Sunday, October 28, 2012

How to Eat a Jack O'Lantern

It’s all well and good to know that there are carving pumpkins meant for Halloween night and cooking pumpkins grown and picked especially for pumpkin pies, pancakes and muffins.  True, the smaller cooking Sugar Pumpkin can be roasted or boiled to produce a smooth and rich puree fit for the finest Thanksgiving table dessert but what to do with the big jack o'lantern?  It’s October, when families carve their large-headed masterpieces. Aside from roasting the seeds, TV chefs and gardening experts who insist the big one is not for pie miss a fun teaching moment when kids are a lot more likely to try a food made from the fruits of their hobgoblin-ish labor.

Here are a few recipes using the coarser-fleshed carving pumpkin that will carry the day into a spooky night.

The carving pumpkin, or jack o’lantern, has a more fibrous pulp and a less intense pumpkin flavor.  With the top lopped off and seeds removed, you can shred the uncooked pumpkin inside with a fork to get strands that will remind you of spaghetti squash strands (detailed instruction below).  These are bit more fragile that spaghetti squash strands but can be quickly sautéed in olive oil and a pinch of garlic and served with some grated Parmesan cheese as a quick side. 

The shredded pumpkin can also be eaten raw in a salad inspired by the flavors in a Thai Green Papaya Salad, replacing the papaya with pumpkin (recipe below).  For an even simpler salad with stateside flavors, raw shredded pumpkin can be tossed with grated apple, chopped walnuts, plain yogurt, honey and maybe some raisins or dried cranberries. 

Shredded pumpkin can be cooked down with a little water and pureed with an immersion blender or food processor. (Cool the liquid first if using a blender for this task.)  Just be sure to cook the pumpkin down enough to reduce the water content and bring up the squash’s flavor.  Stirring the mixture will help keep it from becoming a boiling and spitting cauldron.   A little salt and honey or sugar will help bring up the pumpkin’s sweetness.  Pureed pumpkin can be spooned into individual ramekins and topped with a little brown sugar for a Halloween night side or breakfast treat (try a little stirred into oatmeal).  Or it can be mixed with chicken or vegetable broth and unsweetened applesauce for a really nice, kid friendly soup.  The cooled plain puree can be used in dessert recipes.  You can even freeze it in one-cup portions for future soups and desserts. 

To concentrate the flavor of a carving pumpkin, roast it.
Rinse out and slice up your used jack o’lantern into large pieces. Brush the pumpkin with vegetable oil and roast at 425˚F in a shallow roasting pan with a bit of water.  The steam will help cook the pumpkin in about 20-25 minutes.  It’s ready when a fork goes through the flesh easily.  Take a taste.  Keep roasting the slices if the flavor is still mild. 

How to Shred an Uncooked Pumpkin
To shred pumpkin, take off the top and remove seeds.  Then use a fork or wide spoon to draw back on the inside flesh of the carving pumpkin.  Leave about 1/2- 3/4 inch of pumpkin flesh intact to carve.   A 12” diameter pumpkin should yield 3-4 cups shredded pumpkin.  Use half in this salad and cook the other half in a bit of water to make pumpkin puree for soup or a pie.

Thai Style Shredded Pumpkin Salad
Serves 3-4, may be doubled
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
juice of 1/2 lime
1-2 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon hot chili paste
optional: 1 teaspoon fish sauce
2 cups raw shredded pumpkin
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup roasted, lightly salted pumpkin seeds

  1. In a medium bowl, mix the first five ingredients, soy sauce through chili paste (plus fish sauce if you are using it).  Taste this dressing for balance—a pleasing combination of sweet, tart, spicy and salty.  You may need to add a little more lime juice.  
  2. Mix in the shredded pumpkin and cilantro.  Refrigerate at least one hour.  
  3. Serve with a garnish of pumpkin seeds. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fall Back Brunch

The very best day of the year to host a brunch is Sunday, November 4, the weekend following Halloween.  Overnight we “fall back” to standard time and no one’s stomach knows what time it is- breakfast or lunch.  The extra hour gives you time to make brunch.

Even better, here our two recipes that can be made and frozen ahead of time.  The first is a caramel apple coffee cake and the second is a sausage cheese roll baked in store-bought puff pastry. 

Take each dish out of the freezer when you set the clocks back on Saturday night and they will be ready to heat on Sunday morning.  A simple fruit salad or a platter of scrambled eggs completes the meal and makes this a really simple way to enjoy entertaining.  Ask a volunteer to be in charge of coffee, tea, milk/yogurt smoothies blended with frozen fruit or hot cider. 

Make Ahead Caramel Apple Coffee Cake
Makes 2 cakes, each serves 6-8
Caramel Apple Top:
2 apples
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup brown sugar
dash salt
optional: 1/2 cup raisins or toasted, chopped pecans

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups flour- all purpose or white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oatmeal flour (oatmeal flakes pulverized in food processor or blender to a fine flour-like consistency; measure after pulverizing)
1 teaspoon double acting baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.  Prepare metal or aluminum pie plates – bottom and sides--by coating well with butter.  melting the butter in the warming oven is helpful.  Sprinkle brown sugar over bottom of pan and top with sliced, peeled apples.  Set aside while you prepare the batter for the coffee cake. Note: If you are planning to freeze the coffeecake, it is best to keep it in the pie plate so use one you can spare for a week or two.  
  2. Place stick of butter and 1 cup sugar in a large mixing bowl and using a mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  
  3. In a small bowl, mix together flour, oatmeal flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon.  
  4. Pour buttermilk into a large measuring cup and add cracked eggs and vanilla.  Stir well to break up the eggs.  
  5. Add liquid and flour mixtures to butter-sugar mixture in 2 stages, wet ingredients first.  Once incorporated, beat on medium 2-3 minutes.  
  6. Carefully pour batter over apples in pie plates.  Bake for 30 minutes.  
  7. If serving that day, run a dull knife around edge of pie plate and flip onto a large serving plate.  Caramelized apples and coffee cake will come right out onto plate for serving. If freezing, leave cake in pie plate and wrap well.  Defrost several hours before serving.  When ready to serve, reheat covered coffee cake at 300˚F for 15 minutes to soften brown sugar so the cake will release easily when flipped onto a warmed platter. 
Sausage Roll
This simple sausage roll in pastry was inspired by a rich stuffed crepe recipe that is topped with a sour cream sauce.  While this baked pastry version looks equally impressive, it takes very little time and is easy to eat with knife and fork or by hand, held in a napkin.  You can lighten it up substantially by using turkey sausage and low fat cheeses.  Bake and freeze to reheat later or freeze ready to bake on the day you need it. 

This recipe can be divided in half to make one thicker roll instead of three rolls however since it freezes so well it is worth making the whole thing so you will have an extra appetizer available during the upcoming holidays. 

Cheesy Sausage en Croute
Makes three rolls
1/2 lb breakfast sausage (1/2 package)
1/2 lb turkey sausage
3 oz cream cheese
3 oz  grated cheddar, about 1/2 cup
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
salt & pepper
1 sheet puff pastry

  1. Cook sausage meats until thoroughly browned and cooked.  Drain well and cool enough to be able to handle.  Mix cooked sausage with cheeses and herbs.  
  2. Divide meat mixture in thirds and roll each section into a roll about 1-1 1/2 inches in diameter and 10 inches long.  Wrap rolls individually in plastic wrap or tin foil and refrigerate overnight or until firm (a few hours).
  3. Meanwhile, defrost puff pastry according to package directions.  Roll out pastry and cut into 3 strips.  Wrap each sausage log in pastry and seal with an egg wash.  
  4. Sausage rolls may be prepared up to this point and either kept refrigerated until you are ready to bake and serve (a few hours ahead) or frozen.  If frozen, do not defrost, but add 5 minutes to cooking time.
  5. Preheat oven to 400˚.  Place sausage rolls on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Cook 10-12 minutes until pastry is nicely browned.  Remove from oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes.  This will allow rolls to cool and set up for easier slicing.  
  6. Slice on the diagonal into 1-2”pieces.  Serve plain or with sour cream and hot sauce.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Pumpkin Festival

Since schedules haven’t allowed us to get together for fall activities, we held a digital Pumpkin Festival this weekend.  Washington DC versus Pennsylvania. We each made one savory recipe and one sweet one using pumpkin.  We cooked yesterday and shared photos this morning.   We both had enough leftovers to enjoy everything again today.

My niece Brooke assisted by her husband Wilson and me assisted by my husband – who helped out as head tester and took a great shot of the pumpkin doughnut. My only note is that professional photographers take time with tabletop work, as it is called, so I had to wait a little longer to eat that doughnut.  Comments on the doughnut, “Light and really nice with the maple topping. Not too heavy a pumpkin flavor.  If you frost with a rum flavored buttercream will remind you of cinnabuns, but better.”  Which makes sense since the buttercream was some leftover from a Julia Child recipe.

Wilson on the experience, "It was a lot of work." His job was to stir the risotto, and with a bottle of red wine he was quite happy.  Brooke added, “What's better than a home cooked pumpkin risotto dinner?  Oven-warmed leftovers for brunch. Yummy.”

Next time we’ll Skype as well.

Here are the results and recipes and references:
The Savory,  followed by The Sweet

Pumpkin Risottto garnished with real Bacon
Pumpkin Risotto- almost ready
Pumkin Potato Taco
Pumpkin Pie Pudding with Pumpkin Granola
Pumpkin Doughnuts with Maple Glaze and Pumpkin Sees

Savory: Washington, DC

Pumpkin Mushroom Risotto
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup cubed pumpkin
1 small white or yellow onion, chopped
2 cups Arborio rice
32 ounce carton of chicken broth
4-6 ounces of grated parmesan cheese
I tablespoon of butter
1 cup of sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup fresh parsley
1/2-1 cup pumpkin puree*
Salt and pepper to taste
Cooked bacon or roasted pumpkin seeds

  1. Preheat oven to about 400˚F.
  2. In a medium bowl, toss together pumpkin cubes, chopped onion, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and salt and pepper.  Distribute mixture onto cookie sheet and roast in the oven at 400˚F for about 30-40 minutes. Shake once in a while to keep from sticking or burning.
  3. Get out a large skillet and medium sized saucepan.  Simmer the chicken broth in saucepan.  In the large skillet, pour in 2 tablespoons olive oil and rice over medium heat.  Mix for about a minute until hot, then start to ladle in chicken stock.  Add one ladle at a time, stirring constantly.  After a couple ladles of stock, you can start throwing in small handfuls of parmesan cheese.
  4. Drink wine and stir simultaneously.  This will take up to 30 minutes.  Taste the rice and keep going until it is al dente and you have reached the desired creaminess.
  5. Right as the rice is finishing, melt butter in a small skillet and quickly sauté the mushrooms.
  6. Take the pumpkin cube mixture out of the oven.
  7. Mix the pumpkin cubes, onion, mushrooms, parsley, and pumpkin puree into the rice.  Quantities depend on your taste and what looks good.
  8. Serve into wide bowls and sprinkle a little extra parsley and Parmesan on top. You can also top with something crunchy—a few fried pieces of bacon or some roasted pumpkin seeds.
Adapted from Gordon Ramsey’s Pumpkin Risotto video:

Savory: Pennsylvania
The inspiration for this dish is Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s southern states.  It is best known for its mole sauces which use pumpkin seeds or pepitas as a key ingredient in the classic sauce for poultry.  Oaxaca's capital is also known for wonderful street food including a taco filled with chorizo and potato cooked in a comal, the wide oval earthenware grills.  Here is a vegetarian Oaxacan taco that replaces the chorizo sausage with cooked pumpkin flavored with some spices used in chorizo, namely paprika.  Toss a few toasted pepitas on top if you’d like.  These are wonderful served alongside a chicken or turkey mole. We had ours alongside pulled pork tacos.

Pumpkin Potato Tacos Oaxaca Style
2 servings, 2 tacos each
1 cup roasted pumpkin, cut in chunks
1 cup cooked and peeled potatoes, cut in chunks
Oaxacan spice blend: 1 tablespoon paprika, 1/4 teaspoon coriander, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
4 small flour tortillas
1/4 cup fresh, chopped cilantro

  1.  Place cooked pumpkin and potatoes chunks in a skillet with a small amount of vegetable oil.
  2. Sprinkle spice blend over vegetables and stir well as they heat.  Chunks will fall apart a bit as they a coated with a light crust of the spices.  
  3. When hot, scoop into warned flour tortillas and garnish with cilantro and roasted jalepeno peppers.  Hot sauce optional.

Sweet: Washington, DC

Pumpkin Pie Pudding with Maple Pumpkin Seed Granola
6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 egg
1 3/4  cup milk
1/2 cup pumpkin puree*
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch nutmeg
Pinch salt

  1. In medium saucepan over medium high heat, whisk milk, egg, sugar and cornstarch together.  Bring to a boil, then remove the pan from heat.
  2. In a small bowl, mix pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and salt.
  3. Put the saucepan with milk mixture back onto low heat and slowly whisk in the pumpkin mixture. Keep whisking over low heat for about five minutes while pudding thickens then pour into four glass dessert bowls or glasses.
  4. Cover with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and chill in the fridge for 1-2 hours until cold. Serve with warm pumpkin seed granola and/or some homemade whipped cream.

*You can buy pumpkin puree in a can, or buy a whole pumpkin and make
it yourself. To make pumpkin puree from scratch, cut a medium sized
sugar pumpkin in half and roast in the oven at about 425˚F  for approximately 15 minutes on each side.  When the flesh is soft enough that you can put a knife through it easily, take it out of the oven and let cool for just a minute.  When cool enough to handle, remove the skin and cut flesh into medium sized chunks.  Throw pumpkin cubes into a medium pan over medium heat. Top with a lid of tin foil to soften cubes but not make them into mush.  Dump the cubes in the in blender and mix (with a little water if necessary to get the liquid moving) until you get a nice smooth puree.

Adapted from the Pumpkin Pie Pudding recipe on

Pumpkin Granola
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon (real) maple syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon
shake of salt

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
  2. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until oats and seeds are covered with oil and maple syrup. 
  3. Lay the mixture out onto a baking sheet.
  4. Cook for about 30-40 minutes until crispy. Give the sheet a couple shakes here and there to loosen up the mixture

Sweet: Pennsylvania
Baked Pumpkin Doughnuts
I based this pumpkin doughnut recipe on one I’ve been planning to try for some time.  It is a plain doughnut recipe that bakes rather fries the dough.   This makes it easy on the cook yet the yeast in the recipe gives them a light doughnut texture we associate with frying. 

Adding a pumpkin flavor and transferring the recipe to a bread machine for extra ease  was not very difficult. I substituted the milk with 1/2 buttermilk and 1/2 pumpkin, cut back on the vanilla and added the classic pumpkin pie spices. 

These doughnuts did not originally have a frosting but the temptation to mix in a little maple flavor into these fall doughnuts was enticing. They are just fine without the filling if you cannot wait to eat the warm doughnuts.

For the original recipe, see who adapted the recipe from Lara Ferroni’s book Doughnuts: Simple and Delicious Recipes to Make at Home

Baked Pumpkin Doughnuts
Yield 10-12 doughnuts, 30 mini doughnut balls
1 egg
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature
1/2 cup cooked, pureed pumpkin
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached flour (or white whole wheat flour)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup cake flour
1 stick unsalted butter (4 ounces), cut into tablespoons
1 tablespoon active dry yeast

Cinnamon Coating
3 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup cinnamon sugar

  1. Place ingredients in bread machine in the order noted (or according to your bread machine’s instructions for wet and dry ingredients).  Set to dough cycle.  
  2. When dough is ready, turn out onto a lightly floured board or counter top.  Gently pat to flatten out dough to a rectangle about 1/2 inch high.  It will be a little over 10" X 10".  
  3. Use a biscuit or doughnut cutter to cut out doughnuts shapes for either filled doughnuts (biscuit cutter), or classic doughnuts and doughnut holes.  If you do not have a 3" cutter, use the rim of a ramekin or wide glass.  
  4. Place doughnuts on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone pad allowing at least 1 inch space between each.  Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm spot while oven preheats to 400˚F.  After about 30 minutes, doughnuts will have risen again and are ready to bake.  
  5. Bake for 6-8 minutes at 400˚F.  Remove and coat in melted butter and roll in cinnamon sugar immediately.  If you are frosting the doughnuts, you can skip the coating but it is fine to do both.
Optional topping: Maple Cream Cheese
  1. Beat 2 teaspoons maple syrup into 3 ounces softened cream cheese.   Dip cinnamon coated doughnuts in topping.
  2. Garnish with roasted pumpkin seeds tossed with a small amount of vegetable oil and salt, then coated warm from the oven in sugar mixed with cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger.
Freeze doughnuts that are not eaten within a day.  Defrost in the refrigerator if you have used the frosting or coat with topping after defrosting.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Roasted Red Grape Croutons

Mark harvest time with roasted red grapes. 

We use roasted grapes to make big dramatic croutons to serve with salad.  Originally a very swank hors d’ouevre, they are equally fun on a salad and actually stand out best against a field of simple greens.

Rolled in olive oil and topped with some freshly cracked black pepper, the ripe fruit flavor pops after 15 minutes in a 450˚F oven.  Let the grapes cool for a few minutes than light mash with the back of a fork, leaving several whole. The resulting jammy grape spread has a subtle peppery finish and is good warm or cold on top a thin slices of multi-grain baguette covered with smooth goat cheese.  Cream cheese is a tasty compliment too.  Three croutons per person is nice on a salad of greens with a simple vinaigrette.  Garnish with few sliced roasted almonds.

Grapes can also be roasted alongside chicken parts. Cook skin-on, bone-in chicken parts at 375˚F for about 45 minutes. During the last 20 minutes toss rinsed grapes in with roasting chicken parts and some fresh thyme or rosemary.  Use about a 1/2 cup grapes per serving.  When the chicken is done pull it out of the roasting pan and set it aside to rest.  Gently scoop out the grapes and herbs and put them in a small serving bowl.  Lightly mash with the back of a fork.  Serve as a warm compote beside your chicken.  Are you thinking turkey and pork?  Yep, that works.   And really good smeared on a turkey sandwich in place of mayonnaise.