It Comes Natural

I don’t think I’m a natural born writer. I’ve never been one to keep a journal, and even keeping up a blog once a week or so is tough for me. I just never feel like I need to write. Take pictures or eat a cookie, sure, but writing is something I have to put a little effort into.

But there are things I can say I am a natural at. I am a natural blonde. I am a naturally good swimmer. I have a natural green thumb. And, I like to think that I am naturally gifted with a sense for what tastes good together, and also for having a sense for what a set of ingredients will taste like once they are combined. This last week a friend commented that he thinks I have really honed that sense of taste, which was a very sweet compliment (Thanks Mike!) and also got me thinking about if I am using that skill to it’s fullest potential. 

I want to hope that I am, but in reality I probably am not. I mean, are any of us really using all of our skills to their fullest potential? Not if we are being honest with ourselves.

But the good news is that that means we have potential that is untapped, right?

I don’t mean to give a pep talk, but I guess I am feeling like I need one myself. I have recently had a lack of passion for what I do with food. It’s such a big part of my life, both for pleasure and necessity, as well as what I do for a living, that I guess I have lost a little bit of the magic. Lately, It’s been hard for me to get excited about food. As they say, this is probably a #firstworldproblem, but it’s my problem and it has been putting me into a sort of melancholy.

So to help me get out of my funk and to hopefully get me out of my “I’d rather stay home and not talk to any strangers” comfort zone a little bit, I’m going to be baking for a good cause. Next weekend is the Will Bake For Food bakesale, and I volunteered to bake some goodies and hang out at the sale for a while. There will be lots of other, much more well established bloggers (that’s where the nervousness about talking to strangers comes in!), and everyone will be contributing something delicious for you to take home.


This past Friday I ran a test for what I thought I might make and while it was very good, I think I’m going skip it in favor of something a little less fussy. It was a twist on something I dreamed up a few Thanksgivings ago–a dark, creamy pumpkin ganache tart–that turned out to be just too rich for it’s own good. I wanted to make it lighter and less intimidating. So, I turned it into a mousse, letting those amazing taste buds guide my stirring hand. 

I hope I get my mojo back soon, because it makes me feel a little heartbroken to be missing it at this time of the year, when so much revolves around breaking bread with others. In the meantime, I guess I’ll take someone’s (my husband’s) sage advice and “fake it till I make it.”



Pumpkin Mousse Pie
serves 8-12

For the filling:
11 oz ganache, melted but cooled
1 pumpkin puree
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar
pinch salt

For the crust:
1 cup hazelnuts, oven toasted and skins removed.
1 cup cake or cookie crumbs, toasted. Graham cracker crumbs would also work.
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup melted salted butter

For this recipe you will need an 8″ or 9″ springform pan.

For the crust: 
Preheat oven to 375ºF.
In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts until they resemble crumbs. Add the cake or cookie crumbs and the sugar and pulse to combine. Pour into a bowl and mix in the butter. I like to use regular salted butter for this, I it helps the hazelnuts a bit. You can use unsalted if you prefer. Press into your pan and using a small measuring cup or juice glass, press some of the crust partially up the sides of the pan, making a thin crust. Bake for about 20 minutes, and let cool completely while you mix the filling. 

For the filling:
When the crust is ready, assemble your mousse. Stir the pumpkin and cinnamon into the ganache. You might want to add more cinnamon if you really like that flavor combo, as what I have here is very delicate. Whip the cream to a soft peak then add the sugar and salt and whip till it holds a firm peak. Next, fold in a bit of the ganache mixture. Then pour the cream mixture back into the ganache and fold until you see no streaks of either cream or ganache. Pour it into your mold, and level with a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

A note about the ganache: I often have ganache in the fridge leftover from other baking projects and this was one of those times. If you aren’t the type to have such a decadent leftover, you can make it from scratch easily using a recipe I’ll give you below. We like to warm it a little bit and smear it on a graham cracker as a sweet treat, or put it into heated milk to make a delicious hot chocolate…

Semi-sweet ganache:

10 oz good quality semi-sweet chocolate, chopped into pieces about the size of an almond
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 Tbsp unsalted butter

Place the chocolate and butter into a heat safe bowl. Using a heavy bottomed pan, heat the cream just to a very light boil and immediately pour over the chocolate. Let it sit for several minutes and then with a whisk, slowly incorporate the chocolate and cream. Start in the middle of the bowl and use very small movements, gradually working your way to the outer edge of the bowl. This helps to minimize the incorporation of air into the ganache for a smoother finished product, which is helpful if using it as a filling or icing.

The Easiest Challenge of the Season

I am going to come right out and say it. I really really love fall. I love all the spices, I love drinking hot things, I love soup. I love the leaves changing, I love the pumpkin patch, I love windy rainy days. And I love pumpkin. 


A week or so ago I challenged myself to something that I knew wouldn’t be very challenging at all. I went with it anyway, because sometimes you have to let yourself cheat. I ate something pumpkin flavored everyday. Sometimes more than once a day, because I’m an overachiever like that. (Bonus points for being an overachiever and a slacker at the same time.) I also cheated by letting myself use canned pumpkin. Mostly because it has better flavor than freshly made pumpkin puree. I don’t know how they do that, but there it is.

Anyhow, every recipe was a success, except for one. Turns out, it’s hard to make a pumpkin coffee at home with only a french press.


Here are all the things I made, in no particular order:

  • Cottage pie with Pumpkin gravy
  • Pumpkin spice challah french toast (made with a thick pumpkin custard and of course, cream)
  • Pumpkin molasses waffles (just add pumpkin and spices to the batter, and sub sugar for molasses)
  • Pumpkin curry soup
  • Pumpkin mac’n’cheese (I left out the maple syrup and topped it with panko before baking)

I just discovered another way I cheated. I didn’t make a new thing every day. Somedays, we ate leftovers. No big deal. I think tomorrow I will make pumpkin oatmeal for breakfast to make up for it.

Anyhow, you should try an easy challenge like this. It’s guaranteed to be more fun than my current challenge at which I am so far failing miserably (because I haven’t even started), the 200 sit-up challenge. 


Cottage Pie with Pumpkin Gravy
Serves 4-6

1 lb lean ground beef or other ground meat
1 cup frozen peas
2 or 3 carrots, cut in 1/4″ coins
fresh ground nutmeg, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
pinch sweet paprika (optional)
vegetable or chicken stock, about 2 cups
1 cup pumpkin puree

About 3 or so cups of your favorite mashed potatoes for the topping. Depending on your casserole dish you might need more or less. You want it to be about an inch thick. I think I used 3 russet potatoes for my 9″ casserole dish.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Brown meat thoroughly in a shallow saucepan and set aside. Drain on paper towels if it’s greasy at all. In the same pan, add carrots and a pinch of salt, and enough stock to loosen the browned bits from the meat. Add peas. Stir it around for a minute, then add the pumpkin and the rest of the stock. You want it to be about the consistency of a thick soup, because I didn’t add any thickener. It will cook down a bit in the oven. At this point taste for salt and pepper, add paprika if you’re using it, and add nutmeg to taste. I might have added some onion powder or allspice too, I can’t remember 😦

Once the mixture comes to a boil and the carrots have softened a bit, about 5-7 minutes, add the meat back in and let heat again for a minute or so. Pour the whole mixture into your casserole dish and top with the mashed potatoes. Grate a little bit more nutmeg over the top. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until the mashed potatoes are browning around the edges and the gravy is bubbling out a bit.

This casserole is something I made in the morning and then had my husband pop in the oven in the afternoon while I was out, so I know that will work too if you need it to. I would say you could make it a day ahead if you wanted.

Finally, Fall

Fall has arrived in Seattle, and I have been throwing it a welcome party for the past couple of weeks. Party games included freezing tomatoes, clearing out patches of garden to make room for winter crops, making corn salsa and taking a trip to our local state fair. 

The party also has had lots of good food served at it, including the macaroni and cheese I made tonight (with a few revisions because I very seldom follow a recipe by the letter unless it’s for cookbook club), lots of different soups, and our perennial favorite, tacos with the above mentioned corn salsa. But so far the gem has been what I made last night: Pumpkin soup. 


It’s been busy as usual around here. The boys started school, as well as Hebrew lessons with a new amazing tutor. It was Joe and my 2nd anniversary earlier this month, and now we are planning and prepping for Lilli’s 1st birthday next week. 

Sneak peek.



In addition to this, last week Lilli came down with some sort of nasty virus. When I say nasty, I mean it. One minute she was fine, and literally the next minute she was crying inconsolably and I had no idea what to do. We’ve been very lucky in that she’s been pretty much 100% healthy her whole first year. 


After some of her symptoms set off alarms bells in my head, I decided to take her to the Dr. that afternoon, and they performed some tests, all of which were very stressful and all of which came back totally inconclusive. It was terrifying. I was worried she was having an asthma attack, which is something I occasionally suffer from, so I’m glad I took her, but it’s frustrating to be able to do so little.

She’s fine now, but after doing another triathlon this past Sunday I came down with what is presumably the same virus. Now I know how she felt, and it feels awful. 


This is where the soup comes in. 



Thankfully, my appetite is intact, but Joe isn’t much of a cook so I have still been in charge of meals. And, I wanted comfort food, which to me is soup. I can’t find the kosher version of my favorite chicken soup anymore, and I didn’t really want something out of a can. So I came up with this soup. It was super quick and easy, and I even got a little bit of inspiration from another non-cook friend who happened to mention over the phone that she had a delicious pumpkin curry recently. (Yes, people still talk on the phone.)


It won’t take you long to prepare and you could make any number of substitutions. Any squash would work, as well as any sort of milk or cream. Coconut would have been excellent but I was out. You could add any vegetables you want, perhaps some kale or chard. Just be sure and eat it with warm, crusty, buttered bread.



Easy Peasy Pumpkin Soup
makes about 3 servings


1 Tbsp olive oil
2 carrots, very thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
2 tsp turmeric powder
2-3 Cups vegetable stock
Salt and pepper and fresh grated nutmeg to taste
Cream or half and half to finish


Heat a medium sized pot, and add the olive oil. Toss in the carrots and garlic and let soften for a minute or two. Add turmeric and stir to coat all the carrots. Continue stirring until the turmeric is fragrant, then add just enough vegetable stock to cover the carrots. Cover the pot just until the stock comes to a boil, then stir in the pumpkin puree. Add stock until it is a touch thinner than a consistency that you like, then taste for salt and pepper. Add some nutmeg and bring to a boil. Let boil with the lid off for a couple of minutes, to allow the flavors to concentrate and for the soup to thicken up that extra little bit. Turn off the heat and taste again for seasoning. Serve with the cream on the side so that each person can decide how much to add.