a more exciting saturday

i admit to not always taking full advantage of my weekends. sometimes, i spend half the day lounging around reading or watching movies. sometimes, brady and i go for a long walk. sometimes, i just take a hot bath and drink wine. dog walking is a fun way to spend the day, but i’m rarely left with enough energy to do anything productive, which seems to overflow into the weekend. fortunately for me, my bosses are two fantastic women who happen to love food and beer just as much as i do. and the other weekend, a big group of us headed to barleycorn’s craft brew in natick to brew our very own beer. having never actually participated in beer brewing before, in spite of studying the process and having multiple friends that brew, i was beyond excited to get started. i know a lot of people are great at full-out home brewing, but for my first attempt i was really glad to have experienced brewers around to answer questions and keep us on the right track. the staff at barleycorn’s was patient and helpful, and we also had a few guys in our group that knew exactly what they were doing – very helpful with a bunch of newbies, especially since we were sipping beer and hard cider through most of the process.

rather than rewriting the beer-making process in my own (probably undereducated) words, i’d rather tell our little story through my photographs. if you want the nitty gritty details, i’ll refer you to this delightful and simple explanation, or this more thorough, scientific version.

you can always bring your own recipes to follow, but barleycorn’s provides a number of recipes to choose from. (thank goodness.)

milling the grains took some teamwork.

steeping the grains…

next, we measured out extracts to provide some extra flavor and speed up the brewing process…

…along with hops and sugar. since we made saison and schwarz beers, we also got to add bitter orange to the mix.

stirring involved giant paddles.

after measuring the estimated alcohol content of our beer, we cooled and strained the wort and then transferred it into fermentation tanks, where yeast was added.

after a few more beers, we left our beer behind to ferment and have been waiting with anticipation ever since. and this upcoming weekend, we’ll all head back to bottle our beers and take them home. i can’t wait to taste the final product – i have a handful of friends that all brew their own beer, and i have a feeling that after tasting beer i helped to make, i’ll want to try it again…and again.

thanks so much to barleycorn’s for letting me wander around with my camera!

food styling for the boston globe

things have been a little crazy this semester.

taking a course on meat, which has me reading all kinds of books that cause me to seriously analyze my eating preferences. working as a graduate assistant, which means becoming a social media guru and editing our gastronomy blog for the program. trying to finish up my thesis project, which involves turning still life paintings from centuries past into modern food photographs. and, since this isn’t enough, planning a three-month stint in budapest with my wonderful husband.

pieter claesz painting on left, my photograph on right

needless to say, i’m a little sleepy, and a lot overwhelmed, but it’s been an amazing few months. and last week, i had the absolutely incredible opportunity to work as a food styling assistant for the boston globe’s thanksgiving photo shoot, alongside food editor and my thesis advisor, sheryl julian. i got to do all of the shopping and prep, making tons of different dishes and carting them to the shoot, where i was able to help the photographer, cook, and style food all day. it was absolutely fantastic.

and the photos? don’t even get me started. each of these recipes are delicious, but my personal favorites are the turkey (so tender and flavorful, and really easy to do), the chutney (your whole house smells like the holidays when you make this), and the super creamy soup (this dish is just to die for). check out these reader-submitted recipes on the food section’s front page – and, because i’m just about bursting with pride over my first official job as a food stylist – check out my name under the photos. hooray!

moist roast turkey
butternut-cauliflower soup with yogurt and toasted pepitas
mashed turnip casserole
cranberry-orange chutney
‘meat-ticket’ squash bake
pumpkin cheesecake 

spicy pumpkin stew

boston has been teasing us with 75-degree weather, which in october is just cruel. autumn is so beautiful and delicious, and the warm weather is confusing both the trees and the locals. the warm air is crying out for lemonade and fresh fruit, but i know better – pumpkin, apples, spices and warm drinks are just around the corner. they really should be here already, but since i have tickets to this weekend’s patriots/cowboys game, i’ll tolerate the indian summer a bit longer.

but i just can’t help cooking warm, spicy, creamy dishes. the stores and markets are full of fall produce, and i want it all. unless it’s 100 degrees and disgustingly humid, i love cream sauces, slow-cooked soups and comforting pastas. don’t get me wrong, light and fresh dishes have their place, but sometimes you just crave something rich and soothing.

i was going to share a pumpkin risotto recipe, but i went ahead and made a full-fledged spicy pumpkin stew instead, with chunks of chicken over fluffy rice. the perfect cure for the why-isn’t-it-fall-yet blues. i promised my mother i would post my risotto recipe, so i’ll save that for next week.

spicy pumpkin and chicken stew

2 tbsp canola oil
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, cored and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled finely chopped
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 chicken breasts, with bones and skin removed, cut into 1/2 inch strips
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp dried oregano
15 ounces canned pumpkin*
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup spinach, roughly chopped
1/3 cup plain yogurt
salt and pepper to taste 

*don’t hate. you’re free to use fresh pumpkin if you choose, and it’s definitely worth trying. i had canned pumpkin on hand because i use it to make dog treats, and i didn’t want to leave the house. sometimes, i get lazy.

heat canola oil on medium-low heat in a medium saucepan. add onion, sauteing past translucence and until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. add jalapeno pepper and saute for a minute, then add garlic and vinegar saute for another minute. add the strips of chicken, cinnamon, nutmeg, curry, salt, paprika, red pepper flakes, allspice, and oregano, and allow to saute until the chicken is cooked through. add a pinch each of salt and pepper for taste.

while the chicken is cooking, pull out your trusty crockpot and combine chicken stock and pumpkin. turn to high. when the chicken is fully cooked, dump the chicken and onion mixture into the crockpot. add a bit more salt and pepper, spinach and yogurt, put the lid on and allow to come to a simmer. once your mixture is bubbling, turn down to low and and let cook for 1-2 hours.

here’s the key – taste this throughout. it will almost certainly need more salt and pepper, and add more seasonings to taste if you want more smoky flavor, more creaminess, or more heat. i’m giving you the low-spice version to please most palates, but feel free to crank it up with more paprika, crushed red peppers, or curry powder. or throw in some chipotles for even more dimension. serve over rice – how much is up to you.

chocolate marbled gingerbread

i love ginger.

not just because i’ve been called a ginger. it’s a bit peppery, a bit spicy, a bit sweet, a bit tangy. you can pickle it, candy it, dry it; you can use it in sweet or savory dishes. it’s infinitely flexible, beautifully versatile, and shows up in unexpected places. i always welcome that little pop of flavor on my palette – i don’t think there’s much that ginger doesn’t improve.

and chocolate? well, you know how i feel about sweets. in moderation, i like them. combine sweet with salty, tangy, or spicy? i can’t get enough. it’s a gorgeous, addictive combination. when i think of autumn flavors and smells, i think cinnamon, apples, rum and brandy, nutmeg, cloves, dark woods, deep greens, pumpkin, leather, smoke….it’s the perfect season for distinctive aromas, and i savor everyone one of them.

in the spirit of late september, i give you a deep, rich, spicy and sweet chocolate marbled gingerbread, which is great on its own but achieves perfection with good vanilla ice cream and fresh, dark coffee. eat with good friends, and relish every bite.

chocolate marbled gingerbread
adapted from emily luchetti

8 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup unsulphured molasses
1 tsp baking soda
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted
1/4 cup dark cocoa power

preheat oven to 350 degres. grease the bottom and sides of a 9 by 13 baking pan, and set aside.

in a small saucepan, bring the water to boil. remove from heat and stir in molasses and baking soda until fully combined. set aside to cool, about 10 minutes.

stir together flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar with paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. with the mixer still running, add the egg. when fully combined, keep mixer on slow and alternately add molasses mixture and dry ingredients until smooth.

pour about a third of the mixture into another bowl, then add melted chocolate and cocoa powder. stir until smooth.

pour the plain batter into the greased dish. evenly space 6-8 spoonfuls of chocolate batter on top of the plain batter, then use a skewer or knife to marble the two together. bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. allow gingerbread to cool before serving.