Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies: Comfort Food Calling

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Life in Dubai means traveling a lot, exploring as much as possible within a direct flight radius. I started 2017 in California, and since then visited the Taj Mahal in India and went skiing in Kazakhstan. It’s only February. I love our adventures and trying local specialties wherever we go. I can’t say I loved the fermented horse milk in Kazakhstan, but hey, I tried it. Whenever I come home, I unavoidably go through a powerful comfort food craving phase. Usually that means allll the pasta, and a lot of baked goods.

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Which brings me to these cookies! Soft, chewy, sweet, pumpkin spicy cookies. This recipe is based on a good friend’s famous oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. She makes them every time my college girlfriends get together, or we make them together. They’re always amazing, and I can only speculate that they’re the magic glue of our long term friendships!  So she gets all the credit for introducing me to this magic formula. Also she’s a doctor so she knows what’s good for you. I just made a few tweaks to put pumpkin and spices in the mix. I was skeptical at first about keeping the chocolate chips in with the pumpkin, but you’ll just have to trust me that pumpkin apparently goes with everything.

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Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 48 Cookies

1 cup Butter
1 cup Sugar
1 cup Brown Sugar
1 Egg
1 cup Canned Pumpkin Puree
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
2 cups Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Ginger
1/2 tsp Cloves
2 cups Whole Oats (not steel cut or quick cooking)
12 oz (1 bag) Chocolate Chips
Sea Salt for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Allow the butter and egg to come to room temperature. Cream the butter and combine with the sugar, egg, pumpkin and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, spices, and oats. Add dry ingredients gradually to the butter mixture, mixing well to combine. Finally add in the chocolate chips and mix together.

Usually by this point I’m nearly full because I’ve tasted so much dough…but I shouldn’t recommend that because of raw eggs being bad or some such nonsense…

Spoon the dough into evenly sized balls on a cookie sheet, pressing them slightly flat into, you know, cookie shape. If desired, sprinkle the dough with a bit of sea salt before putting in the oven. Bake at 375F for 8-10 minutes. If I’ve learned anything by moving so much lately, it’s that ovens vary wildly. Start low on the timer and check for doneness.

Let cool and enjoy with milk (of the non-horse variety)!

©Cook it Pretty 2017

Fall Squash Quinoa

Fall Squash Quinoa | Cook it Pretty
Cutting right to the chase, you need this dish in your life. This recipe is full of fall flavor bombs: squash (or pumpkin), dates, dried cranberries, almonds, balsamic, and warm spices. It’s also healthy (because spinach), gluten-free, and vegetarian. I have made it with acorn squash, butternut squash, and gem pumpkins. You can impress guests by stuffing the quinoa mixture in a roasted acorn squash. It looks really cute. But this deconstructed method tastes the same. I’ll leave it to you to decide if you want to go the extra mile in presentation. I know this looks like a lot of ingredients but that’s ok because they’re all bringing something to the table.

Fall Squash Quinoa
1 Squash of your choice (butternut or acorn), halved and scooped
1  cup uncooked Quinoa
2 cups Water
2 Tbs Olive Oil
1 small Red Onion, diced
2 cloves Garlic, minced
S&P to taste
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar
1/4 cup Honey
1/2 cup fresh Spinach
1 tsp Red Pepper flakes (more to taste)
1/4 cup chopped raw Almonds
6 Medjool Dates, pitted and chopped
1/4 cup dried Cranberries
1/4 cup crumbled Feta
1/2 cup fresh Cilantro, chopped

Roast the Squash
Preheat the oven to 400F. In a roasting pan, drizzle the squash halves with 1 Tbs of the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place them cut side down and roast for 20-25 minutes. Turn the halves over and return to oven for 10 more minutes. They’re done when you can easily stick a fork all the way through the flesh of the squash.

Cook the Quinoa
While the squash is roasting, bring your quinoa and water to a boil on the stovetop. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking the quinoa covered for 15 minutes, until all water is absorbed. Set aside.

Ready the Flavor Bombs
Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet. Add the chopped onion and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the garlic and stir. Add a dash of salt and pepper, cumin and cinnamon. Add the balsamic and honey and allow it to reduce for a couple minutes. Add the spinach and stir until the leaves cook down. Turn off heat. Add your cooked quinoa and mix well. Add red pepper flakes,  almonds, dates, cranberries, crumbled feta and cilantro and mix well. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Combine Forces
If you’re going for presentation points, spoon the quinoa mixture into the roasted squash halves. If your halves aren’t so pretty or you just don’t care, go ahead and scoop the cooked squash out of its skin and add it to the quinoa mixture.

Enjoy!

© Cook it Pretty 2016

All the Pumpkin Pie Things

Pumpkin Pie Filling | Cook it Pretty
I made a big batch of pumpkin pie filling at Thanksgiving time and froze the leftovers. I knew I could use it for something delicious when the craving struck. So recently I opened my freezer to discover a small pack of puff pastry squares. Light bulb moment: Heyyyyy that sounds like instant pumpkin pie to me! I decided to cut the squares down to fit a mini muffin pan. Bite sized instant pumpkin pie…even better.

Mini Punkin Pies | Cook it Pretty
I didn’t waste time trying to make the crust pretty, I just kind of threw them in the tin, filled with the excess pie filling, and started baking. While I am the biggest fan of home made pie crust you know, especially my Mom’s, this was just. so. fast. Which makes it kind of irresistible, doesn’t it? Filling I already made and dough I don’t have to fret over? Pretty close to instant gratification for all your pumpkin pie craving needs.

Even after that mini pie feast, I still had more filling left. Also in my freezer, old-ass bananas saved for just such an occasion. Substitute a cup of pumpkin pie filling for one of the two eggs in my go-to banana bread recipe, reduce the sugar a tad to balance the already sweetened filling, and BAM – Pumpkin Spice Banana Bread.

Pumpkin Spice Banana Bread | Cook it Pretty
That’s two pretty major leftovers baking success stories in a row. Both delicious, quick, and easy. What’s your latest brilliant use of leftovers?

Pumpkin Spinach Lasagna

It may still be hovering around 100 degrees in Dubai, but it’s still October…technically, it’s pumpkin time. I hoarded canned pumpkin last year and had one can left – what to make? I was inspired by all the fall recipes popping up in my newsfeed and settled on a pumpkin lasagna.  I added spinach because then you can convince yourself you’re eating healthy vegetables while you consume this cheesy creamy comfort food. Nutmeg, a dash of cayenne, garlic in the bechamel, and a blend of mozzarella and parmesan cheeses bring a nice flavor to the pumpkin-centric pasta.

The two best time savers for you in this recipe are the canned pumpkin and ready-to-bake noodles. The most time consuming bit is making the bechamel, but this creamy white stuff is what takes the dish to the next level. I have a lasagna fan in the house, and he gave it immediate “is there more of this?” approval. It was pretty easy to pull together, so it could become a repeat offender!

Pumpkin Spinach Lasagna

For the filling:
1 can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup defrosted frozen spinach
1/2 stick butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup grated parmesan
2 Tbs sage
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Dash cayenne pepper

For the bechamel:
3 Tbs Butter
1/2 Tbs minced garlic
3 Tbs flour
3 cups whole milk
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Salt

For assembly:
Ready-to-bake lasagna noodles
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup more grated parmesan

Preheat oven to 375F.

To make the filling, start by melting and browning the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Combine browned butter with pumpkin puree, spinach, parmesan, sage, nutmeg, salt, and cayenne. Adjust seasoning to taste.

To make the bechamel, melt remaining 3 Tbs of butter with the minced garlic over medium heat. In a separate pan, bring milk to a gentle simmer over low heat. Whisk flour into the melted butter and garlic and reduce heat to low. (You don’t necessarily need to know that this is called a roux, but it does help you sound like a fancy chef.) Continue whisking frequently as you gradually add the hot milk. Add 1/4 tsp salt and nutmeg. Bring heat back up to medium and bring to a boil, keep whisking. Cook until thickened, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook for another 5 minutes. Add another 1/4 tsp salt.

Put it allll together! Use a small baking dish (this is not a large yield recipe). Coat bottom of the dish wish small amount of the bechamel. Then arrange the pasta lining the dish (they come in all different sizes, make it work for your dish size and shape!). Top with a layer of the pumpkin filling, another layer of pasta, then pour more bechamel and top with a mix of the two cheeses. Keep repeating the layers of pasta, pumpkin, pasta, bechamel, cheese depending on the depth of your dish and the amounts of each you have left, ending with a pasta and cheese layer on top.

Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and continue cooking until the cheese starts to brown, about 35 more minutes.

This recipe is easy to adjust. I would have doubled it if only I had more pumpkin! Mix different spices in the filling or swap out the cheese types depending on what you have or what you like. Enjoy!

© Cook it Pretty 2015

Couscous or Quinoa, Pumpkin or Squash?

Any conversation about squash or pumpkin can get pretty confusing around here. In Dubai, and apparently in Australia as well, butternut squash is referred to as butternut pumpkin. I’ve also seen acorn squash labeled as green pumpkin. I like pretty much all manner of squash and/or pumpkin and tend to gravitate toward recipes with these ingredients. (A recent review of my Pinterest boards made that pretty clear).

Butternut Squash Couscous | Cook it Pretty

So I recently picked up a “butternut pumpkin” and was looking for a recipe to use it with. I opted for  this Couscous Salad with Butternut Squash and Cranberry from The Kitchn. I followed the recipe pretty closely except for not soaking the dried cranberries (I eat them straight from the bag anyway – anyone know why I would need to soak them?) and adding some honey to the dressing as I found it a little too strong on the vinegar. I do love the local couscous, how cute is the packaging?

Dubai Couscous | Cook it Pretty

As I was making it I realized how close this recipe is to the Quinoa-Stuffed Acorn Squash recipe that is a big favorite of mine. After tasting it, I concluded that I prefer the quinoa/acorn version. This recipe from Camille Styles is the favorite of which I speak. I’ve made it over and over and it has sweet, salt, spice, and heat in all the right places. I always use cranberries instead of currants and different chopped nuts instead of pepitas, and my favorite personal addition is dates.

Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash | Cook it Pretty

I think this one also wins for presentation, and the addition of greens ups the health factor. Secret bonus of this presentation – no peeling or chopping the squash. That’s right, it’s actually easier to make it the cute way this time. I’ve made it clear in the past how partial I am to quinoa. Maybe I’m biased, but quinoa beats couscous this round. Cute camel packaging notwithstanding.

#TBT: Remember When Thanksgiving Happened?

It’s 2015! While most people have already received that memo, I need to do a throwback to reflect on Thanksgiving 2014. It was a unique holiday – our first time celebrating in our new Dubai home, our first time hosting as a couple, and our first International Friendsgiving. It was so memorable to share an American holiday with friends from all over the world. For me it was the perfect mix of old traditions and new twists.

International Friendsgiving | Cook it PrettyI focused on the mains like turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pie and we went potluck style for the rest, menu as follows:

Roast Turkey with Herb Butter rub
Spiced Cranberry Sauce
Classic Herb Stuffing
Gravy 2 ways
Mama’s Pumpkin Pie
Spiced Fig Sangria
Aussie Green Bean Casserole with Bacon
Southern Sweet Potato Casserole
Southern Mac n Cheese
Belgian Truffle Mashed Potatoes
Belgian Potatoes au Gratin
New Zealand Glazed Fruit Cake

Highlights: (1) Our turkey was beautiful. Juicy and delicious! Watch this 5 minute video next time you roast a turkey. Don’t make it more difficult than it needs to be. (1a) One of the best things I learned while hosting this year is that my soon-to-be-husband is a turkey breakdown master. (Look at those butchering skills in the first photo!)

Roast it Pretty(2) This cranberry sauce from The Kitchn is a winner. I was worried about straying from my Mom’s classic cranberry relish, but I opted for a cooked version because I don’t have a food processor here. I doubled the recipe and added a granny smith apple. Bomb. Also, great to make a day or two ahead.

Spiced Cranberry Sauce(3) I officially love stuffing, and while I will still call it stuffing, Paula Deen tells me it’s actually dressing since I don’t cook it inside the bird. My European friend called it a savory bread pudding, which I may also start using because it sounds so much fancier. I combined tips from two recipes which were both of the traditional onion/celery/sage variety. Made it mostly ahead and did a final bake the day-of.

Planning and Stuffing | Cook it Pretty(4) Pie. Our Moms are amazing. This being in charge and cooking all week thing isn’t easy (you can do it, but it’s work). The man learned a few things about making a smooth gravy, number one being it wasn’t as easy as his Mom makes it look. Same goes for me with the pie crust. I’ve made pie alongside my Mom countless times, but the magic of her ease with it just isn’t there when I do it on my own! There were nearly tears, and many texts and emails were exchanged with Mom along the way, but two pumpkin pies happened. The crusts didn’t look perfectly manicured by a longshot, but they were GOOD. Some of our guests said they’ve always heard so much about pumpkin pie but had never actually tasted it. How fun that their idea of pumpkin pie will be shaped by my Mom’s family recipe.

Mama's Pumpkin Pie | Cook it Pretty

I loved tasting what everyone else made and sharing some American traditions with them. I was thankful for the day, for our friends, and for the leftovers for many days to follow. Shame we only have one day a year dedicated to gratitude, I’m ready for another feast with loved ones already!

It’s Pumpkin Soup Season. Even here.

It started with this picture.

LAT Pumpkin Soup

Image from LA Times

This was 2009, aka pre-Pinterest, so it was the cutest pumpkin recipe presentation I had ever seen. I suggested it as a new addition to our family’s Thanksgiving feast that year, and went for it with the help of my Mom and sister. I photo-documented the whole thing, clearly always a blogger at heart, even if my photos weren’t the greatest. The recipe claims 2 hours prep/cook time, I’d say it took us more like 5. That’s because the original recipe from LA Times calls for starting with an entire actual pumpkin rather than the just-as-good canned pumpkin puree that people in the real world are more likely to use.

Spiced Pumpkin Soup - start with a pumpkin

Entire actual pumpkin used.

Being a family that places value on things from scratch, we went for it anyway. It involved a lot of secondary containers and extra sets of hands as we worked the huge batch through the food processor to break down the pumpkin chunks.

Cooking down the pumpkin chunks.

Cooking down the pumpkin chunks.

Don’t forget that you also have to carve out the minis for those cute pumpkin bowls!

Spiced Pumpkin Soup in mini pumpkin bowls

Making mini pumpkin bowls

The recipe makes a big batch that serves 12 – could you imagine making a dozen pumpkin bowls? Four was plenty. Here’s the finished product, in our imperfect yet pretty darn cute white pumpkin serving vessels.

Spiced Pumpkin Soup in Mini Pumpkin Bowls

Spiced Pumpkin Soup in Mini Pumpkin Bowls

We may have slaved for hours, but no one was complaining by the time we were eating it. Working that hard for something can make it taste even better. What sets this pumpkin soup apart from others I’ve seen and tasted, other than the impressive presentation, is the bisque-like texture (thanks to heavy cream) and the sweet spicy flavors (thanks to roasted chiles and maple syrup). And don’t forget the bacon!

In short, it was worth it. For a special occasion, I’d probably do those pumpkin bowls again. But what if I want to eat pumpkin soup every damn day?? And I kind of do. Thankfully, I have smart, resourceful, and talented friends.

Spiced Pumpkin Soup - Thanksgiving 2010

Thanksgiving 2010 version – garnished with extra nutmeg

My fabulous friend Pam over at Seriously Yum has taught me many kitchen lessons over the years, and has been doing this cooking and writing about it thing way longer than I have. She took on the “full fat, full afternoon” version and successfully cut down on time and calories – down to 100 calories per serving, in fact. Color me impressed. That was a fun collabo – Pam, we need to do it again! Find her lighter, faster version here.

I still seem to tweak the recipe slightly every time I make it, and I now make it at least once a year due to popular demand. Sometimes from myself.

Spiced Pumpkin Soup

Thanksgiving 2013 version

I’ve arrived at this recipe (below), which is a combination of the original and Pam’s. I think the extra creamy texture of the heavy cream is worth the fat content, as is a little extra bacon. However, I’ll likely always use canned pumpkin versus the more time-consuming, straight from the pumpkin patch method. Over time I’ve ditched the Tabasco called for in the original, and stopped concerning myself over some of the details, such as whether my paprika is Hungarian. I also added nutmeg to balance the flavors, and forgot that the original didn’t include it.

I encourage you to taste test along the way and add more heat or mellow it with more sweetness as you go. Therefore, measurements may not be exact and I mean it when I say “to taste”!

I have yet to find canned pumpkin in Dubai…insert sad face here. Thankfully, my family is visiting soon and I’ve asked them to bring me some! We’ve done this before…because we are a totally normal family that travels internationally with canned goods in our suitcases. Until then, enjoy some soup for me!

Laura’s Spiced Pumpkin Soup

3 tbsp butter
3-4 slices bacon
1/4 cup chardonnay
1 large onion, chopped
1 or 2 serrano chiles (or similar) broiled til skin is charred. Seeds removed, roughly chopped.
2 large cans (or 4 small) pumpkin puree
4 cans chicken broth (about 6.5 cups)
1/4 cup maple syrup (more to taste)
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne (to taste)
salt and pepper (to taste)
2 cups half & half or heavy cream, depending on your diet!
1 tsp nutmeg (more to taste)
Green onion garnish (optional)

Roast the chiles over high heat on a rack or skewer on your stove-top burner, s’mores style. When the skin is charred all over, place the peppers in a paper bag (this helps make it easier to remove the skin). Leave them for about 10 minutes, then remove and peel the skin. Discard the stem and seeds, and chop the peppers coarsely.

In large stockpot, heat butter and bacon over medium heat about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until bacon starts to get crispy. Add chopped onion and stir occasionally for about 15 minutes, until they start caramelizing. Add chile, mix well.

Add wine, pumpkin and 3 cans broth. Stir well to combine. Add syrup, paprika, cayenne, nutmeg, salt and pepper and stir again. When it starts bubbling, reduce to low and cover. Stir once in a while for about 20 minutes.

Remove from heat. Using an immersion blender, puree until smooth. Return to heat. Stir in cream. Add some or all of the 4th can of broth, checking the texture. Add more syrup, salt or spice to taste. Garnish with green onion or additional nutmeg if desired.