Archive | October, 2014

Pumpkin is the new bacon.

19 Oct

Wow!  That sure got your attention, now didn’t it?  Pumpkin is the new bacon?  You bet.  I read it on the internet so it must be true (insert sarcastic tone and indignant faux cough with a hair toss here).  Seriously though, it’s an interesting culinary perspective don’t you think?  When sharing this statement with my teenaged son, he became certain that there is a conspiracy at work here. He says nothing could ever be the new bacon.

What, exactly, does this mean…the new bacon. Well, I took it to mean that pumpkin is the new “must have” ingredient that everyone is trying.  So not to be one left in the dark, I decided that pumpkin was MY new bacon.  Pumpkin became my fall food obsession.  Where to begin?  Where I always begin…I delved into the nutritional facts.

Pumpkin is a great source of beta-carotene, which our bodies convert to vitamin A.   That helps form and maintain healthy skin, teeth, and bones.  Vitamin A promotes good vision too.  Love that!

Vitamin C is also abundant in pumpkin.  This vitamin is an essential nutrient is great for our skin, brain health, and necessary to form certain proteins in our body.  .  Vitamin C is a well known antioxidant and essential for good cell health.  The bright orange color means that pumpkin is bursting with antioxidants!  That also keeps our skin elastic and healthy looking.  We need a continuous supply of this vitamin, so it is crucial to include in our diet.

Pumpkins are a good source of potassium and fiber.  Pumpkins are also naturally sodium free and low in calories.  It is a heart friendly food too.  And since studies show that canned pumpkin has all of the health benefits that fresh pumpkin does,  there is no reason not to jump on this bandwagon!

Okay, now on to the fun stuff.  Recipes!  Oh, I looked at them all!  Appetizers, desserts, pumpkin dice, pumpkin pureé, pumpkin seeds.  At first I was amazed that pumpkin is so versatile.  Thrilled, in fact, by the possibilities.  But in the end I followed my affinity for grilling and pizza to my very own pumpkin heaven.  Yup.  I made grilled pumpkin pizza.  And it was delish!

I did two pizzas.  One pizza had pumpkin puree as the sauce, and a second with pumpkin chunks as a topping.  Here is what I did.

I bought 2 “sugar” pumpkins, or pie pumpkins, a smaller variety. I cut them in half, took out the seeds and strings, placed the cut side down on a baking sheet, and roasted them in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes.  I pulled them out, turned them open side up, and let them cool.  I could then easily cut the skin away.

2 small sugar pumpkins, roasted and cut out of their skin.

Next, I cut the meat of one pumpkin into a small dice, and the other one I used for the puree.  The puree was intended to be a pizza sauce, so I wanted it thick.  I blended the pumpkin meat for the sauce with a little butter and milk until it was a good space consistency.  Then I tossed in a smidgen of salt and pepper.  That is it. Simple.

I started by grilling 2 pizza crusts on the grill.  After pulling the 2 pizza crusts off the grill, I met Denis at the island in the kitchen.  Denis and I discussed toppings, seasonings, flavors, and technique ahead of time.  We had a blast loading up our pizza pies!  For the toppings of the first pizza, we decided on goat cheese, grilled ham, and pesto to add to our pumpkin sauce.

Pumpkin pizza. This pizza has half pesto sauce and half pumpkin sauce. Next, we threw some savory toppings on!

The other pizza had diced pumpkin on it.  Since pumpkin is so moist, sauce wasn’t necessary on this pizza.  It was just the pizza crust and toppings.  Two pizzas, 1 with pumpkin sauce and one with pumpkin chunks as a topping.  Very different consistencies, mouth feel, and taste sensations.  Both were very pleasant, and had the essence of fall.   These pizzas certainly elicited some moanable moments while being taste tested!

Now it’s your turn.  Get some pumpkins.  Cook them up.  Develop your own recipes,  Mix diced pumpkin with pasta, puree with bread.  Pumpkin risotto.  Pumpkin pancakes.  How many other things can you think of?  For me, this is simply a jumping off point with so many places to go with pumpkin.  Denis is a genius at soups, so I know that an amazingly delicious pumpkin soup is in our future.  Any way you make it, start having fun with this nutrition packed food.  Pumpkin is the new bacon?  It sure is-minus the fat, but with all the flavor!

Time for soup!

12 Oct

Ah yes.  The calendar says its October.  We may still be having some warm days, but make no mistake.  It is fall.  Soup is on!

Let’s have a brief history of soup.  Many historians believe that soup is as old as the history of cooking.  Soup is an ancient food.  It was the perfect food for rich and poor, all cultures, healthy people and invalids.  In other words, it was an ideal food for everybody.  Most everyone had access to a pot and fire  Not only that, anything can go into soup.  So it is easy to understand how it dates back hundreds of years.

The art of tossing things into a pot for a one dish meal started out as a rustic meal, and has come a long way.  Soup is nutritious, flexible with ingredients, warm and nourishing.  It can be as simple or as sophisticated as desired.   My number one reason for loving soup, though, is that it can be made on any budget.  Another bonus…soup can easily feed a crowd.

I am not the only one craving comfort food at the moment.   I went out to lunch with some folks from the office.  They invited me to “go out for soup”.  Sure, I thought.  When I inquired as to where we were going for soup, the answer confused me.  Donna, a coworker,  said “Oh, to a Mexican restaurant down the street”. Umm, what?  A mexican place?  But always one for a culinary adventure, off I went with the office crowd.  I need not have questioned the rationale.

The soup and quesadilla lunch special was about 6 bucks.  It was easy on the budget, but more than that, it was fantastic!  Who knew that you could get delicious soup at a place that I relate more closely with a cheesy, spicy, rice and tortilla meal.   This lunch outing really got me jazzed yet again for soup season.  Its time for some fun.   After all, it is fall!

The soup and quesadilla lunch special.  Delish!

The soup and quesadilla lunch special. Delish!

Just look at that chunky soup filled with veggies, avocado, and chicken.

Just look at that chunky soup filled with veggies, avocado (a favorite superfood of mine), and chicken.

CSA

5 Oct

The first fall CSA box was ready this week.  What a wonderful fall bounty to kick off the fall farm season! It is time to continue making comfort food, switching from summer light and airy salads to more chowders and hearty pasta sauces.  And my fall CSA is feeding directly into that.  What is a CSA you say?  Well only the best thing since sliced bread!  If you aren’t involved with a CSA, now is time to get involved.

A CSA is a way to support a local farm that participates in Consumer Supported Agriculture.  Participating in a CSA is a fantastic way to become engaged with local farms. Supporting local organizations through attending and purchasing from local farmers markets is a wonderful connect to the community, and participating in a CSA is an extension of that support.

The farm that I support with the CSA program offers either a half or whole share per season, and there is a financial commitment.  You pay for your seasonal share ahead of time.  The amount of produce in the share is the difference in size.  Fall is very busy for my family, so this fall I opted for a half share.  What does that mean?

A share is a portion of local produce that the farm is seasonally harvesting.  With a CSA, the member goes to the farm or designated community location once a week to pick up their share of fresh produce.  The produce is fresh, local, and intended to be used within a few days.  By the time the produce is used, its time to go back to the farm for another share.

This week, my share included cucumbers, turnips, potatoes, an acorn squash, corn on the cob, and the bonus of a late season watermelon.   Last night, I used the potatoes and turnips to make a potato turnip gratin.  My children had not ever had turnips before, and making a warm hearty potato dish with turnips added was a great way to introduce the vegetable to them (for the record, the boys loved it, my daughter not so much…).

I used the cucumbers to make some refreshing cucumber water to keep in the fridge.  With the acorn squash, I simply cut it in half, scooped out the seeds and baked it in a 400 degree oven.  I put a little butter, brown sugar and maple syrup in the center before baking.  Easy and delicious.  I served it along side a baked chicken.  It is fun to be creative with the ingredients.

I can’t wait to see what is in my CSA share this week.  I pick my share up on the actual farm that grows and harvests the produce.  Leaving my office during a busy day, driving 10-15 minutes down the road to the farm, and having a chance to talk to the farmers while getting my share is something I look forward to all week.  My family is excited to see what I bring home, and we have a blast with the ingredients.  Best of all, I get a chance to support local farmers and have fresh, healthy seasonal produce.

If I am delayed and don’t make it to the farm one week to retrieve my share, it is donated to the local community food pantry or food bank.  Look for a CSA in your community and let me know what you come up with!

My CSA share this week.  I am having a blast experimenting.

My CSA share this week. I am having a blast experimenting.

Sweet fragrant and decadent  late season watermelon was a bonus this week with my CSA share.

Sweet fragrant and decadent late season watermelon was a bonus this week with my CSA share.