Pumpkin Pie

While the focus of Home Office Lunch is generally preparing meals for lunch at home, having a slice of pumpkin pie as dessert after lunch, or as a midafternoon snack, is pretty awesome.

Pumpkin pie, with one slice removed.

Pumpkins are easy to cook with; if you can bake a potato, you can make a pumpkin pie. This recipe is more of a guide; because pumpkins are so flexible, there are a lot of paths that lead to a good pumpkin pie. My personal preference is to play with the savory nature of the pumpkin — which is a squash — and go a little spicy. I use molasses to get a deeper flavor with the sweetness. If that doesn’t work for you omit molasses and only use brown sugar, or a mix of white and brown sugar. Build a filling that matches tastes that you love.

Every pie needs a basic pie crust. You can buy decent frozen pie crusts in stores, or you can make one at home using this recipe. The pie crust can be made days ahead of time, and a frozen pie crust can last weeks in the freezer.

The pie filling uses the ingredients listed below. Quantities and proportion are included in the writeup. I haven’t measured precise ingredients in years, largely because pumpkins are such a flexible ingredient. When adding spices, salt, and sweeteners, start small. It’s easy to add more, and impossible to take it out.

The core ingredients you will need are:

  • Pumpkins
  • Chipotle pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Molasses
  • Brown sugar
  • Cinnamon
  • Chinese five spice blend

Start with one medium size or two small sugar pie pumpkins. For reference, a small pumpkin is about twice the size of a softball.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

To roast the pumpkin, cut it in half, and use a spoon to remove all the seeds and stringy/fibrous bits attached to the seeds. Cut the pumpkin into quarters, and interior of the pumpkin with olive oil. Sprinkle the pumpkin with sea salt and chipotle pepper.

Place the pumpkins quarters on a baking sheet, and roast until the flesh is soft to the point where a fork passes easily though it/the quarters begin to sag down under their own weight.

Remove the pumpkin from the oven and let the pumpkin cool, then remove the flesh of the pumpkin from the skin. A spoon should be all you need to scrape the roasted pumpkin from the skin.

Roasting the pumpkin can be done 1-3 days before making the pie.

When you are ready to make the pie, preheat your oven to 325 degrees fahrenheit.

Roll your dough into a circle big enough to fit in a 9 inch round pie dish. Lay the dough in the dish.

To convert the roasted pumpkin into pie filling, mash it with your choice of a fork, a potato masher, an immersion blender, or a hand mixer. Add molasses and sugar to taste, and then add some cinnamon and Chinese five spice to taste. Start with approximately 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon five spice. I haven’t measured these in years, but I will add molasses, sugar, and spices to taste.

When the pumpkin mixture tastes delicious, add two eggs into the pumpkin and spice mixture. Beat the eggs, and then spoon the filling into the pie dish.

Bake at 325 for around 40-45 minutes. Unless you are 100% certain that your oven heats perfectly evenly, rotate your pie 2-3 times over the 45 minute cook time. The pie is done when you can insert a bamboo skewer into the center of the pie and remove it with no filling sticking to the skemer. If you don’t have a skewer, you can also use a standard table knife or a paring knife.

As I said earlier, feel free to play with the ingredients and the spice mix. Adding the eggs last, after the spices are dialed in, allows you to taste the filling without worrying about eating raw egg. Roasting a pumpking can feel daunting the first time you do it, but once you’ve done it once it’s simple.

Ssamjang

Ssamjang is a staple in Korean cooking, and is traditionally used as a sauce in wraps. It packs amazing flavors, is simple to make, and can be made in advance and stored and used when you want to add incredible flavor to just about anything.

For more informed perspectives on Ssamjang, see these posts:

I like to have ssamjang on hand to add to use on just about everything. I’ve used it with dishes ranging from bulgogi beef to tofu with veggies over rice to grilled chicken. It adds incredible flavor, which is never a bad thing — especially on a busy workday when your lunch might otherwise feel mundane.

When I make ssamjang, I stick most closely to the steps described in this recipe.

  • 2 tablespoons doenjang
  • 1 tablespoon gochujang
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds (toast them beforehand to bring out flavor)
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped onion (I generally go a little heavier on the garlic and onion)
  • honey (add until it has the right balance between sweet and salty)
  • mirin or unseasoned rice wine – add to adjust consistency, and until the acidity level is your preferred balance of salty, sweet, and acidic.

Start with 1 tablespoon each of honey and mirin/unseasoned rice wine vinegar and adjust to taste.

To start, mince garlic and onion.

Diced onions and garlic
Diced onions and garlic

In a dry saucepan, toast the sesame seeds on medium high heat until they turn golden brown and you can smell the scent of the seeds. This takes between 1-2 minutes, depending on the heat of your pan and how frequently you stir the seeds.

Put the seeds in a bowl, return the pan to the heat, and add canola oil. I recommend putting the seeds in a large bowl that you will use to mix the rest of the ssamjang.

Saute the onions until they begin to caramelize. Add garlic to the onions, and cook until the garlic also begins to brown.

Add the garlic and onions to the sesame seeds.

Add the doenjang, gochujang, sesame oil, honey, and mirin to the garlic, onions, and sesame seeds.

Ssamjang sauce ingredients, ready for mixing
Ssamjang sauce ingredients, ready for mixing

Mix the ingredients. Adjust levels of honey and mirin/seasoned rice wine vinegar to match your preferred taste.

Grilled Rack of Lamb

Rack of Lamb

Racks of lamb are generally sold as a full rack with 8 ribs. The rack can be cooked whole, or cut into individual pieces prior to cooking. Either way works just as well; the “right” way is largely a matter of preference, and some for some preparations (like oven roasting) it makes more sense to cook the rack whole.

While grilling, I have a slight preference for cutting the rack into individual pieces before cooking and marinating. If you buy the lamb from a butcher or a meat counter, most places will piece it out for you. This increases the surface area of the meat exposed to the marinade, and allows for a slightly faster sear on the grill. I recommend trying it both ways and experimenting to see what you prefer. The obvious upside of the experimentation approach is that you eat more rack of lamb, and everybody wins because these things are tasty.

In this recipe, I’m including a good general purpose marinade. While the marinade I describe here is pretty easy to prepare, it can be even simpler. A quick rub of kosher salt, pepper, and olive oil — applied anywhere from 5 to 60 minutes before cooking — is a great preparation for lamb.

Marination times also vary. I generally recommend an hour minimum for meat. For this recipe, I made the marinade the night before, and let the lamb marinate overnight.

The time required to prepare the marinade is between 5-15 minutes. The lamb can be marinated for between 1 to 24 hours. Cook time is approximately 5-6 minutes. So, for preparing this meal for lunch, you’ll be in great shape if you prep the marinade the night before, marinate the lamb overnight or starting at breakfast, and then prepping the grill about 20 minutes before you want to eat. While the grill is coming up to temperature, you can fix up a green salad with sliced avocado and and a rice wine vinaigrette.

Ingredients

  • 1 rack of lamb (8-9 pieces), cut into individual pieces
Individual pieces of lamb
Individual pieces of lamb

Marinade

  • Lemon
  • Fresh mint – if you like mint, use more. If you have flawed flavor preferences and don’t like mint, use less or (gasp) leave it out entirely
  • Fresh oregano – as with mint, balance the amount of oregano against your personal preference.
  • 4-6 cloves garlic
  • Olive oil – approx 2-3 tablespoons
  • Sea salt – 1-2 tablespoons
  • Freshly ground pepper – add pepper to taste, maybe 1 teaspoon. More won’t hurt things.
Marinade ingredients
Marinade ingredients

Other additions or substitutions to the marinade can include chopped fresh rosemary or dried cumin.

Preparation

Step 1: Juice the lemon, and chop the mint, oregano, and garlic. Add them all to a bowl.

Step 2: Add the olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. Stir all ingredients together with a spoon.

Marinade ingredients, ready to go
Chopped and ready to mix

The marinade can be made multiple days in advance. It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. If you choose to refrigerate the marinade, make sure to bring it to room temperature before using it. The olive oil will solidify in the refrigerator; bringing the marinade back to room temperature allows the olive oil to liquefy.

Step 3. Put the lamb in a ziploc freezer bag, and pour in the marinade. Shake the bag gently to cover all the lamb with the marinade. Remove as much excess air as possible from the bag, and seal it.

Step 4. Put the lamb in the refrigerator until you are ready to eat!

Protip: It takes just as much time to prepare marinade for 4 pieces as it does 8 or 12. If you make more in your initial batch, you can have some for leftovers later in the week. Grilled lamb is delicious cold.

I generally eat around 4 pieces as a single serving, so eight pieces covers two meals.

Step 5. About 30 to 60 minutes before you want to eat, remove the lamb from the refrigerator. 20 minutes before you want to eat, spark the grill. We want the grill right around 500.

Step 6. Cook the lamb on the grill, approximately 2-3 minutes each side.

Grilled lamb, after the flip
Grilled lamb, after the flip

Step 7. Plate, eat, enjoy. Save your leftovers for lunch later in the week!

Rack of Lamb

Simple Green Salad with Dressing

Salads are easy to throw together, and they don’t need to be complicated.

If you’re working at home, you need your greens.

Eat your greens!
Image source: https://giphy.com/gifs/food-angry-gifamerica-k2hh0zJzIBvY4

For a basic salad, get some mixed greens at the store. If you’re feeling ambitious, buy a head of lettuce and rip the leaves off and wash them. But, with either route, the process of making a salad is literally washing the greens, and then dumping them onto a plate. If you’re feeling really ambitious, get an avocado and slice it up*. Cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, snow peas, carrots, or celery all add some variety, flavor, or texture.

Homemade dressing can also be pretty simple. A great basic dressing is a mix of equal parts extra virgin olive oil and seasoned (or sweetened) rice wine vinegar.

Another straightforward homemade dressing is equal parts extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, with a spoonful of stoneground mustard and some cracked pepper. This dressing goes especially well with sliced apple and/or dried cranberries.

For salad dressing containers, I use old jam jars. They’re a great size, and you can seal them up and mix your dressing inside them.

With the steps laid out here, you can prepare a basic salad in around 5-10 minutes.

* If you only use some of your avocado, squeeze lemon juice on the part that’s remaining and store it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. The lemon juice prevents the avocado from turning brown.

Seared Ahi Tuna

This dish is pretty simple to cook and prepare. Preparation and cooking takes around 10-15 minutes.

The meal has one critical component: sushi grade tuna from a fishmonger you trust. If you have any doubts about this, ask the person selling the fish one direct question: can I use this for sushi tonight? If the answer comes back as anything but an unequivocal “yes” then I recommend looking elsewhere. While this fish will have a sear on it, it will not be cooked all the way through. Fresh, good quality fish is pretty important on this dish. I generally buy the fish the day before I am going to cook it, although if the fish is vacuum sealed I have kept it refrigerated two days before cooking it.

Ingredients

  • one piece fresh Ahi Tuna (Tombo can be a great substitute if it’s available); one person can eat somewhere between .25 and .5 pounds, depending on how hungry you are. Most cuts will be between 3/4 of an inch to 1.5 inches thick
  • toasted sesame oil
  • coarse sea salt/kosher salt
  • fresh ground pepper

Preparation

Step 1: Prepare the grill and get it heating. We sear the fish between 550° or 600°.

Step 2: Coat the fish with toasted sesame oil.

Step 3. Sprinkle one side of the fish with salt and fresh ground pepper. Flip and cover the second side.

Step 4. Wait until the grill gets to 550° or 600°.

Step 5. Place the fish on the grill and sear on one side for 30-45 seconds.

Flip and cook for an additional 30-45 seconds on the second side.

Seriously, avoid the temptation to cook it longer. Thirty seconds goes by really quickly, and with the grill at 550° that’s all you need.

To round out this meal for lunch, add a simple green salad.

Garlic Butter (or spiced/herbed butter)

Making garlic butter, or some other variant of spiced or herbed butter, is a simple way to add flavor and depth to meals. The short version:

  • melt some butter, or allow butter to soften to room temperature;
  • mix in some spices or herbs to taste (and go light; it’s easy to add more, but impossible to take them out);
  • put the butter in the refrigerator.

And really, that’s about it. The spices and herbs you can add are really limitless, from coarse ground pepper to thyme to fresh rosemary to ground chipotle pepper or smoked paprika to herbes de Provence.

Either fresh or dried herbs can be chopped and put into the warm butter; experiment with both to decide what you prefer. Personally, I prefer fresh herbs, but tastes differ.

Garlic butter requires anywhere from 5 minutes to 60 minutes of preparation time, with somewhere around 5 to 10 minutes of active cooking time. Once prepared, garlic or herbed butter can be stored in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks, or frozen.

To make garlic butter, one additional step makes all the difference: brown the garlic in olive oil, and then mix the browned garlic and olive oil into the butter. Browned garlic has a great texture, and browning the garlic adds a sweet crunch to garlic. If the garlic was browned in butter, the butter would brown as well.

To make garlic butter:

  • Remove 1 stick of butter from the refrigerator and let it warm to room temperature. This can take 30-60 minutes. The butter can also be microwaved in a bowl in 15 second increments until the butter softens.
  • Peel anywhere from 3 to 10 cloves of fresh garlic (depending on the size of the cloves, and your love of garlic).
  • Mince the garlic into small chunks.
  • Heat a saucepan on medium-high heat; add olive oil and minced garlic.
  • Stir garlic occasionally until it browns.
  • Add the browned garlic and olive oil to the warm butter.
  • Using a spoon, mix the garlic into the butter.
  • Return the garlic butter to the fridge until it hardens, and use it as you would regular butter.

 

Skillet with chorizo, onion, red pepper, greens, and cheese

This dish takes around 30-35 minutes to prepare from start to finish; 15 minutes of active time, and 15-20 minutes of cooking time. Skillets are great because you can make them with almost anything you have on hand. This also means that you can cook some of the items ahead of time, which cuts down on the active time.

The meal will be cooked in and eaten from a cast iron skillet. This recipe was prepared with a 6.5 inch skillet.

Ingredients

  • chorizo
  • spinach (can use chopped kale, collards, or other spinach-like green)
  • sweet onion (yellow onion okay, if you’re a philistine)
  • grated cheese (cheddar or Monterey Jack)
  • red pepper
  • 2-3 eggs
  • bread crumbs (or panko)
  • butter (or garlic butter)

Preparation

Step 1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Place the skillet in the oven so it heats up as the oven heats up.

Step 2. While the oven is heating, brown the chorizo in a small pan on the stove. I generally use around 2/10 of a pound, but if you brown more you can have leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.

Browning the chorizo
Browning the chorizo

Step 3. Chop onion and sauté in a pan. This can be done ahead of time; in this recipe I used leftover grilled onions. Cooked onions will last for several days in the refrigerator. When cooked, place the onions in a bowl.

Step 4.  Chop 1/2 a red pepper. Place in the same bowl with the onions.

Step 5. Wash and chop the spinach. Place in a bowl.

Step 6. Grate or cube a small amount of cheese.

Step 7. Crack 2-3 eggs in a bowl and beat lightly – just enough to break the yolks.

Prepped and ready!
Prepped and ready!

Step 8. When the oven reaches 375°, pull the skillet from the oven and place on a the stovetop, or any other surface that can handle a hot piece of metal.

Step 9. Melt garlic butter (or regular butter) in the skillet. Coat the bottom of the skillet with breadcrumbs.

Step 10. Layer the remaining ingredients into the skillet, in this order:

Spinach:

Cheese:

Onions and peppers:

Chorizo:

And, once everything else is in the skillet, gently pour the eggs on top of the other ingredients.

Step 11. Bake between 15-20 minutes at 375°. Remove when the eggs are as solid as you like.

Step 12. Set the phone to mute, ignore emails, and get to it!