Wednesday, November 30, 2016

DIY Pumpkin Puree

I get my hoarding tendencies from my mama. As soon as pumpkin puree is available in store, I stock up. You know that come November, the stores will be hard pressed to fulfil the demand for pumpkin pie supplies (I like that that rhymes). And sure enough, in the American section of Tesco, there is my trusty Libby's pumpkin puree--for £1.20 each. So perhaps pumpkin puree in moderation this year.

As part of my efforts to experience a New England fall in England, a group of friends and I went apple picking which became pumpkin picking which became hauling apples, pumpkins, spaghetti squash, broccoli, cauliflower and eggs home on the train.

I chose a small-ish pumpkin but let it sit on my table for two weeks as decoration before tackling how to cook it. Simultaneously, my mom was preparing her harvest for freezing so we each approached pumpkin roasting differently.

I used a peeler, much like for a butternut squash, and peeled the pumpkin skin off before slicing it in half, remove the seeds, and roasting. Basically just like a butternut squash. Alternatively, my mom poked a lot of holes in her pumpkins and roasted them whole. Good news: none of them exploded!

After the pumpkin is cooked, I used an immersion blender (yes, I took another step in planting roots here, I bought an appliance) to puree the roasted pumpkin. It's much yellower than the burnt orange you get in the canned variety but it does the trick. I stored a couple bags of pumpkin puree in the freezer and have been using it slowly for smoothies, muffins and soup!

So if you find yourself lacking canned pumpkin puree, it's extremely easy to DIY. And please don't call me Martha Stewart or Mary Berry as a result, it's actually easy.

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Peel your pumpkin rind using a vegetable peeler.
  3. Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds and strands, just like you would when making a jack-o-lantern.
  4. Cut the pumpkin into large chunks. Toss with olive oil and roast in a pan (I used a brownie pan, 9x12) until soft (around 30-40 minutes depending on the thickness).
  5. Allow the pumpkin to cool slightly before blending.
  6. You can use an immersion blender or a regular blender to puree the pumpkin. Blend until smooth.
  7. Store in the freezer until needed or directly in the fridge. There are no preservatives so make sure to use it within a week. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Spaghetti Squash Chicken Pad Thai

I was pretty determined to make my England fall on par with New England fall, if not in foliage then in fall activities. Which is how I ended up leading a group of friends along a highway one fine fall afternoon in October. There was a pick-your-own (PYO for short) farm within train distance from London where we could get apples and pumpkins so off we went!

After traipsing along a walking path, narrow road, a golf course, some brush, a field and finally a sidewalk, we arrived! The journey home was even more eventful as we came back to the golf course and Google Maps instructed us to cross the course to get to the train station. The golfers were not amused and ultimately we had to run across some busy highways. Do as I say, not as I do.

The farm turned out to be a huge success though as we left laden with apples, pumpkins, broccoli, cauliflower, eggs, and a variety of squash. I savoured another opportunity for the coveted spaghetti squash. I was also pumped for the apples and pumpkin but the squash was an added bonus.

More on the apples and pumpkin later, first, let's talk about Pad Thai! This may sound complicated but it's very simple and falls under the 'throw everything into one pan and see how it goes'. Chicken is seasoned and sauteed while the spaghetti squash roasts away in the oven. Once the chicken is browned, remove from the pan and cook the veggies in the same pan. All those juices and seasonings.

Saute the garlic first, then add the carrots. Cook until almost soft, then add the cilantro, green onions and bean sprouts. Lastly, stir in the chopped chicken and shredded squash into the pan to finish cooking. Pour the marinade of peanut butter, soy sauce and sriracha into the pan and stir to coat the ingredients. Allow to simmer so the flavors blend together.

Serve with crushed peanuts on top or plain! You can also squeeze a lime over top for a little zing.

Pad Thai
  • 1 medium spaghetti squash
  • 2 medium chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup carrots, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 sprigs of green onion
  • 1 1/2 cups bean sprouts
  • 2 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon sriracha sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • Juice of 1 lime
  1. Prepare the spaghetti squash and bake until tender.
  2. In a large skillet, heat vegetable oil (just enough to cover the pan and prevent the chicken from sticking). Brown the chicken breasts evenly on each side. Remove and set aside on a plate.
  3. In the same skillet, add the minced garlic. If needed, add more vegetable oil and sautee the garlic until fragrant. Add the carrots and cook until tender.
  4. Chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Return to the pan with the carrots.
  5. Add the green onion, bean sprouts and cilantro to the pan.
  6. Shred the spaghetti squash into the pan as well (this is why we need a large pan). 
  7. In a small bowl, mix together all ingredients for the sauce. Whisk until combined and pour into pan.
  8. Stir all ingredients to coat with the sauce and mix everything up. Simmer for 5 minutes longer.
  9. Serve hot. You can also add crushed peanuts on top and more cilantro.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Pumpkin Apple Gingerbread Muffins

At long last, I have cracked the butter problem. It was a simple solution all along: a food scale. One of my flatmates brought one into our home and I think I'm in love. No more guessing grams or guessing tablespoons of butter! Now, I can weigh it. So I just have to be able to check my math, no biggie...

These muffins were meant to be a bridge from fall into the holiday season, combining the top fall flavors (apple and pumpkin) with the festive foods of Christmas (ginger and molasses). I've had to Google things in the grocery store aisle a few times in London, mostly because the aisles are organized differently (sugar is with coffee and not baking at some stores). But I've also Googled because things have different names and molasses was no exception. Instead, we have 'black treacle'.

The only time I've heard of treacle before was in the Harry Potter books when discussing treacle fudge. So now I can say I've baked with it and made magic--okay, that might be a stretch. The can of treacle is cute and British but is also very impractical for pouring. Treacle everywhere. Mischief not managed.

As always, cream together room-temperature butter (or in my case, gently microwaved butter) with the sugars until combined. Next, add in the eggs, vanilla, pumpkin puree (DIY recipe coming soon!), milk, and treacle (aka: molasses). I suggest using a mixer for this. Beat until everything is nice and smooth.

Stir in the spices, salt and baking soda and powder. Then slowly add the flour in, mixing gently to prevent a dust storm. Sometimes it's inevitable. Mix until no streaks of flour remain. Lastly, fold in the chopped apple. You could also add nuts to the batter if desired.

Bake at 350F for 20 minutes or until baked through. The batter makes 24 muffins. Allow to cool before enjoying, possibly with a good cup of tea--or coffee.


  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup pumpkin puree
  • Scant 1/3 cup whole milk (or full 1/3 cup of greek yogurt)
  • 2 Tablespoons treacle (molasses)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2-2 1/2 cups apples, peeled and chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 350F and line a muffin pan. Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugars.
  3. Add the wet ingredients (eggs, vanilla, pumpkin, milk and treacle) to the butter and sugar. Mix until combined.
  4. Mix in the salt, baking soda and powder as well as spices. 
  5. Next, add the flour, 1 cup at a time, stirring until no flour streaks are left. At this point, I switched so a spoon instead of a mixer to minimize mess. 
  6. Lastly, fold the apple pieces into the batter until evenly mixed.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes until firm and cooked through.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thoughts on Thanks Giving

The trees are out, the lights are up, markets are in full swing: Christmas is here in London. Without Thanksgiving to slow down the advance of the Christmas season, it is full steam ahead with the holidays here.

But fortunately, I have a solid crew of Americans in my life over here and we have banded together to bring Thanksgiving to our colleagues and spread the traditions of turkey, pie and bourbon to our British brethren. And while we're bringing the culinary traditions over, I also wanted to think on the purpose of the holiday.

When we talk about Thanksgiving, we think mostly of football, food, family, the Macy's parade. General togetherness. But I discovered that something that isn't as traditional is the actual giving thanks part of the holiday, despite its name. Granted, the first person to say what they're thankful for is basically obligated to say 'I'm thankful for the friends and family here today' and it digresses from there until the last person can say something ridiculous like 'my stretchy pants so I can eat more pie'. But how often do you pause to think about what you're thankful for or what was good about your day?

This year has been a doozy. The ups and downs of the year have been felt far and wide, by Americans and non-Americans. With everything that's going on, this Thanksgiving is especially poignant as a time to pause and reflect.

This is my first Thanksgiving outside of America, my first Thanksgiving without my grandparents to call in Oregon, the first Thanksgiving in my adult life where I have just one dinner instead of one with family, another with friends and another with coworkers.

But it's also my first Thanksgiving with non-Americans, my first Thanksgiving with my adopted family, the first Thanksgiving where I am in a position to teach rather than follow traditions. It's the first Thanksgiving where I'll bring the sweet potato casserole instead of my sister (but based on her recipe...except with marshmallow on top--imported from America--because marshmallows).

I'm grateful for this year of opportunity, for the different cultures I've witnessed and learned about, for understanding and tolerance, for compassionate friends, for heated conversations about the world and equally heated conversations about how to make sweet potato casserole. For being able to explain America, the weird foods like Peeps and the traditions like pie. The things that make us great and the things that we have to work on.

Although we've had our ups and downs, there's a lot to be thankful for so here's a toast to you and yours and whatever makes you smile today.