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Posts Tagged ‘autumn’

The Last Pumpkins (For a While…)

I’ve been having a great fall teaching classes and testing out endless  butternut squash/apple/turnip/pear/carrot/sweet potato/parsnip/pumpkin combinations in soups, gratins, purees, and stew-like creations. I had a hard time deciding what to share with you before TurkeyDay, the biggest food event of the year.

But the other day I cracked open Dorie Greenspan’s brilliant new cookbook Around My French Table for the first time. This is exactly the book I wish I’d written. Like her perfect Baking from my Home to Yours, the recipes are simple, versatile and flavorful, and the pages are saturated with spectacular pictures and peppered with “bonne idées” – good ideas to make each recipe your own. She takes the mystery out of fabulous French cooking from the simplest home meal to the most intimidating pastries. And so many of her recipes have blunt, adorable names – Spur-of-the Moment Vegetable Soup, Salmon and Potatoes in a Jar.

But once I saw “Pumpkins Stuffed With Everything Good,” I knew I’d found my starting point. The concept, taken from generations of French home cooking, is sheer perfection: so cozy, beautiful, and delicious. As Dorie says, “an outline is about the best you can do with this dish” – because there’s so many ways you can, and often must, vary it. She says she never makes it the same way twice.

It’s sort of like a fondue, only you spoon out the contents not skewer them. The concepts all depend on what you like, and the best thing about it is that you can serve it as an appetizer or a side dish on the Thanksgiving table, perfect for all friends and family. You can even easily make it vegetarian if that’s what makes you happy.

Here’s what you have to do:

You take a bake-able pumpkin, like sugar or Cinderella and cut off the top

scoop out the stringy stuff and the seeds (to toast) (or caramelize)

then crush some garlic, and maybe chop some herbs

fill it with your favorite chunks of bread, cheeses, herbs and a bit of bacon or pancetta or similar if you like

Pour in some cream

And bake it!

That’s it! And this is what you get in the end…

Then you scoop this with some of the pumpkin meat on to small plates. Together with a good glass of white wine and you’re in heaven after one taste. I’m not exaggerating.

Full, concise recipe after the jump!

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Seeds of Sincerity

Fall break finally arrived this past weekend and, while I could have stayed in the city exploring six star restaurants and interviewing famous chefs, like a good, loving little daughter I hopped on the 6:39 to New Haven on Friday evening, and spent four glorious days [eating candy] with my family.

You see, Francesca really wanted to trick or treat with me. And you know how I hate to disappoint her…

This weekend was a like dream. The moment I got home I opened the fridge, out of instinct, but instead of reaching for something I just stood and stared. I couldn’t believe the freshness, the variety, and the general edibility of everything I saw. When I returned to school, I talked with my friend Mia about her trip home and she said she’d experienced the same Fridge-Shock I had. (Unsurprisingly, the very base of our friendship was founded on Dark Chocolate-Sea Salted Almonds and Magnolia banana pudding.) Four soups – pumpkin, broccoli, carrot-ginger and a vibrant pea – met me at the refrigerator door, and as the weekend progressed we added homemade chili, a boeuf en daube, and a plum-vanilla crisp, to the mix. I was able to choose between two apple ciders, spiced and regular, and I could even heat them up if I wanted. In all honesty, and I say this without a hint of irony, I was so overwhelmed by my refrigerator that by Halloween night I’d almost forgotten about candy.

I certainly miss the pumpkins the most (after the sisters I carved them with, of course). There was not a moment when I wasn’t painting, carving, eating, or watching a movie about one. Francesca, Isabella and I spent several hours on the front lawn, freezing our hands off, while mommy scoured the house for melon ballers, 10-inch kitchen knives, awls, cookie cutters, and mini saws.

Francesca instructed me as I carved my first dictated pumpkin (eyes and nose like closed bananas, mouth like an open banana) and she stirred the seeds for the “pumpkin seed stew” while Isabella and I poked, sawed and pared “The Old House in Paris,” a tree, and various unidentifiable swirly things.

When Francesca had finished preparing the seeds (as everyone knows, stirring them is the most important part), we took them inside and began searching high and low for pumpkin seed recipes. But to my shock and dismay, all I could find, no matter how hard I looked, were recipes that called for nothing more than olive oil and sea salt. Yummy, I suppose, but I wasn’t looking to make gourmet potato chips. After a taxing day of carving and playing I needed something sweet as well as salty, and something unmistakably autumn-y.

And so the cinnamon-caramel pumpkin seeds were born. In this recipe, salt and toasty sugar melt with butter and cinnamon to form a new fall classic. They’re cooked first on the stove, to soften the seeds and melt the sugar, and then spread on parchment paper to bake to a crisp. They tend to stick together into a kind of pumpkin brittle, which I like, although you are free to spend the time making sure they are spread out. Of course, they’re very simple (as all good things should be), and very addictive. So as you’re carving your Thanksgiving pumpkins, as I’m sure you plan to do, make sure you save some time to make this modern fall candy. I know you’ll love it and you’ll make me, and the Great Pumpkin, very proud.

Cinnamon-Caramel Pumpkin Seeds

2 Cups of Fresh, Rinsed Pumpkin Seeds, well stirred by any 5-year-olds you have lying around
3 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
3/4 Teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 Tablespoon Butter

  1. Preheat oven to 325° F
  2. Mix cinnamon, sugar and salt together in a small bowl
  3. Melt butter in medium-small non-stick skillet over medium-high heat
  4. Add pumpkin seeds, and 1/3 of sugar mixture, and sautee for 8 minutes, gradually adding the remaining sugar mixture over the course of the first 4 minutes. Make sure to stir constantly or the seeds may burn
  5. Pour seeds onto a baking sheet coated with parchment paper and spread evenly
  6. Roast for 15 minutes, cool, and enjoy!

Too many Pumpkins…

For most people the holiday season begins with Thanksgiving. Here the “holidays” as they are collectively known, begin in (very) early October. I don’t know why the color orange and October make me so happy, but I am a sucker for all things autumn and Halloween, probably because Halloween is about fun, not office parties. Instead, it’s about apples and pumpkin picking, and laughing at the hysterical decorations and costumes so many people come up with.

More lawns than ever are populated with monsters and graveyards and not-so-scary whimsy, like this monster and mermaid I found in Essex, CT.

 

 

Our house is always the most over the top in the neighborhood, but we’ve even outdone ourselves this year with a witch that projects on to our house. It’s pretty spectacular, if I do say so myself.

We are so into the season that my youngest daughter isn’t allowed to wear anything that isn’t orange and black or doesn’t have a witch or ghost on it. I’m really not kidding. Thank goodness she’s only five and thinks it’s a blast.

A little odd, perhaps, but I did the same thing with Gabrielle and Isabella and they turned out pretty normal.

But of course, this is a food blog, and no post about October would make any sense without talking about all the spectacular cozy foods of autumn. We love teaching light and fresh meals at the Fig Cooking School in the summer – a chilled borsht made with organic beets on a sticky day is superb – but nothing beats hearty stews, rich pies and crisps made with apples or pears, or really anything made with the vast array of squashes and pumpkins now in season.

The best pumpkin has to have the best stem...

Of all the fall foods and decorations I go especially crazy for pumpkins. I can’t get enough of them. Francesca has a fantastic book called Too Many Pumpkins in which Rebecca Estelle thinks she hates those beautiful bulky balls of orange until a truck spills dozens of splattered pumpkins in her yard. The next year there are hundreds of pumpkins and so she has to make dozens of pumpkin pies, cookies, muffins and breads for the townspeople so they don’t go to waste. In the end, the pumpkins bring her happiness and community… totally my kind of story.

If you ask Mark and the girls they’ll tell how they have to pull me away from the pumpkin patch. It’s an addiction, really.

And I like gourds and weird pumpkins too!

 

 

 

So obviously, some of my favorite foods are made with pumpkins. This gorgeous vegetable makes the most wonderful soups, muffins and pies and, when roasted whole, a beautiful, edible bowl for your favorite autumn stew.

 

 

Since it is such a busy time of year, I try to keep it simple and create recipes that are hearty and delicious, so we have more time to be outside apple picking or taking scenic drives. I’ve created a delicious but simple pumpkin-butternut squash soup using canned organic squash and pumpkin. It’s so easy you will never be tempted to by commercial soup again. I promise.

Hopefully it will become part of your regular dinner plans. When you make it, be sure to let us know!

Pumpkin-Butternut Squash Soup with Pears

2 cups of leeks, chopped
1/3 cup shallots, chopped
1 Bartlett pear, peeled and chopped into 1-inch cubes
1 can organic butternut squash puree
1 can organic pumpkin puree (unprocessed)
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup sour cream
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1/3 pound pancetta, sliced thin (optional)

1. Sautee shallots and leeks until they are wilted, but not yet brown, about 5 minutes
2. Add squash and pumpkin and stir
3. Add one teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
4. Add the broth, pears, sugar and cayenne pepper and bring to a boil
5. Let simmer for about 12 minutes, or until pears are soft
6. Add both the pumpkin and squash and cook for another 7 minutes on a low flame
7. Puree in a food processor, or with an immersion blender (you may also use a blender, but be sure to let the soup cool to lukewarm first)
8. Add sour cream and mix well
9. Fry pancetta in a small pan over medium-high heat, until crisp, and pat between two towels to absorb grease
10. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle chopped chives and crumbled pancetta on top

Fall at its Finest

I love autumn for so many reasons – the soft lighting, the crisp air, and the beautiful foliage – but somehow things always come back to food for us. Even when I was a little girl, great food superseded all other experiences. Sure, I was excited to go back to school and for Halloween, but what I really loved were the comfort foods my mother made in the fall. She used to make these wonderful Austrian plum dumplings called Zwetschgenknoedel. These cozy and rich Austrian potato dumplings are filled with Italian plums and have just enough sugar and cinnamon to be called dessert.

When I went to college, I had Zwetschgenknoedel withdrawal every fall, and for years afterward I would beg my mother for the recipe. Like so many great cooks of her generation, she said there was no recipe and she would add a little of this and that each time. But in recent years, Gabrielle and Isabella got so tired of hearing about these special dumplings they begged their Oma to try to write it down. Fortunately, it was much easier to do than she predicted. They’re actually quite easy to make, and they’re spectacularly delicious.

Most Americans have never had these delectable dumplings before. I’ve never seen them on a menu or sold anywhere. In Germany and Austria, they are as common as apple pie and it’s easy to see why. There is nothing better than one or two of these dumplings with a cup of tea after a light lunch or dinner. Help me spread the word and share this link with all of your foodie friends. I assure you, they will be grateful.

Zwetschgenknoedel (Plum Dumplings)

2 Russet potatoes
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons butter
Pinch of Salt
1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk
About 12 Italian Plums (sometimes called prunes) or damson plums
¾ cup sugar1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup bread crumbs

1. Boil 2 russet potatoes until soft (at least ½ hour).
2. Peel off skin and add 1/3 stick butter sliced. Mash potatoes and butter until smooth.
3. Add a dash of salt and mix again. Let cool.
4. Melt 1/2 cup butter in a 12 inch saucepan.
5. Add sugar, cinnamon, and bread crumbs and heat until breadcrumbs are slightly browned. Set aside and cool.
6. Mix one whole egg and one yolk into the potatoes, along with one cup of flour.
7. Mix well and knead until dough is smooth (you may need a little more flour).
8. Shape the dough into a 4 inch by 6 inch rectangle
9. Wash and dry plums
10. Cut approximately 1/2 inch of dough (depending on the size of the plums) and flatten into round shape in the palm of your hand (dough should be about an 1/8 of an inch thick when flattened out).
11. Wrap dough around the plum, making sure to cover it completely.
12. Repeat until all the plums are wrapped.
13. Fill a 6 quart pot two-thirds of the way with lightly salted water.
14. Place the dumplings  gently in the water and let come to a boil again.
15. Reduce to a simmer and cook until you can see the juice “bleeding” inside the dumplings.
16. Remove with a slotted spoon and roll into the bread crumb mixture.
17. Let cool 15 minutes and serve.

 

 

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