Archive for October, 2009

Here are a few recipes and ideas for you to whip up in your kitchen the next time you have a pumpkin or two at hand. This delicious fruit (it has seeds, so technically it’s a fruit) can be adapted to any manner of sweet or savory preparations. Feel free to create your own instant classic! To help guide you on your way, here is a sampling of food matches that pair beautifully with this glorious gourd. Let your palate be your guide.

Apples, Bacon, Banylus, Bourbon, Carrots, Chocolate, Chives, Coconut, Duck, Gruyere, Lobster, Leeks, Marjoram, Onions, Sage, Shallots, Sherry, Shiitakes, Shrimp, White Beans ~ and of course the usual suspects:  Butter, Cinnamon, Cloves, Cream, Ginger, Honey, Nuts, Maple Syrup (just to name a few!).

Savory:  Lobster & Pumpkin Bisque  ~ delicious, satisfying and very rich!


3 or 4 ~ 1 1/4 lb lobsters

2 cups mirepoix of carrot, celery, onion + 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

4 cups homemade chicken stock (cheat if you must, but use a low~sodium version)

2 Tbsp tomato paste

2  (or 3 ) cups good white wine (not sweet) if you won’t drink it, don’t use it!

2 good sized sugar pumpkins

1 cup heavy cream ( or more if needed)

Juice of 1 fresh lime, dollop of honey, sea salt, white pepper & sherry to taste

2 knobs of sweet butter, snipped chives, swirl of creme fraiche  & sprinkle of toasted slivered almonds.

Method:  Briefly steam lobsters, cool, crack, extract meat, chop coarsely, set aside & reserve claws separately. Discard the heads. In large rondo saute the shells and legs w/ mirepoix & evo. Add the liquids & tomato paste, bring to a boil then simmer 30 minutes. Strain, pressing on the solids to extract as much flavour as possible. Set aside.

Cut the pumpkins in 1/2 &  de seed. Roast until soft yet “firm to the touch”. Let cool, peel, cube 1/4 pumpkin in to a very tiny dice~ reserve. Place stock back in rondo add remaining pumpkin. Simmer until tender. Puree w/ an immersion blender ( do this right in the pot). Strain thru a chinois return to clean soup pot. Warm on low heat.

In small amount of butter, saute the diced pumpkin, add the chopped lobster until just warm. Season to taste w/sea salt & white pepper. Add to lobster~pump broth, add the lime juice, honey, sherry, heavy cream. Taste! Adjust seasonings. Gently warm claws in small amount of butter. Ladle bisque into warmed bowls. Add a swirl of creme fraiche (I use a squirt bottle), lay claw on top, sprinkle w/ snipped chives & a few toasted slivered almonds. Serve w/ really good  crusty bread. Nirvana has been achieved in a bowl.

If you really want to “guild” the lily a few sprinkles of shaved parmesan & drizzle of white truffle oil will take you over the top.  Slurp!

Another idea is to make a cassoulet w/white beans, sausage & duck confit. Add cubed roasted pumpkin at the end & garnish w/ toasted pepitas. The pumpkin will add sweetness and a rich depth to the tradtiional flavours.

Sweet:  Individual Baked Alaskas ~ A classic.

Bake a dark chocolate cake. Cool. Slice very thin & cut out  3 inch rounds, drizzle w/ grand marnier. Freeze on a baking sheet lined w/ parchment, leave at least 3 inches between rounds. Take cake scraps, pulse coarse in cuisinart, and spread out on a baking sheet. Bake until dry & crunchy. Set aside. Take a large ice cream scoop of fairly pliable pumpkin ice cream. Place on top of frozen cake round.  Freeze solid.  Remove & roll in “crunchies” to completely cover, pressing them  in to the ice cream if necessary. Freeze solid!  Whip 4 egg whites w/ pinch of sea salt & cream of tartar. While beating slowly add  4- 5 tbsps of super fine sugar. Beat until stiff, glossy peaks form. Spoon into a pastry bag (smooth round or star tip, your choice) and either pipe all around, starting at the base in a circular pattern to the top (like a beehive) ~ or ~ pipe “porcupine” spikes all over. In any case, make sure ice cream is completely covered! And remember to work fast. Have oven set at 450 degrees, bake 4-5 minutes until meringue is golden brown. Serve immediately  w/ butterscotch sauce and a few raspberries & mint sprig. If you are worried about the ice cream leaking, assemble the Alaskas in individual ramekins & pipe meringue on top. Dig In!

Or ~ make a pumpkin noodle kugel w/ cognac plumped golden raisins and julienned apples. Use a round cake pan, lined w/ parchment, unmold upside down, glaze w/ apricot jam, cut into wedges & serve w/ espresso anglaise sauce. And really good coffee.

Have Fun!

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No, it’s not the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown! Although if Linus ever got out of that pumpkin patch he might just be pleasantly surprised. I’m sure even Snoopy would enjoy any number of tasty treats one can create from a simple fall harvest.

Right now in CT pumpkins of all shapes, sizes & varieties are available at road side stands, farmers markets, garden centers, grocery stores, and maybe even your own back yard. Look for fruits that are free of discolorations, soft spots or bruising with a firm healthy stem and should feel heavy for their size. The flesh from smaller fruit will be more tender and succulent. The nutritional benefits are endless! Full of potassium, beta carotene, vitamin A (to name a few) plus they have no cholesterol and are low in fat and sodium.  Wow! Who could ask for more.  October 26th is National Pumpkin Day, so get moving and go get some of these beauties now.With such a bountiful supply there is simply no excuse to use canned pumpkin. Shame on you if you do, though if you live in Alaska or Antarctica I will forgive you.

Okay now onward to pumpkin folklore. There are many thoughts out there on this subject, but I am sticking to one I have heard for years. It started in Ireland. The story goes a man named Stingy Jack  invited the Devil to have a drink, but didn’t want to pay for it, so they struck a bargain. Jack broke his word and tricked the Devil, who was tired of  Jack tricking him, so he sent him to wander in the dark with only a lump of coal to light his way for all of eternity. Jack placed the coal in a hollow turnip (some say gourd) to make it last longer. It’s said he has been roaming ever since. The Irish refer to the ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern”. It later became Jack O’ Lantern. People in Ireland & Scotland carved scary faces into hollow turnips (or gourds) and placed them near windows and doors to scare Jack and ward off other evil spirits who roam the Earth. This became what we now know as Halloween. Pretty cool, huh?

So go get a basket of Sugar pumpkins or Jack B’Littles whatever your favourite is and  get your fanny into the kitchen and let your imagination run wild. The possibilities are endless. Just remember while you are at it to roast, cool & scoop the flesh (leave the seeds to deal with later) and pack it in quart size zip-lock baggies for your freezer. So when temptation strikes, you are ready & no need to open a can. However, if cheat you must, please buy “organic”. Most American’s think of Libby’s when they think of canned pumpkin. I recall a jingle as kid from the 70’s (dating myself here) that went like this ~ “If it says Libby’s, Libby”s, Libby’s on the label, label, label you will like it, like it, like it on your table, table, table “, and so on. Geez,what brilliant Ad~man thought that up. Earthworm anyone?

What to make with your glorious gourds? Here are a few ideas: The obvious of course being classic pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pancakes, waffles or pumpkin soup. So why not take it to the next level? These are mostly dessert ideas for your upcoming holiday table. Recipes to follow in a separate post.

1) Individual Pumpkin Souffles w/ warm grand marnier creme anglaise. No other embellishment necessary.

2) Pumpkin Crepes w/ filled milk chocolate mousse, side of cinnamon ice cream & caramel drizzle and toasted pepitas (remember to lightly sprinkle them w/ sea salt).

3) Cognac Pumpkin Cheesecake w/gingersnap crust  & mascarpone topping & cranberry conserve sauce.

4) Pumpkin Mousse in a spun sugar shell w/ dk chocolate sauce, rum whip cream & almond tuile  (can’t spin sugar? present in a martini glass).

5) Pumpkin Tart in a chocolate/hazelnut crust w/ganache rosettes & white chocolate curls.

6) Warm Pumpkin Bread Pudding w/ bourbon soaked sundried cherries & chocolate espresso sauce.

And a few unconventional ideas:

1) Hors d’oeuvre ~ Tiny deep fried pumpkin & sweet potato croquettes (one biters) dusted w/ finely grated pecorino romano cheese & a drizzle of white truffle oil.

2) Small cubes of oven roasted pumpkin ~ skewered w/ a bamboo pick & sprinkled w/ french celtic salt (think mellow sweet salty flavour) & creme fraiche dip w/ some chinese 5 spice stirred in (keep it subtle!).

3) Mini pumpkin ~ walnut blini w/ maple/balsamic/currant chutney & sliver of duck confit.

Just a note ~ I thought this was totally cool!  In China they sell a pumpkin flavoured  whole wheat noodle. How brilliant is that! Leave it to the Asians to be creative with mother nature. They are called “Pumpkin Original Flavor Noodles”.

Info: Fuxin Zhenlong Nature Produce Company.

Info: Web ~ http://www.Zlttc.com or http://Zlttc.21food.com/

I am ordering some, plus a few of their other flavours. I will update when they arrive and what I plan on doing with them!  So until then, keep those ovens hot and pots simmering. Just imagine how incredible your house will smell. Hungry yet anyone?

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My first encounter with this tasty treat was in Houston, Texas of all places! I was, briefly, the pastry chef at a very large hi-volume “upscale ” french cafe on Westheimer Blvd.  When I was hired it was to be assistant pastry chef to a woman named Jane. She eked out her mise en place in a miserable space, back by the pot sink as the kitchen had at least 12 people working from the chef, sous chef, 2 line cooks, prep, 2 garde mangers , 1 pot scrubber, 1 dishwasher, plus a floater who jumped where ever  was needed. Throw Jane and I into the mix and  it was a nightmare. Jane commandeered 1 out of  3 ovens leaving the line cooks to flounder w/ only 2. What a peach. All the while taking her sweet time (no pun intended). Since she was the owners best friend no one called her out. Though I am sure a few choice words ran thru their heads.

I do have a point & there is a Falafel story coming. Be patient grasshopper. After my first day on the job it became obvious to me  that Jane didn’t know how to bake. I did. It took less than 2 days for the line cooks to start showing me respect. I tried to stay out of their way but when you do 250 covers at lunch one is hustling.  The  beginning of my 2nd week I started coming in at 5 am when the cleaning crew for the front of the house arrived. This way I could use all 3 ovens & have my main baking done by 9 ish with just finishing work & decorating, mousses, etc left to do.

When Jane strolled in that monday at 9 am & saw a bakers rack cooling with a goodly amount of product she blew her stack and ran to the owner. Who happened to be very well known in Houston food circles and was also no dummy. The events of the past week opened her eyes maybe a little wider than she really wanted, seeing as this was her friend but business is business and making money  & delivering a quality product is the bottom line. By mid afternoon I was Executive Pastry Chef & Jane was my assistant. She lasted 2 more days before quitting. Geez, what took her so long? I got a nice fat raise. Sweet.

Now the problem here was space, so genius me I decided to try night production just to see how it worked. Come in at 11pm to bake and make my desserts. The kitchen staff was gone by 11:30 and waitstaff  by 12. I would let in the cleaning crew at 6 am and then the kitchen staff at 7.  Then go home. In no one’s way & vice versa. Well it worked beautifully! I had the entire kitchen to myself to create whatever. There were a  few old french standbys but for the most part wherever  my imagination took me. The pastry walkin was huge & had been 1/2 empty. I soon changed that.

During this time our Ex Chef a hoity toity can’t get my hands dirty type quit. Best thing to ever happen at the Cafe’. The owner hired  an amazing Chef, Monceff. He was brilliant. Very well versed in all types of cuisine. We adored each other. He was from Egypt. I had only ever worked under old school French, German or Dutch chefs. What a vast difference. This guy could have written a book called the Zen of the kitchen. Nothing, I mean nothing got him flustered, he never yelled, never threw anything, total inner peace. So of course his kitchen ran that way.

Now to Falafel. Monceff’s brother was a waiter who asked me out incessantly. He was a good looking guy, dark smoky eyes, quiet, deadly sexy. But our schedules were not compatible. I left at 12 noon on Saturday, long day yes, and had the rest of the day & Sunday off. Well Hesham got a Saturday night off & asked me out I said yes. Went home & took a nap! We went  to the movies and then for a bite. It was to this little tiny place, now usually these turn out to be Mexican holes in the wall, albeit great ones. This was different. We walked in and my first thought  was wow what smells so good! Spices, enticingly exotic. Not to mention no one spoke english.

Hesh ordered for us & me being a newbie to this type of food he got me a falafel sandwich. I was in love with the first bite! The whole grain pita was made fresh and served warm, crisp romaine, tomatoes chopped fine small crusty delectable balls of  fried whatever they were, I didn’t ask because I was to busy inhaling it.  Hummus & Tahini came on the side. I ate 2. Hesham was delighted. The evening ended on a high note.

Now at work  on Monday Chef Monceff came in with a big grin on his face and asked me if I had a nice time. I was quick to reply oh, yes. Though I can’t stop thinking about that sandwich! So he made us coffee asked me to hang for bit.  Turns out  as I was soon to learn that Falafel was originally from Egypt & made w/ fava beans! That they are basically a seasoned fritter or croquette that is deep fried and served w/ different accompaniments depending where you are in the Middle East. It has roots in Arab, Iraqi, Israeli, Lebanese and Syrian cuisines to name a few. In Egypt there is even a McFalafel served at McDonalds that is supposedly quite tasty. Who knew!

So without further ado here is the recipe that Monceff gave me oh so long ago. From Egypt to a Texas kitchen.

Now he used to soak dried chickpeas for about 6 hours drain, rinse and cook til tender on the stove w/ a small whole onion & some spices tied up in cheesecloth which was later removed & discarded.  I have adapted this to todays ‘we got no time” lifestyles.

1 can drained & rinsed organic chickpeas

1 large white onion, quartered

2 cloves garlic

Big handful of fresh parsley, stemmed

Squirt of 1 fresh lemon

2 Tbsp flour ~ 1/4 tsp Baking powder

Cumin~ Corriander ~ Sea or Kosher Salt  & Fresh ground black pepper  ~ adjust the seasonings according to taste.

Place all in cuisinart and process until smooth just a few minutes. Place into container and chill for at least 1 hour.

Heat Canola or Vegetable oil in a  deep saucepan or fryolator. Drop in Tbsp size balls turning to make sure they brown evenly.

Place on a warm whole wheat pita spread w/ hummus &  julienned romaine or arugula ( gives a nice bite) chopped tomato, red onion, cucumber optional. Or serve w/ a side of a cucumber ~ yougrt sauce known as tatziki. They can also be baked in the oven.

Just a note: one last request please under no circumstances use that crap out of a box. There is no excuse. It takes mins to make in a food processor. Or the old fashioned way with a mortar & pestle and lots of elbow grease! Trust me, you’ll be glad you did. Now imagine biting into that magnificent sandwich w/Omar Sharif by your side.  Haha! ( I love the movie Doctor Zhivago).  Enjoy.

P.S. If you can get fresh fava beans when they are available, I urge you to make a batch with them! Stellar.

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Lake Shore Dreamin ~ An Amendum

I almost forgot about this but when I was telling my dad about the pike blog he was like and you didn’t include your fish tale?  So it goes like this, when I was 9 we went on vacation to the most palatial lake “cabin” and  I use that term loosely, that I have ever seen deep  in the wilds of Minnesota. My parents friends owned this gorgeous retreat right on a huge lake. We called it “Deutsch’s ” cabin, after the owners of course. It had 3 stories, 8 bedrooms, 5 baths, 4 fireplaces, and  the  biggest kitchen I had  ever laid eyes on & a magnificent “great room”with huge windows and beautiful views of the lake and surrounding woods. Nary another house nor soul in sight. Of course there was a private dock, boat house, canoe, motor boat, long boat, pontoon, you name it . Just a cozy little summer house, we should all be so lucky.

Now we were up here with not only my parents and siblings but also family from dads side of the family tree, my grandparents & aunt, uncle and my 3 cousins. One big happy family! Uh huh. The positive factor was the cabin was so big you could wander around or just hang without getting in any one’s way.

So one day Dad, Uncle Hank, Chris, Steve & Tom were going fishing ( my other cousin was a teenager and wanted nothing to do with me) I begged to go with them plenty of room on the pontoon, Dad said no, go inside and help your mum. Phooey on them I thought, I’ll go bake something. But my Mum & Auntie shooed me out of the kitchen.

Dang what to do. Bored doesn’t even begin to cover it, one can only read so much Nancy Drew or  Betsy, Tacy & Tib books. Tv reception poor to say the least and nature girl I am most certainly not. Figured I would walk down to the dock. On the path I found a long sturdy walking stick. Idea!! I would make my own fishing poll. Went into the house got some thick twine & some velveeta cheese from the kitchen & from the boat house got a hook ( fishing lure)  a bucket &  fishing net. Tied the string to my “poll” looped the string around the hook, stuck a piece of cheese on it and sat down on the dock & tossed it in!

Now I did not really expect to actually catch anything so imagine my surprise when I felt a tug. I pulled my makeshift rod up out of the water got the net, and lo and behold a little perch. Now this went on until I was out of cheese. At least 2 hours.  The pontoon  approached  & they see me sitting on the dock with my stick and started to laugh. The cool part? I had caught about 10 fish. Perch, trout, bass, I believe the smallest weighed 2 lbs, the biggest was 6 lbs. Imagine my father’s and uncles surprise when they looked in my bucket!  Even better was the fact that they came home empty handed, no fish, nary a one, nada, zip.

Since it was almost dark dad strung them together tied it to the pilings and put them back in the water where they would stay alive until the next day. When we could clean them and cook them for lunch.

Now for the sad part. I ran to the dock in the morning and oh my god! All over were fish skeleton’s, still attached to the line. Just no more fish. Dad & my Uncle figured that a bear had come out of the woods and had a midnight snack. Lucky him. I cried like a baby. They offered to take me out on the lake but the stubborn Scorpio that I am refused be consoled. I prefered my favourite stance, pouting.

On an up note  somewhere I have a picture of myself  standing on the dock holding my catch and grinning from ear to ear. When I find it will post it with this blog. Alas, that  my friends was the beginning and end of my illustrious fishing career. Now about some of the desserts & salads I whipped up in that kitchen are another story, and started me on my culinary journey. I have never looked back.

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For those unfamiliar with fresh water fish you are missing out on one of life’s most delicious treats. I am talking about fresh water Pike. Wow, an unsung and underappreciated species of fish, but oh so tasty!

Now when my dad was young he lived in Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes. So fishing was a natural part of life for young boy. Remember this was in the 40’s, long before TV, ipods, cd’s, dvd’s, tivo, laptops and the invention of the internet.  Back then there were some incredible radio programs (now a lost art )as one had to use one’s mind and imagination. Or in my father’s case Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine and others of that ilk. Just a note ~ he still has his entire collection up to the 50’s to this day, well preserved and in great condition. I wish I could say the same about pops! Just kidding, he might be a 1932 model, but he’s still whip smart and hanging in there despite a myriad of health issues.

Back to my original train of conciousness, dad loved to fish. His all time favourite catch was walleye pike, though lake trout or bass would do in a pinch.  Pike is succulent with a sweet yet firm flesh, clean smelling, like being in a long boat  floating on the water far up north surrounded by pine trees where the air is pure and the sun glints golden on the lake at the end of the day. Once you have your catch cleaning them is easy just be sure to remove the tiny pin bones that run down the center and you are good to go. Skin on or off strictly up to you.

Keep in mind they cook very quickly ~ no more than 3 or 4 mins per side if sauteing or about 8 under the broiler. Yon can embellish with lemon butter, almondine sauce, cajun spices whatever you like. Tartar sauce optional.

Now those days are long over for pops, but he still pines for fresh water pike. Lucky for me, my local fish guy has been able to procure some from Lake Champlain, VT. Not quite dads walleye from day’s of yore but very satisfying nonetheless.

Friday night I made some for him, lightly dusted with cornmeal and  quickly pan sauted, with a side of wilted spinach tossed w/cranberries & pecans and yukon gold mash. Though he would have preferred hush puppies, homemade onion rings and creamy coleslaw w/ spicy remoulade and a lemon wedge. Maybe next time.

So ask your local fish man or woman to get in some pike, just make sure you buy an extra pound or two. You’ll be glad you did, as the 1st batch will undoubtedly disappear leaving you wanting more. Enjoy!

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