans; stir to combine.

Spread evenly into the prepared pan; bake in a preheated 350F oven until top is shiny, cracked and light golden-brown (25-30 minutes).  Cool completely in pan; lift bars out of pan with ends of parchment paper. 

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter, milk, and vanilla extract with an electric mixer on low speed until creamy.  Gradually beat in the confectioner’s sugar on law speed until frosting is smooth and spreadable.

Frost the blondies with the frosting, garnish with the cranberries and orange zest, and cut into bars.

"Sweet Confections - Beautiful Candy to Make at Home" - Honeycomb Candy - Holiday party food!

Date I made this recipe:  December 3, 2017 – Party food!

Sweet Confections – Beautiful Candy to Make at Home by Nina Wanat
Published by LARK
ISBN: 978-1-60059-920-0; copyright 2011
Purchased at Corazon gift shop, Minneapolis
Recipe:  Honeycomb Candy (a/k/a “Angel candy” or “Angel food candy”) – p. 53.  (I also made Rocky Road Chocolate Bark p. 43)

I think my husband said it best: “Honey, candy-making is not in your future.”

This year, I thought it would be fun to add some candy into our annual holiday party offerings mix, thinking to myself “How hard can that be?”

Turns out candy making is extremely challenging, and by the time I threw in the towel, I was but a shadow of my former self.

You’d think I would have learned my lesson after burning myself on hot caramel this spring, but I didn’t, thinking, rather erroneously, that melting sugar and liquid for these candies was different than melting it for the caramel.  I know, I know, I think I might have singed my brain at the same time as I burned my hand because the process for making caramel and other candies is the same!

Earlier that day, I started out by making what I thought was a simple recipe for “Sour Cream Candied Walnuts” from another cookbook.  Four tries later, and just as I was going to give up, I nailed it.  There was much rejoicing, but my work had just begun.

Next, I tried a recipe for Divinity candy that also seemed easy until I started to make it and then it became my worst nightmare.  The recipe is simple:  melt some sugar and boil it until it reaches the temperature required by the recipe, then incorporate that molten mixture into some whipped egg whites. For the first time ever, the whipped egg whites became our kryptonite as they just didn’t turn into the peaks required to turn this concoction into heavenly, floating clouds.  Nope. Think “nearly-scrambled” eggs.  Why they didn’t whip right remains a mystery, especially given that summer temps usually play havoc with egg whites, not winter.

After four tries to heat the syrup properly (Sweet Jesus, that was difficult) and then incorporate the egg whites, I pulled the plug on this operation, shot the mixture into the garbage and promptly retired this recipe to the “Don’t Even Think About It” list forevermore!

Feeling whipped but not-yet-defeated, I moved on to the (allegedly) easy Honeycomb Candy.  Sigh.  Folks, it took me three times to get this thing right and what was going on here anyway?  My kitchen turned suddenly into a disaster zone; maybe burning some sage is in order?

Happily, and jumping ahead, the “Rocky Road Chocolate Bark” was a snap because all one has to do is melt chocolate and pour it over marshmallows and almonds.  That I can do and that I did, ta da!

And now back to the Honeycomb Candy, already in progress. 

When I was a kid, we alternated between calling this “Angel food candy” and “Sponge candy.”  These days, I think “sponge candy” is the most common name for this concoction.  At any rate, we purchased this confection every year and then and now, the pieces were quite huge which is to say high and airy like an angel food cake.  The trick to getting that height, I believe, is adding more baking soda to the mixture than called for in most modern day, made-at-home recipes.  This honeycomb candy is pretty flat, but the flavor is still there and that is all that mattered to me.

Still, getting this recipe to work out took some doing (again!) and four tries later, I finally nailed it and that was a good thing because my track record thus far was most decidedly NOT noteworthy!

Although I am no candy expert, I think most of these failures come down to failing to heat the sugar to the right temperature.  More than once, it started to burn just as it reached the required temp.  That irks!  Incorporating the other ingredients is also tricky and I ruined more than one batch because the ingredients didn’t fold together as expected.

Mostly though, the problem was with the sugar.  Candy-making requires a candy thermometer, and each thermometer contains the heating temperature necessary to achieve different stages of candy, for example, “soft ball stage,” “hard ball stage” and the like.  Seems pretty simple and I followed my (my mother’s) candy thermometer directions that called for me to [most of] the sugar I was using to 250F, i.e. the “soft ball stage.”  Not only did it take forever to achieve that temp, but when it did, it started scorching, the nerve of it!

So, I Googled “candy temperatures” and folks, per Google, the soft ball stage is 235, not 250, what the heck?  No wonder my recipes weren’t turning out.  Argh!  I have now purchased a new thermometer with more updated temperatures.

Still, knowing that did not solve my problem because the directions called for me to heat the sugar until it was “golden,” and “golden” was not a selection on the thermometer.  This meant we had to guess and we guessed wrong at least twice, damn it! 

The third time around, I thought we got the “golden” part right, but when we added the baking soda, it all went to hell.  Let’s just say that getting that ruined candy mixture out of a pan (warning, it hardens) requires a LOT of hot water to loosen it.  A LOT. In fact, the only way I got it all to come out was to add water to the pan, then boil the heck out of it until it turns back into a syrup that can be poured down the drain.

Finally, we got the sugar right and the baking soda right and the texture right and our world was right, and we let the mixture settle, then melted the chocolate, dipped our pieces, and called it a day, huzzah! The result made for a pretty presentation and our guests oohed and aahed over them which made me feel good, given what I went through to get these made!

You can make and store these candies a couple days in advance of serving, but do not store them too long or the honeycomb will start breaking down into the syrup from whence it came.

As mentioned above, I fared better with the “Rocky Road Candy,” and would make this again, but no surprise, my “boiling sugar” days are over!  Chocolate, I can melt, but boiling sugar is beyond my kitchen pay grade.

I must say that I felt vindicated at our party when several people said how challenging it is to make candy.  No argument from me!  That said, if you are up for the challenge, here is the Table of Contents containing options for all kinds of candy:

  • Crunchy Candy – toffee, peanut brittle, lollipops, candied apples
  • Chewy Candy – caramels, taffy, jellies, nougats
  • Silky Candy – fudge, truffles, pralines, marshmallows
  • In the Pantry – Vanilla Extract, Candied Citrus Peel, Roasted Nuts, Candied Ginger

Next time around, I wouldn’t mind making some fudge or truffles as chocolate candies are (usually) not that hard to make.  Personally, I don’t think fudge is as impressive as other candies which is why I opted for the two recipes I made for the party.  Until all this went south, I thought I’d make a toffee, but that recipe was relegated to the back of the stack as well.

In conclusion, besides having a good candy thermometer on hand but you’ll also need a lot of patience.  Patience is required when waiting for sugar to boil because man oh man, that process is “slower than molasses in January.”  Yes, I meant to say that!

If you nail this recipe, you will be mighty chuffed with yourself as it is delicious.  Enjoy!

Honeycomb Candy – Makes 1 1/2 pounds
¼ cup water
1 cup sugar
¼ cup corn syrup
2 teaspoons baking soda, sifted
2 pounds milk or dark chocolate, tempered, or coating chocolate (Ann’s Note: “Tempered” chocolate is made by slowly melting the chocolate to be discussed below.)

To temper chocolate, break chocolate into tiny pieces.  Place these chocolate pieces in the top half of a double boiler and/or a large saucepan or bowl placed over a smaller pan of boiling/simmering water.  The chocolate should NOT come in contact with the water as it will be ruined.  Stir frequently over the boiling/simmering water until it melts.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Mix together the water, sugar, and corn syrup in a 2-quart saucepan without stirring.  If sugar crystals cling to the sides of the pan, dissolve them away with a wet pastry brush.

Boil over medium-high heat without stirring until the syrup just turns golden.  Add the baking soda.  Stir thoroughly and vigorously with a heatproof spatula.

Pour onto the parchment paper, and let cool without disturbing.  Once cool, use a long, serrated knife to cut honeycomb into 2-inch long pieces.  (It’s okay if they’re not exactly 2 inches long.)  Holding each piece between your thumbs and forefinger, dip halfway into the tempered chocolate, letting excess chocolate drip back into the bowl.  Place on parchment paper to set, and then store in an airtight container.

Ann’s Note:  These can be made a couple days in advance of serving, but if you wait too long to eat them, the sugar will start to break down and melt.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but they are better crunchy!

"Small Bites" - Cubano Skewers with Honey Mustard Sauce - Holiday Party Food!

Date I made this recipe:  December 3, 2017 – Holiday party food!

Small Bites – Skewers, Sliders, and Other Party Eats by Eliza Cross
Published by Gibbs Smith
ISBN: 13: 978-1-4237-4785-0; copyright 2017
Purchased at Bibelot, St. Paul
Recipe:  Cubano Skewers with Honey Mustard Sauce – p. 67.  (Not published:  Roast Beef, Gorgonzola, and Balsamic-Roasted Grape Skewers – p. 72)

Folks, if you are looking for a ridiculously-easy party appetizer, look no further for I bring you tidings of great joy and great eats – Cubano Skewers with Honey Mustard Sauce!

My husband and I love Cubano sandwiches, and this “deconstructed” recipe was just the trick for our annual holiday open house.  They looked pretty, tasted great, and were easy to make.

The ingredients are simple:  cubed pieces of ham, swiss cheese, pork tenderloin and a baby dill pickle, all stacked on a wooden skewer.  It takes two seconds to make the honey mustard sauce and then you are done.

To make things even easier for us, I baked the ham and roasted the tenderloin a few weeks before our party and then froze them.  I cubed the cheese in advance, got our pickle situation in order, and made up the sauce the night before.

My husband was all about that sauce.  In fact, when I informed him that I tossed the leftover sauce from the party, he gave me that “pound puppy” look and then scrounged around his company cafeteria for an acceptable substitute that he then had with the leftover skewers.

We made also the Roast Beef, Gorgonzola, and Balsamic-Roasted Grape Skewers from the same cookbook, but for copyright sake, I’ll let you find that recipe on your own.  I have two comments though that might be helpful:  The earliest we could roast the grapes was 8 hours before the party, so we decided to make them that morning.  We are not fond of “day of” cooking or preparation because we put out way too much food and this slows us down.  Second, the roast beef started falling apart i.e. shredding on us, prompting my husband to roll the cheese into the roast beef pieces and then put them on the skewer.  We used also other cheese such as parmesan in the bundles, just in case people didn’t like the gorgonzola.

Either way, prepare to bask in the glow of the accolades coming your way!

In case you are not a skewer person (some aren’t!), this cookbook contains recipes for “Basic Bites;” “Finger Foods;” “Skewers and Picks;” and “Sliders and Mini Sandwiches.” 

“Basic Bites” recipes include crisps, rolls, and crostini – in other words, appetizer “bases.”  “Finger Foods” recipes include everything from tiny drumsticks to wantons to mini pizzas, all of which sounded great, but would have required day-of party prep and as stated, we tend to avoid that.

The “Skewers and Picks” sections included the two skewers we made, plus satays, cheese nibbles and even jalapeno poppers.  The “Sliders and Mini Sandwiches” chapter was probably my second favorite with recipes for tiny lobster rolls, French dips, and sliders (yum!)

As I mentioned, the Cubano skewers had to be the easiest things we’ve ever made, and I already had one friend request the recipe for her family holiday gathering.  If these don’t fit into your holiday party plans, they would be great for a Super Bowl party or a summer picnic.  Enjoy!

Cubano Skewers with Honey Mustard Sauce – makes 24 (Ann’s Note:  Makes way more than 24!  We ran out of pickles though, so plan on buying two jars.)
1 pound cooked ham, cut into 1-inch cubes
½ pound Swiss cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes (Ann’s Note:  I used 1 pound of cheese and had a little left over.)
1 pound cooked pork loin, cut into 1-inch cubes
24 baby dill pickles
24 (6-inch) skewers
Honey Mustard recipe
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Layer 1 ham cube, 1 cheese cube, and 1 pork loin cube on a 6-inch skewer, followed by 1 pickle; repeat with remaining ingredients.

To make the Honey Mustard Sauce (Makes about 2/3 cup), in a small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, honey, mustard, salt, and pepper.  Serve at once or refrigerate, tightly covered, for up to 3 days.

Arrange skewers on a serving platter and serve with Honey Mustard Sauce.  Skewers may be refrigerated, tightly wrapped, for up to 8 hours before serving.

Monday, November 6, 2017

"The Pumpkin Cookbook" - Roasted Corn Pumpkin Chowder - Halloween!

Date I made this recipe:  October 31, 2017 – Halloween!

The Pumpkin Cookbook – 139 Recipes Celebrating the Versatility of Pumpkin and Other Winter Squash by DeeDee Stovel
Published by Storey
ISBN: 978-1-61212-833-7; copyright 2005,2017
Purchased at Bibelot Shops – St. Paul
Recipe:  Roasted Corn Pumpkin Chowder – p. 54

Well, it’s that time of year again which is to say it is fall and also Halloween.  I am not fond of either of these two “events.”

Fall is the season of dead things which is to say my allergies just go into overdrive.  It is also the calm before the storm of winter, and it has been gray in these parts now for oh, I don’t know—forever?  Okay, not really.  Let’s say for the past three weeks if not longer.  It’s also been cold which is why Halloween is no fun.  Did you ever hear a kid beg to put a coat on over his/her costume?  No, you did not!

And then there’s pumpkin which I don’t loathe but it’s not something I cozy up to, either.  It’s okay.  The taste is neither here nor there unless you add some spices to it but I’m not exactly fond of pumpkin spice so there’s another problem I have to overcome every year.  Then there’s the smell problem which is to say that once upon a time, real pumpkin spice didn’t really smell but if it did, it was a lovely scent reminding us of mom’s baking and family Thanksgiving.  Once everybody and their mother (but not my mother) got their hands on it though, it is now everywhere and in everything.  Starbucks of course, pushes the hell out of pumpkin-spiced lattes (usually in July which is maddening), grocery stores start carrying pumpkin-spiced everything and of course, stores like Bed, Bath & Beyond (a store I love), choke me out with their fake pumpkin-spiced candles and doodads.  Migraines are not fun, and there’s a special place in hell reserved for companies that trigger one by spraying everything with “that crap.”

Still, whilst shopping a few months back at one of my favorite stores, Bibelot (fun gifts, cool stuff), I spied this book, The Pumpkin Cookbook.  I debated and debated and then finally thought, “Oh, all right then” and so I brought it home, marked my calendar to remind me to use it and proceeded to flag some recipes.

What I really liked about this book is not only the wide variety of chapters/recipes from which to choose, but also because pages 16 and 17 break out all the recipes by how you want to use your pumpkin, to wit: “Baked or Roasted Pumpkin;” “Steamed or Microwaved Pumpkin;” “Raw Pumpkin;” “Canned Unsweetened Pumpkin or Puree,” and “Pepitas” (Pumpkin Seeds).  I think this is a damned fine idea!  They don’t match the cooking method to the Table of Contents, but they do reference page numbers so that helps.

Here then, is the Table of Contents:
  • Starters, Snack & Beverages
  • Soups & Salads
  • Side Dishes
  • Main Courses
  • Breads
  • Pies
  • Cookies
  • Cakes
  • Desserts & Delicacies

 Many of the sweet treats sounded fantastic, but I thought that was too easy and expected so I looked at the savory options.  In the running were:
  • Black Bean (and Pumpkin) Dip – p. 22
  • Holiday Pumpkin Dip – p. 23
  • Roasted Ginger Pumpkin-Pear Soup – p. 40
  • Italian Pumpkin Soup with Crushed Amaretti Cookies – p. 55
  • Chicken-Pumpkin Tacos – p. 102
  • Punkin’ [Sloppy] Joes – p. 130
  • Spaghetti with Peppers, Onions, and Sausage (and Pumpkin) – p. 141
  • Creamy Fusilli, Sausage and Pumpkin [Pasta] – p. 145

Any of these would have been fine although since I am such a fan of Sloppy Joes, I was leaning in that direction.  Then I handed the book off to Andy and asked him to choose something, thinking he would choose one of the recipes I flagged in advance.  Turned out he went “rogue” on me and selected something I hadn’t marked and that is how I came to make tonight’s dinner selection – Roasted Corn Pumpkin Chowder (p. 54).  I did not see that coming!

Since both of us are chowder fans, this one hit all the basic requirements:  corn, potatoes, a creamy broth, bacon (a nice addition) and even cheddar cheese.  The pumpkin was a nice addition, but pumpkin can be rather bland, and so it could have benefitted from more spice in the dish.  Aside from salt, the full recipe called for ½ teaspoon dried thyme and 1/8-1/4 teaspoon white pepper. Plan on using more.

As you might imagine, step one was to find a cooking pumpkin, carve it up which is to say, cut it into chunks, and roast it.  That was easy enough, but you’ll have to watch your cooking times.  The pumpkin was to roast for 35 minutes and then another 30 minutes once you add some, but not all, of the frozen corn.  After 65 minutes, my pumpkin was more than done and it was okay, but I ended up scrapping it off the rind and then pulsing it in a food processor instead of adding it in chunks to the broth.  No biggie.

I also found some “fresh” corn at Trader Joe’s and thought to myself “Wouldn’t this be better than frozen corn?  Of course, it would!”  Andy though, thought I should have used frozen and he was not wrong, but he picked a fine time to tell me which was while we were eating it!

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention that pumpkin does not appeal to a lot of people, primarily because of its appearance which is to say, “not pretty” and/or “completely unappetizing,” and/or “reminds me of baby [you know];” I’ll let you fill in the blanks on what “you know” is. This soup’s appearance is also “not pretty” but the flavor is good and if anything, suffers from not having enough.  That’s an easy remedy in my book.

This then, concludes Halloween, pumpkins and fake pumpkin spice, and hooray for that.  Meanwhile, I’ll have to brace myself before I go into Bed, Bath & Beyond because tis the season for fake evergreen.  Dear Lord, it just never ends, does it?

Roasted Corn Pumpkin Chowder – Serves 8
1 pound fresh pumpkin, seeds and fibers removed, cut into chunks
3 cups frozen corn
4 slices bacon
1 onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 red bell pepper, chopped
¾ pound (about 8 small) Yukon Gold potatoes
5 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 – ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup grated cheese (for topping)

Heat oven to 400°F.  Grease a sheet pan with oil.  Rub the chunks of pumpkin with oil and bake for 35 minutes or until slightly tender.  Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F.  Add 2 cups (out of 3) of the corn and cook 30 minutes more, stirring occasionally, until the corn is lightly toasted and the pumpkin tender.  Cool.  Peel the pumpkin and cut into ½-inch cubes.  Ann’s Note [of caution]:  If making a half recipe, I suggest baking for 17 minutes or so (half the stated time) and then checking.  Do the same when you add the corn to the pumpkin i.e. no more than 15 minutes out of the 30 that is called for.  My pumpkin overbaked a bit which was fine but not what the author intended.  I also found a small baking pumpkin rather than a large jack-o-lantern (although do NOT use that for baking) and smaller pumpkins cook faster, or so it seemed!

Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a Dutch oven until crispy.  Drain, crumbled, and set aside.  Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat and cook the onion in the fat for about 5 minutes, until it is wilted.  Add the bell peppers and continue cooking for 3 minutes.

Add the potatoes, broth, salt, thyme, and white pepper.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Add the pumpkin to the soup, along with the roasted corn and the remaining frozen corn.  Continue cooking for another 10 minutes, until the pumpkin is quite soft.  Add the half-and-half and cook only until heated through.  Don’t let it boil.

Serve topped with the cheese and crumbled bacon.