It’s the Great Pumpkin Brunch, Charlie Brown!

Brunch was a success.  I only regret that I didn’t take pictures of all the food (how did this escape my attention?!?).  The theme of the menu?  Fall.  And I’m not sure whether this was deliberate on our part, but since I’m unsure, and I was one of the cooks, I’d say it probably just went that way.  Pumpkin just screams Fall.

Anyway, there was pumpkin mac and cheese, regular mac and cheese, pulled pork, chicken francese, crab quiche, a spinach/couscous salad, sweet carrots (not sure how it was prepared), and an interesting dish with broccoli in a cream sauce with Fritos sprinkled on top.  For dessert there was pumpkin cheesecake and carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese filling.

The thought of working in someone else’s kitchen always fills me with a little bit of anxiety and trepidation, as I do not know the lay of the land, and what tools they may or may not have — I have learned a long time ago that one cannot assume that other people’s kitchens are as well-stocked and well-equipped as your mother’s.  If your mother is anything like mine, she probably has at least two of everything you could possibly think of, and this not only includes utensils/gadgets, but also ingredients.  I frequently have to draw up a shopping list everytime I think to bake something, but when baking/cooking at my parents’, you could be stuck indoors in a blizzard and have everything you need for, say, a chocolate cheesecake.

Chicken Francese, Regular Mac and Cheese, Pumpkin Mac and Cheese

I arrived at G’s around 11:30AM, and got to work preparing my dishes as he went out to run some errands.  To be honest, I thought about bringing some of my own utensils to G’s, but I figured, his roommate is a chef and G does a lot of cooking, so his kitchen must be decently equipped.  As I was left alone in his kitchen, that feeling of being in a foreign land came over me, as I opened every drawer that would open to see where things were.  There was really no need for my initial worry, since G’s kitchen had everything I needed.  Until I looked for a cup for liquid measures and G told me he didn’t own one.  He explained that he used the measuring cups for solids when a recipe called for measurements of liquid ingredients.  The baker in me gasped in shock (well, actually the first thought was, “Boys!” — I’m not really sure why though), but in a pinch, I used a coffee mug to approximate 1 cup of water.  Overall, it was actually pretty easy to make myself at home in his kitchen and it wasn’t a scary experience at all — I prepared my crab quiche (the batter for which I made before leaving home) and the sauce for the chicken francese with great ease and no bumps in the road whatsoever.

Chicken Francese close-up.
 

Broccoli in cream sauce sprinkled with Fritos.

The food was a success, as I mentioned.  Everyone took some food home and G was relieved at not having to eat mac and cheese for a week.  I took home some pulled pork, chicken francese, pumpkin mac and cheese and pumpkin cheesecake.  When I got home I made a sandwich out of the pulled pork…it was absolutely fantastic.  I look forward to hopefully having this again in future gatherings.  The cheesecake was great too.  I am normally a pumpkin-in-baked-goods hater, but this has made me change my mind.  At least about pumpkin cheesecake.  I’ll still be a little leery of pumpkin cheesecakes, but this one broke through my pumpkin-hating wall.  So naturally, I asked for the recipe (the pumpkin mac and cheese is here too):
Pumpkin Cheesecake

Ingredients:
Crust:
1 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick melted butter

Filling:
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese at room temperature
1 (15-ounce) can pureed pumpkin
3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

For crust:
In medium bowl, combine crumbs, sugar and cinnamon. Add melted butter. Press down flat into a 9-inch springform pan. Set aside.

For filling:
Beat cream cheese until smooth. Add pumpkin puree, eggs, egg yolk, sour cream, sugar and the spices. Add flour and vanilla. Beat together until well combined.

Pour into crust. Spread out evenly and place oven for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and let sit for 15 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours.

Prep Time – 15 minutes Inactive Prep Time – 4 hours 15 minutes Cook Time – 1 hour Yield – 8 servings Difficulty – Easy

Pumpkin Mac and Cheese
Adapted from this recipe
Makes approximately 5-6 servings
2 cups pumpkin puree
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup, plus 2 Tbsp. grated parmesan
1 1/2 tsp. butter, melted
1 cup cheddar cheese
1/2 c. grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 tsp. ground mustard
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. crushed red pepper (Optional: adds a hint of kick)
salt and pepper, to taste
10 oz. your favorite small pasta (approximately 4 c. uncooked pasta) (G used whole wheat rotini)
1/3 c. bread crumbs (G used panko instead)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Boil pasta according to package directions until al dente.
3. Heat pumpkin puree in medium saucepan over medium to high heat. Add milk and thoroughly combine.
4. Reduce heat to low. Add 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, and the mozzarella cheese. Stir until melted into pumpkin mixture.
5. Add mustard, nutmeg, Worcestershire sauce, red pepper (if using), salt, and pepper.
6. Mix pumpkin sauce with drained pasta until thoroughly combined. Mix in rest of cheddar cheese.
7. Place pasta mixture in 9×9-inch casserole dish, or separate into ramekins for individual servings.
8. Mix breadcrumbs with 2 Tbsp. grated parmesan cheese. Add melted butter and mix well. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture on top of pasta and place in oven.
9. Bake for 10 minutes or until breadcrumbs are golden brown.

G says he wants to do this again around December.  I should start planning my part of the menu now…  Just kidding.  Actually, I might just make the pumpkin cheesecake for our family Thanksgiving potluck this year.

As I was thinking about what to write in tonight’s post (besides talking about the brunch), several thoughts came to mind.  Since I bake cookies so much, I thought — though not seriously — about renaming my blog, “The Weekly Cookie.”  I seem to bake cookies every week.  Even as I type, I am waiting for some butter and eggs to hit room temperature so that I can prepare the dough for this week’s creation, inspired by my work bff, P.  It’s too bad for him he forgot what he inspired me to do so he’ll have to wait till I crank them out to find out what it is.  I found a recipe for what I’d like to do — I’m going to add a twist to it of course, and as I read through the list of ingredients, I saw that I was missing peanut butter chips (good thing P doesn’t read this blog cause then he’d have a hint) so after expressing gratitude once again that I live in an urban setting where everything is nearby, off I went to the grocery store at the end of the block.  When checking out, the cashier said, “Enjoy baking your cookies!”  I laughed.  I guess when you come buying just a package of peanut butter chips and don’t even bother with a grocery bag, your purpose is pretty clear.
The recipe calls for a “scant” 3/4 cup of sugar, and this was the second time I’d come across this word in a recipe in the last three days.  And so I Googled and this was the winning answer.  Oh, and apparently there’s a cuter term for “letting the cookie dough chill in the fridge overnight” and that is “aging the dough.”  You learn something new everyday.
And now, off to check on my eggs and butter…

Just as I was about to end this post, my mom called to ask a question.  Before we ended the conversation, she asked me what I was doing, and I promptly answered, “Blogging.”  She then noted that she didn’t see a new post today.  She says she’s become a “fan” (“I kept checking and checking and didn’t see a post!”) — it’s the best form of encouragement and yes, a source of the warm n fuzzies when your mother, the main reason why you’re even inspired to do any of this in the first place, becomes a fan of your blog.

 
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