The (Late) Great Pumpkin

I’m late. (Not in that way, silly.) White Rabbit late. White Rabbit - known for this ditty in the Disney version of Alice in Wonderland. “I'm late! I'm late! For a very important date! No time to say hello, goodbye! I'm late! I'm late! I'm late!”

It is this “elderly, timid, feeble, and nervously shilly-shallying” character [Source] that Alice follows down the rabbit hole into Wonderland, and in the last month or so I have been down a sort of rabbit hole of my own. The net result being that I posted no recipes or blog entries for all of October!

Yet I was surrounded by inspiration – the most noteworthy being pumpkins - everywhere – first for Thanksgiving and then Halloween.

Once Halloween's over, some Jack-o-lanterns get one last hurrah in November 1st Pumpkin Parades. Others land in garbage bins if they have not already been smashed in the street. As to what becomes of the hundreds of unsold pumpkins at every retail outlet – perish the thought. The pity of wasted pumpkin is that it is very nutritious – a source of fibre, a long list of vitamins and even more wondrous nutritional gifts in the seeds (also known as pepitas). 

That Spanish word is a tip off that pumpkins are native to North America (especially Mexico and Central America) and found their way abroad with the help of European explorers. Pumpkins are now cultivated on every continent except Antarctica. [Source]

Oh my how they’ve changed. The classic smooth, deep orange, ready-for-carving specimens now sit on racks next to pumpkins white, blue or covered in warts. Officially they may not all be pumpkins – although that depends on whether you use the terms “pumpkin” and “squash” interchangeably. Pumpkins fall under the umbrella of winter squash, most designated as a variation of cucurbita. There are so many varieties of winter squash, which unlike summer squash, do store well. I recently wrote about friendly farmer gifting me squash that I had not even seen before. Here’s a comprehensive guide to the squash you may be seeing at local markets.

The summer squash familiar to most are zucchini. I wonder if you have ever seen or used the summer squash called marrow – not to be confused with spaghetti squash? It looks like a large, fat, pale green zucchini and is used in the iconic Hungarian tökfőzelék - creamed marrow with dill. The word főzelék sort of translates to “creamed” – a “lame” word which to me never captures or communicates the eating experience. In Hungary this is so popular that the marrow is sold already cleaned, shredded and packaged in bags with the appropriate amount of dill. This is the first year we found no marrow anywhere – one farmer said that they simply did not flourish – perhaps suffering from pollination failure – oh those precious bees.

How do we use pumpkin / squash?

Roasted or as soup seem to be the most common uses. We often treat squash as a vegetable, but officially they are fruit and can be used in many sweets beyond the cliché pumpkin pie. For the record, here at KB, we enjoy pumpkin pie – but I let the 13th Street Bakery/Winery make that for me. 

And as someone with freckles, I should note that people have claimed that a pumpkin facial can fade freckles… maybe that’s a myth promulgated by the Anti-Ginger Movement – yes, "gingerism" (bullying of red heads) is a thing. Mind you, not all redheads have freckles.

While I do not usually share recipes that I have not yet tried and tested, here are some pumpkin / squash ideas I’m considering:

No piece on pumpkins would be complete without mentioning pumpkin spice (and the return of the pumpkin spice latte). Food Bloggers of Canada recently pulled together a round-up of pumpkin spice recipes. You can buy this spice mixture in bulk stores, or mix your own following the recipe included in the round-up.

I’m not even sure why I have been collecting pumpkin ideas. I hardly need them since I just won Allison Day’s newest book – Purely Pumpkin. I think of her as a “local” since she’s from Hamilton, and enjoy her blog Yummy Beet. Her first book - Whole Bowls - nicely captured a recent trend of combining healthy grains with everything your body and soul wish for “The Whole Bowls Formula page lists the required portion of each component (protein, starchy vegetables or fruits, non-starchy vegetables, grains, cheese and crunch or garnish)".  [FBC Review] I have not had a chance to make anything from her new book, but top of the list are Sticky Toffee Pumpkin Spice Pecan Truffles, Morning Glory Pumpkin Muffins (inspired by Detour Café in Dundas) and the Pumpkin Pie Smoothie Bowl.

Pondering pumpkins reminds me of how often pumpkin is now “sneaking” into recipes. Like Jamie Oliver who tricks his kids into eating their veggies by shredding carrots into a spaghetti sauce, many nutrition conscious recipe developers are playing creatively with pumpkin and squash.

A cake, for example, has wet and dry ingredients and in many carrot cakes the “wet” is oil. One recipe I peeked at calls for 1 ¼ cups – that’s 2475 calories for that one ingredient alone! My “go to” recipe for carrot cake comes from the health conscious Podleski Sisters who use only ¼ cup of oil and one cup of pumpkin puree.

My latest favourite “stealth pumpkin” treat is Pumpkin Date Spice Cookies from Mairlyn Smith - and that's the recipe I am linking to this blog post. Am willing to bet that, like me, you'll be making these often!

Squirrel! That’s me being distracted a bit. Before signing off, I am reminded of a CBC radio segment where the host was complaining about her Halloween porch pumpkin being destroyed by squirrels. She said she’d lived in her house for twenty years and had never seen this before. You really need to do this - into Google, type squirrels and pumpkins, and check out the image and/or video results. 

One more thing on the subject of squirrels – another CBC radio nugget. On a segment inviting questions, someone asked “Why do we never see baby squirrels?” So true!? Why have we never asked that question!? The expert answered that baby squirrels are born blind and may not venture away from the nest until they are 10 weeks old. At that point they are large enough that we “see” them as adults. They’re sort of “teenage” squirrels and their only distinguishing feature is that they do crazy things. So next time you see a squirrel swinging from a vine, or having an erratic race with some invisible buddy - or maybe chewing into a pumpkin - you know why.

Click on the word "Comments", below, to share your thoughts. What's your favourite pumpkin or squash recipe? Any squirrel stories? If you enjoyed this read, please take a second to click on "Like"!

[This time last year: "A (Clean) Apple a Day..."]

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Cooking Backward. Cooking Forward.

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My recent KB kitchen time was devoted to something a bit unusual - for me. 

I spent time using up food that was crying for attention, approaching its “best before” time. Squash everywhere – butternut, acorn, delicata and pattypan (of unusual size); zucchini, French butter pears, plums, kale, bananas and more. 

During harvest time, it is tough to resist all the “eye candy” at the market, and easy to come home with an overabundance of food. (And - no complaints - but we also know a farmer who often showers us with veggies.)

Waste not, want not. I hate to throw out food staples not used, or cooked food not eaten. 

So why did I say it is a “bit unusual” for me to use up all that food? Because I tend to cook forward, not backward.

Let me explain. (And I will be curious to know what your cooking style is!)

I first heard the phrase "Cooking Backward" listening to a Grub podcast by Tiffany Mayer of Eating Niagara. She’s a super talented food writer, creatively and engagingly keeping people abreast of food matters in the Niagara Peninsula, publishing in various media (and she has a book). She also contributes her expertise to Food Bloggers of Canada. In Episode 2 of Grub she interviewed Jeanine Donofrio, author of the book and website: Love & Lemons. [Sept 2016 Update: Love and Lemons just won the Editor's Choice Saveur Award for "Most Inspired Weeknight Dinners".]

Cooking Backward. As described by Donofrio, with this approach to cooking, the ingredients are the starting point, and the cook’s task is figuring out what to do with them. Skill in creative improvisation, or intrepid experimentation rule the day. For those lacking both - and seemingly this includes her mother (Donofrio jokes that her mother is a “To the T” recipe follower) - Donofrio offers her cookbook - organized by vegetable since ingredients are the starting point. 

Cooking Forward. Donofrio does not use the term, but the implication is that her mom “cooks forward”. Her mom, I am guessing, is my age. I too tend to cook forward – start with recipe, go to store with shopping list, and follow recipe.

More specifically, my starting points tends to be:

  • what do I / we feel like having? (Influenced by the season, mood, occasion etc.)
  • there’s a new recipe that I want to try

In cooking forward, the blueprint for an imagined outcome is the starting point. This is not to say that I don’t improvise. I have the confidence to go with the flow, handle mistakes, make substitutions, modify methods – but most of the time the starting point is a recipe guiding my cooking journey. 

My forward cooking tendency makes me a poor CSA candidate. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) membership means that each week you get a bushel basket of whatever the local farmer has harvested. I love the concept, and support “buy local”, but for me CSA is too much pressure. Every week, a bushel full of stuff demanding that I do something with it?! Cook it, freeze it, preserve it. (BTW Batch is a great new book on preserving.)

Let's have a bit of fun with these ideas. It seems to me there are three Cooking Forward (CF) styles:

  1. CF:BTB – start with a recipe and do it "By The Book";
  2. CF:AMS – start with recipe, but Adapt, Modify, Substitute;
  3. CF:CEFT – start with a recipe and/but Change Every F@#$ Thing. (Many food bloggers talk about negative feedback from CF:CEFT cooks, who dare to post a blog comment complaining about the recipe results.)

For Cooking Backward (CB), the starting point is the ingredients – you have them on hand for one reason or another. You either match what’s on hand to a recipe or you use what you know about cooking principles and end up with a dish that you could potentially say you invented. I propose there are types of CB:

  1. CB:OTF – cook with no recipe, “On The Fly”, improvising;
  2. CB:BTR – match ingredients to a recipe, but play and “Break The Rules”;
  3. CB:BTB – match ingredients to a recipe, then follow it “By The Book”.

Trust me to complicate things. I have taken two approaches to cooking, expanded them into 6 styles. Are there more? How about this? When trying to replicate a food memory for which I have no recipe, I juggle playing with ingredients, with cherry-picking ideas from tons of recipes – experimenting until I get it right. Could we call that style “Mash-Up” (MU)? (I proudly managed this with my Almond Rings recipe.)

Lastly there’s the kitchen performance that appears to be “without a net” - when you make something with no recipe in sight, because you are “following” a recipe burned into your memory after years of practice. (It reminds me of the first open house visit to the Grade 1 class of KB son #1. He casually pointed to a book on display and told me “I can read that book without looking!”) Let’s call this last cooking approach LTM (for Long Term Memory.)

In defense of cooking forward – it minimizes wasting food. Every food brought into the kitchen has a known and imminent destiny.

Cooking backward would come in handy in the event of an apocalypse. Imagine all recipes destroyed – you could be that person who can forage and cook and contribute to survival. What? Apocalypse!? You never engage in catastrophic thinking? Crikey, if someone is more than an hour late coming home, my fretting is channeled into planning for disaster – funeral details and so on. (Is this just a mom thing? a female thing? By the way, did you know that the code name of the funeral plan for Winston Churchill was “Operation Hope Not”?)

In addition to its apocalyptic usefulness, I get the feeling that cooking backward is considered to be more creative, so I feel pressure to say that I can handle cooking backward – especially if I can match ingredients to a recipe. But I know I do not come close to many fellow bloggers who perform magic in the kitchen. One that comes to mind is Ginny from The Spicy Eggplant. She has even blogged about “playing with food”, and I have told her that I think her introduction to cooking would make a great movie!

Cooking backward would have ancient roots, and be characteristic of farmers and peasants. It seems like the noble, virtuous way to cook. And yet, there are also early roots to the habit of recipe writing. Wikipedia claims that the oldest cookbook, Apicius, is from 4th / 5th century Rome. Recipes were often closely guarded secrets, as portrayed in the novel by Elle Newark – published as The Chef’s Apprentice (also published as The Book of Holy Mischief). It is set in Renaissance Venice – I am a sucker for any fiction set in Venice. I dare you to name a title I haven’t read [wink].

Is cooking backwards or forwards a style preference or an age-related thing? Is it nature or nurture? I should be good at backward cooking – only two generations removed from peasants and farmers. I grew up in a house where we made sausages and smoked them; where preserving was routine – pickles, pears, peaches, cauliflower, tomato sauce, and plum butter (aka – lekvar). I treasure all the mason jars, but am not doing much to fill them. 

  Mom's basement: Capping gadgets and old beer bottles used for bottling tomato sauce.

Mom's basement: Capping gadgets and old beer bottles used for bottling tomato sauce.

  True. Minutes after finishing this post, nice farmer delivered more squash!! Am not getting ahead. Backwards it is!!

True. Minutes after finishing this post, nice farmer delivered more squash!! Am not getting ahead. Backwards it is!!

On the other hand, my preference for using recipes may be linked to a long history of following instructions – I think, I hope, not in a bad way. I grew up watching my Dad assemble Heathkits. I assembled models – the largest being the USS Enterprise – the aircraft carrier, not the Starship. I made my own clothes – from patterns. I did paint by number. I studied piano following the Conservatory method. The pay-off today? I LOVE assembling IKEA furniture! And yet… something about all this suddenly sounds a bit unsettling, perhaps even psychologically unhealthy and restrictive. Geesh – maybe there’s therapy for these kinds of childhood experiences. Sign me up for “Fun 101”! Or… lead me to a kitchen – forward or backward.

BTW, in case you’re interested, so far my Cooking Backward session yielded the following results: (Curry) Butternut Squash Pear Soup (I played with a recipe from a talented fellow blogger - Maria of She Loves Biscotti - and used up two ingredients!), and Banana Bread, Party Plum Cake, Zucchini Bread, and Festive Kale Salad. I am still trying to decide how to use the pattypan.

Backward Cooks may be more likely to create and play. We know they blog - and some even get cookbook deals. Thanks in advance to the Forward Cooks who, in search of that perfect tested recipe, might visit this site and leave a “Like”.

Click on the word "Comments", below, to share. What style of cook are you? Any recommended Venice books? If you enjoyed this read, please take a second to click on "Like"!

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Irish in Another Life?

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Am rounding out my bread-making streak with Irish Soda Bread, in honour of the day. Up until my recent forays into yeast breads, this was the only bread I ever attempted, using a (lost) recipe from the (sadly) now defunct Gourmet Magazine.  (Update - am happy to report that I found my original recipe from Gourmet and so have shared that also!) Still obsessed with the ATK / Cook’s Illustrated, All Time Best Bread Recipes publication, I decided to try theirs.

In a recent interview on CBC, America’s Test Kitchen’s Christopher Kimball acknowledged that they spend on average $12,000 testing each recipe – that represents hours of (hu)manpower and ingredients. End result, in my experience, has been that their recipes are reliable and almost foolproof. I say ‘almost’ because I can sometimes find some way of goofing things up a wee bit.

I began to make Irish Soda Bread after our first (of several) trips to Ireland. I have always been much more drawn to walking on cool windy beaches than hot southern ones. I can’t be the only person who has felt an inexplicable peaceful bond with a place they visited. Though I have no known Irish genes, I always felt at home there, and used to joke that I must have lived there in another life. (As a footnote, my brother loves green, celebrates St. Patrick's Day, and is always fêted by his family on this day. Maybe there are some Irish genes lurking in there somewhere. My daughter-in-law just reminded me that she is 40% Irish - too bad she's not here to break bread with me.)

  Gap of Dunloe,   Source Tom Pulman

Gap of Dunloe, Source Tom Pulman

Once we had children, we took them there. As a child, son #2 had bright red hair and for the first time saw many other youngsters who “looked like him”. Hiking in the Gap of Dunloe we achieved five minutes of fame as we were featured on an Irish travel show. We were meant to be an Irish family and they felt it necessary to drag a few more kiddies into the shot – seemingly, at the time, an Irish family was unlikely to have only two children!

A “fresh bread” craving can be quickly satisfied by this bread. In Ireland, it appears at all meals – next to stew at supper time, and with breakfast. It is a slightly sweet bread, so I like it best with butter and jam – of course that can be eaten at breakfast, lunch and dinner and snacks – yay! Happy St. Patrick's Day! Sláinte!

Here's the recipe. If you enjoyed this read or the recipe, please click on "Like". I invite you to Share and Comment!

 

Three Cheers for Broccoli - Three Ways!

It was soup day again, and we were still surrounded by white (snow) – wishing for green (Spring). There was broccoli in the fridge and so broccoli soup became the main item on the menu. My Dad used to like broccoli soup. It was years ago that I had tried to make some for him. Each attempt tasted fine, but the gorgeous green more often than not transformed into the less appetizing olive green colour. It was only in recent years (when he was no longer with us) that I settled on the Podleski Sisters’ version of broccoli soup. 

Broccoli is part of the cabbage family – wait until I have time to share cabbage recipes – yum. So far, every time I research something for this blog, I discover it is an ancient food – and broccoli has been around since the 6th century BC! Italians seem to get credit for cultivating and popularizing broccoli, which “was first introduced to the United States by Italian immigrants but did not become widely known there until the 1920s.” (Source)

As grown ups, many of us likely began reaching for broccoli more often when we discovered it was a great source of vitamin C and fibre, and had anti-cancer properties. It appears on (and tends to disappear from) every veggie tray, at every event / meeting. Yet, people of a certain age may have bad memories of poorly prepared and unappetizing cooked broccoli – often not a kiddie’s favourite. If you’ll pardon the old joke: “What’s the difference between boogers and broccoli? Kids don’t like to eat broccoli.” (badda boom!)

I am sharing the recipe for Looneyspoons reasonably low cal, yet flavourful broccoli soup. It uses the florets only. What to do with the stalks? If I was a clever girl, I’d add them to a freezer bag, saving up veggie scraps to make a homemade veggie stock – but I am not that clever. And yet, it seems wrong to toss the broccoli stalk. Here’s what to do – keep the stalks refrigerated until you accumulate 3-4 stalks and then make Jacques Pépin's Risotto with Broccoli Stalks and Mushrooms.

If suddenly it is the broccoli florets that are luxuriating in the refrigerator – they are great eaten raw with Buttermilk Ranch Dressing as a dip, or can in minutes be transformed into a tasty side with this Optimum Health recipe.

Three recipes, and three cheers for Broccoli!

If you enjoyed this read and/or the recipes, please click on "Like". I invite you to Share and Comment!