‘Party Poppin’ Buttered Popcorn Cookies

Monday’s post offered a festive savory meal idea that’s pleasing to the eye and the Halloween dinner crowd.
Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find an American kid who, given the choice, would pick savory over sweet food, particularly on Halloween, night of the great candy grab.

Back in the day, the annual Halloween candy haul was crucial for maintaining my personal candy stash. If you have an older brother, you, too, may have suffered through the inevitable despair when you learn he’s capable of scarfing twice as much junk food as you in half as much time. My only recourse to such an injustice was to squirrel away sought-after non-perishables in the nooks and crannies of my bedroom. A meager Halloween candy collection meant more stringent candy rationing for the winter. I had more important concerns than candy scavenging in January. Those trashy kids’ horror novels and Columbo episodes weren’t going to consume themselves.

Now that I’m older, I appreciate a little saltiness with my sweets, and today’s recipe brings those tastes together into one party-appropriate cookie. Below you’ll find a Smitten Kitchen-approved popcorn cookie recipe that bakes up quickly and is sure to please those folks with a sweet and salty craving.

While you can make these popcorn cookies any time of year, I like the idea of bringing them out for Halloween parties. Keep in mind they might not be everyone’s favorite, though. A friend mentioned that she wasn’t a fan of the popcorn texture in the cookie, so if you have a similar aversion to chewy cookies (their texture reminds me of oatmeal raisin cookies), you might want to hand these off to a friend. I’m happy to enjoy the spoils of your baking session.

Popcorn Cookies

Image by author.

Buttered Popcorn Cookies
(A Smitten Kitchen Cookbook recipe)
Makes 24 cookies

– 2 TBS vegetable oil or canola oil

- 1/3 cup popcorn kernels

- 1/4 tsp table salt

- 1 TBS melted butter

- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

- 1/3 cup granulated sugar

- 1 large egg, room temperature

- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

- 1/2 tsp baking soda

1. To make the popcorn: Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large saucepan until hot. Add the kernels, and cover, shaking the pan to make sure all the kernels are in contact with the bottom of the pan. As soon as you hear the first few kernels pop, shimmy the pan until all of the kernels pop (5 minutes or so). Remove from heat, add melted butter and salt, and transfer to bowl.

Popcorn Cookies

Homemade popcorn is much easier to prepare than I’d thought. Image by author.

2. Now, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, beat together butter, sugars, egg, and vanilla until smooth. Whisk flour and baking soda together. Stir flour mixture into butter-sugar mixture, until combined.

3. Fold in popcorn, making sure to get dough well distributed. It’s okay if the popcorn breaks as you’re mixing, and don’t worry if it seems like there’s too much popcorn for the amount of dough.

4. Scoop heaping-tablespoon-sized mounds 2 inches apart onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, until the edges are light brown. Let them sit on the hot baking sheet for a few minutes to firm up before transferring them to a rack to cool.

‘Hepped For Halloween’ Sunny Side Up Yam and Black Bean Tostadas With Avocado

Halloween is just days away, and while I no longer go in for intricate costumes and raucous parties, I do like to spread holiday cheer to friends and neighbors. I’ve been able to surprise some friends with Halloween cards this month and have plied co-workers with several autumnal sweets. I’d make all sorts of Halloween-themed treats for the neighborhood kids, too, but I’m trying to avoid earning the town title, “Red-flag Lady of Elm Street”, so this week’s Halloween-themed recipes are dedicated to all you fine blog readers. I promise the ingredients lists are poison- and razorblade-free.

Over the weekend I flipped through my favorite cookbooks searching for Halloween-hued main dishes and desserts. As you can see, today’s veggie-packed tostada recipe plates up nicely, from the yam’s bright orange to the complementary greens of the lettuce and avocado. Nestled under the green is a yolky fried egg that adds sauciness to the dish when you dig in. Though the recipe contains several steps, the prep for each is minimal, and the result–a wholesome meal offering up colors of the season–is worth the effort.

This is the second tostada recipe I’ve shared here at the Crafty Cook Nook (you might remember these pescatarian-friendly disks of deliciousness from earlier in my tenure as a food blogger), but based on how easy tostadas are to make, I’m now on the lookout for more variations on the tostada theme. Feel free to share your favorite tostada recipes in the comments section at the end of the post.

Sunny Side Up Yam and Black Bean Tostadas with Avocado

Image by author.

Sunny Side Up Yam and Black Bean Tostadas
(adapted from a Sarah Copeland Feast recipe)
Serves 4

– 2 lb. garnet yams or sweet potatoes

- 2 cups cooked black beans (about 1 15-oz can)

- 8 small corn tortillas

- 4 large eggs

- Fine sea salt and pepper

- 2 TBS unsalted butter

- Zest and juice of 1 lime (optional)

- A few handfuls of springs greens or shredded romaine lettuce

- Finishing oil for drizzling

- 2 large, ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and sliced

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Brush each side of your tortillas with olive oil, and bake in the oven for 12 minutes, flipping once after 6 minutes to evenly toast each side.

2. Prick the yams with a fork and roast until they can easily be pierced with a fork, 35-45 minutes.

3. Warm the beans with 2-3 T. water–just enough to make them saucy–in a small skillet over low heat. Keep warm.

4. Remove the yams from the oven, split open, and scoop out the flesh into a medium bowl. Discard the skins. Mash in the butter and lime zest and juice (if using) with a fork until smooth. Season with salt.

5. Fry the eggs sunny-side up, seasoning with salt and pepper. Set aside.

6. Spread the potato mash on each tostada, two to a plate. Then, add the beans, and place the egg atop the tostadas. Drizzle the greens with finishing oil, and season the avocado with pepper, topping the tostadas with the greens and avocado. Serve warm.

‘Bargain Basement’ Acorn Squash with Dates and Thyme

I’m a bargain shopper, and when it comes to food, I like to score deals that maximize nutritional value while keeping my checking account flush. This frugality was ingrained in me from an early age. A coupon queen by age eight, I took inordinate pride in organizing my mother’s coupon basket and slipping all the best deals on Froot Loops cereal, Mop n’ Glo, and Ham n’ Cheese Hot Pockets into our shopping cart each week.

These days I prepare most meals from scratch and spend the majority of my food budget on produce and bulk bin items, which means the Sunday paper’s coupon section, with its focus on brand names and processed food, is dead to me. It also means that when affordable, fresh food is in season, I go into hoarding mode and you get subjected to recipes featuring winter gourds.

Today’s winter gourd recipe showcases the acorn squash, small in size but big on flavor and texture. Usually I only eat the flesh of acorn squash, sending its seeds to the trash bin and its skin to the compost pile. This Bon Appetit recipe breaks rank and instructs us to roast the wedges with thin skin intact and then to chow down. More akin to potato skin than pumpkin skin when properly roasted, acorn squash skin goes down without a fight.

If you decide to eat the skin, be sure to scrub the squash well before roasting. Even organic produce accumulates crud in the field and en route to the grocery store.

Roasted Acorn Squash

Image by author.

Acorn Squash with Dates and Thyme
(a Bon Appétit recipe)
Serves 10-12 as a side

– 3 small acorn squash (about 3 lb.), scrubbed, cut into ½” wedges

- ½ bunch thyme

- 4 garlic cloves, crushed

- ¼ cup olive oil

- 2 TBS virgin coconut oil

- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

- 12 dates, pitted, quartered

- Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon, though I used regular sea salt and the world didn’t collapse.)

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Toss squash, thyme, garlic, olive oil, and coconut oil in a large baking dish; season with kosher salt and pepper. Roast, tossing occasionally, until just tender, 30–35 minutes. Add dates; toss to coat. Roast until squash are very tender and dates are soft, 12–15 minutes.

2. Arrange squash, dates, garlic, and thyme on a platter, spoon any oil in dish over squash, and sprinkle with sea salt.

Pumpkin, Coconut, and Lentil Soup

In my quest to weasel more winter squash into my diet (they’re very inexpensive at the supermarket right now), I managed to buy one too many pie pumpkins last week. Yes, I’m the cherished friend who impulse-buys winter squash. Aren’t you glad to have me around?

There are only so many sweets I can whip up before the diabetic coma sets in, so I rooted through a stack of savory recipes incorporating America’s trendiest autumn gourd to bring you today’s recipe, a flavorful lentil soup that’s going on dinner rotation at our house for the wintry days ahead.

Cameron and I eat plenty of Asian-influenced meals at home, but until last weekend we hadn’t considered marrying the ubiquitous pie pumpkin to Thai and Indian ingredients. Fortunately, Jenny Chandler’s The Better Bean Cookbook enlightened us with her take on creamy pumpkin, coconut, and lentil soup.

The original recipe calls for you to peel the pumpkin, but after peeling half a pumpkin the week before for the penne dish I shared on the blog, I wasn’t in the mood to do battle with another pumpkin. Don’t let me stop you from peeling a pumpkin, though. It’s a fine upper body workout, but after fifteen minutes of wrestling the pumpkin on the counter as I tried to remove its skin, I was on the verge of dashing that gourd to our old wood floor. Reason overtook me in the end, which is probably for the best. I didn’t have to explain to a repair person how the floor ended up with a pumpkin-sized hole in it.

So, if you, too, aren’t up for the pumpkin-peeling workout, lightly roast the pumpkin, skin intact, and save your elbow grease for finely dicing the lemongrass. And if you want to keep the recipe vegan, substitute the fish sauce with umami-rich soy sauce.

Pumpkin Coconut Lentil Soup

Image by author.

Pumpkin, Coconut, and Lentil Soup
(adapted from The Better Bean Cookbook recipe)
Serves 4

– 2 TBS vegetable oil

- 1 small bunch of spring onions, finely diced

- 2 garlic cloves, crushed

- 2-inch piece of ginger, chopped

- 1 to 2 fiery chilis, finely chopped

- 2 stalks of lemongrass, outer leaves removed and remainder finely sliced

Pumpkin Coconut Lentil Soup

Finely Diced Lemongrass. Image by author.

- 1 cup red lentils, rinsed

- 1 lb 2 oz pumpkin, peeled, deseeded, and cut into 3/4-inch cubes/pieces (or for less headache, roast a halved pumpkin until just tender, and then remove from oven, cool, and cut into chunks)

- 5 cups vegetable stock

- 14 oz can of coconut milk

- 1 TBS tamarind paste (I couldn’t find the paste at our local Asian market, so I added a few extra squeezes of lime and few extra pinches of brown sugar to compensate.)

- 2 TBS finely chopped fresh cilantro

- Thai fish sauce (Use soy sauce to keep the recipe vegan.)

- Juice of 1 to 2 limes

- Pinch of brown sugar or palm sugar

1. If you’d like to save yourself a headache from peeling the skin from the pumpkin, preheat oven to 400 degrees F, and place the pumpkin half (or halves, depending on size) flat side down, and roast for 30 to 40 minutes until the flesh is slightly tender. Remove, cool, and then carefully cube the pumpkin flesh before setting aside for the recipe.

2. Heat the oil in a soup pot, and add most of the spring onions (setting aside a TBS to garnish). Add the garlic, ginger, chili, and lemongrass, and stir for a minute or two, until this powerhouse flavor combo becomes very aromatic.

3. Add the lentils, pumpkin, and the stock, and simmer until the lentils are soft and the pumpkin flesh as collapsed.

4. Stir in the coconut milk, tamarind, and most of the cilantro. Now, taste and balance the soup with fish sauce or soy sauce, lime juice, and sugar.

5. Serve hot, sprinkled with the remaining spring onions and cilantro. We warmed a few naan and sopped up the soup that way.

‘The X-Files Files’ Whole-Wheat Penne with Pumpkin, Rosemary, and Pine Nuts

This fall I’ve been doing my best to get out for short runs a few times a week to clear my head and relish the vivid colors of the season before Colorado’s cold forces me into snow yeti running gear.

Denver Autumn 2014

Cheesman Park, Denver. Image by author.

And while some folks need driving bass or intense guitar noodling to stayed pump on runs, this month I’ve become more of an X-Files Files podcast athlete. After downloading an episode, I tie on my trainers, and as soon as the opening notes of the show’s theme sounds in my ears, I know I’m ready to dodge cars and count twitchy-tailed squirrels at the nearby city park.

Kumail Nanjiani

Retrieved from MyTeeVee’s Guide to the Best Podcasts.

For those unfamiliar with the creator of The X-Files Files, Kumail Nanjiani is a talented comedian and actor whose love for all things X-Files rivals my own. His weekly podcast features him and a guest as they deconstruct favorite episodes and share thoughtful and humorous anecdotes about the show and its rabid fan base. For those unfamiliar with The X-Files (come on, really?), it’s the 90s TV series that redefined science fiction writing for the small screen and paved the way for sci-fi and speculative fiction to move from “nerd” to mainstream.

It’s been more than 20 years since The X-Files aired on network TV, and still scenes from its many Monster of the Week and alien myth arc episodes occupy an unhealthy amount of space in my mind. Sure, some of the more dated episodes make me cringe now, but its overarching theme of rooting out false truths to reach a greater Truth about life and our meaning on this planet captivated an angst teen obsessed with British Romanticism and American Transcendentalism. And the show’s gritty realism (in the form of police procedural) juxtaposed against its investigation of the supernatural and more-than-human is the kind of storytelling I gravitate toward as a reader and writer. Despite Fox Mulder and Dana Scully’s self-seriousness in the midst of what their peers deem quackery, the writers drop in enough comic relief to make the characters real and lovable as they seek out cryptozoological beasts and uncover top-secret human-alien alliances. Did I mention the lead actors were easy on the eyes, too?

In order to obsess over the show without familial chitchat drowning out the actors’ dialogue, I’d hightail it to my bedroom with a huge glass of Coke and viewing snacks and pray I wasn’t called to do chores during showtime. For the record, I lived in a world before internet TV and before I owned a personal color TV (at least for the first two seasons), so if I was forced into my room for The X-Files then, I was in for a particularly moody and hard-to-see episode. No matter. I had a ritual, and I followed it religiously. Ten minutes before showtime, I’d turn the channel dial on my black-and-white 13″ and maneuver its rabbit-ear antenna so I wouldn’t miss the show’s cold open. Even now when X-Files incidental music plays on Nanjiani’s podcast, the same giddiness I felt when the cold open flicked to the show’s opening credits bubbles up and I’m catapulted back to the days of bracing orthodontics, college admission essays, and high-school dreams of adulthood. Not a bad feeling to inhabit when I’m racking up mileage on my running shoes. Thanks, Mr. Nanjiani!

And now, back to our regularly schedule autumn and good eats blog post.

Below you’ll find an unusual winter squash pasta pairing. When I think pumpkin, I’m more likely to imagine butter-, cream, or olive oil-based recipes, but Sarah Copeland features this one-bowl pasta dish in her cookbook Feast, one of my favorite vegetarian cookbooks, so I decided to give it a try on Tuesday.

I was skeptical about mixing pumpkin with the acidic heft of tomato, but Ms. Copeland knows what she’s doing. Sautéing the pumpkin with olive oil, rosemary, and garlic before topping the pasta allows the squash to absorb oil and soften on the inside while browning enough on the outside to provide crispness to the dish. Topping the sauced pasta and pumpkin with toasted pine nuts amps up the savory even more and makes for a hearty dinner packed with vitamins A, C, and E. If you’re looking for a less conventional autumn pasta dish, give this recipe a try, and if prepping the fresh pumpkin is too much work, butternut squash is an excellent substitute for texture and flavor.

Autumn Penne with Pumpkin

Image by author.

Whole-wheat Penne with Pumpkin, Rosemary, and Pine Nuts
(adapted from a Sarah Copeland Feast recipe)

– 2 to 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

- 3 or 4 garlic cloves, smashed

- 2 cups of pie pumpkin–peeled, seeded, and chopped

- Pinch of red pepper flakes

- 2 small sprigs fresh rosemary

- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

- 1/2 lb whole-wheat penne

- 2 cups marinara sauce (We used a flavorful jarred marinara sauce)

- Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino cheese for grating or shaving

- ¼ cup toasted pine nuts

1. Bring a large pot three-quarters full of salted water to a boil over a high heat.

2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a large skillet over a medium heat. Add the garlic, pumpkin, red pepper flakes, and rosemary, and cook until the pumpkin is tender, 7 to 10 minutes, adding the remaining 1 tbsp of oil if needed. After the pumpkin absorbs all the oil, add 2 tbsp boiling water and continue cooking. Season with salt and black pepper. If you like, chop up a few of the crispy rosemary sprigs for a garnish, or remove and discard them.

3. Add the penne to the boiling water and cook until al dente, about 9 minutes. Drain, reserving ¼ cup (60 ml) of the pasta cooking liquid for the sauce.

4. Warm the marinara sauce in a large pot over a low heat. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and toss gently to coat, adding the pasta cooking liquid as needed, 1 TBS at a time, to your desired consistency. (I used about 3 TBS total.)

5. Scoop the dressed pasta into shallow bowls and spoon the pumpkin mixture over the top. Grate or shave Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top with a vegetable peeler and sprinkle with the pine nuts. Serve warm.


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