Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Roasting a Pumpkin

I'm sure like many of you, one of my favorite Halloween traditions was pumpkin carving. Picking out the perfect pumpkin was quite the ordeal. Every year my elementary school would have some sort of fundraiser, loading the school stage with hay bales and pumpkins. I would usually pick out the biggest pumpkin there and somehow convince my mom that I needed at least three of them. I can hear it now: Z. telling me I haven't changed at all with that exasperated sigh that I find endlessly entertaining.

Carving would wait until a Friday or Saturday night because this undertaking required an entire evening. We covered the entire table with layers of newspapers. I couldn't wait to get my little hands inside the pumpkin, scooping out slimy, stringy seeds. When that task was done, I would draw a face on the pumpkin that I would then carve. I had no creativity when it came to drawing nor the skills required so I usually ended up with lot of geometric shapes: triangle eyes and a big smiling mouth with triangle-shaped teeth.

I couldn't wait to turn the lights off and see my pumpkin glowing for the first time. I always made a concerted effort to place the tea light in just the right spot where you could not see it when looking directly at the pumpkin. Then, my pumpkins would be placed on the front stoop, decorating our concrete steps until a few days after Halloween. I was always a little sad to see those soft, now off-colored squashes be thrown away.

This year, instead of making a jack-o-lantern, I tried roasting a pumpkin. I was home alone for an entire weekend and the pumpkin adventure helped keep me entertained. Currently, I have tried four new pumpkin recipes, five if you include roasting the thing.

I love the homemade pumpkin puree I created. I think all my recipes benefited from having the freshest pumpkin possible and the roasting brought out the pumpkin's sweetness and depth. I definitely would not recommend this to someone who is not comfortable in the kitchen or does not want to dedicate an entire afternoon to a pumpkin. If it tells you anything about how delicious the pumpkin was, I'm roasting another pumpkin or two before they disappear for the season.

To begin, I removed the seeds. My pumpkin was too large just to cut in half so I ended up slicing it in thirds. The difficulty in cutting the pumpkin would be my biggest reason for not recommending this recipe to those not as experienced in the kitchen. I took my time, getting a cut started, then after making sure all fingers were accounted for and out of the way, I kind of wedged the knife and split a section of the pumpkin open.

After I had my wedges of pumpkin, I scooped out the seeds and pulp. I never liked our homemade roasted pumpkin seeds with the outside white shell. I do love pepitas so I tried hulling the pumpkin seeds myself. FAILURE ALERT. I looked up many different tips and suggestions on how to hull pumpkin seeds. The directions were all very similar. So, I washed the seeds, boiled them for 30 minutes, and tried to open the shells (a few folks that I came across suggested waiting for the clean seeds to dry then gently crushing the shells). The hull was very soft but unless there was a tear, the inner seed or pepita did not want to come out. It was infuriating work so I gave up.

The rest of the roasting process was simple. I sprayed the cut sides of the pumpkin with nonstick cooking spray, placed the pumpkin chunks cut-side down on a baking sheet, and placed in a oven that had been preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. To get really soft pumpkin, I'm talking I started creating pumpkin mash just by pressing the pumpkin with a finger, I let it roast for about 1 hour. I removed the baking sheet from the oven and let the pumpkin cool until I could touch the flesh. I then removed the skin.

Here's another tip: Let the pumpkin cool and the skin comes off very easily.

I had removed about half of the pumpkin from the oven after about 45 minutes. My intention was that half the pumpkin would be puree and the other half would be more firm and diced. Well, that plan did not work so well. The pumpkin was very soft and then didn't have much texture when I tried cooking with it. I only made one recipe with diced pumpkin. I'm not giving up! I'll just have to cook it even less next time.

In batches, I pureed the pumpkin in my food processor/blender until very smooth. The pumpkin was so soft and tender that this took hardly any time but I did have to frequently scrape down the sides to make sure the whole batch was processed. As this was a smaller pumpkin and I had lots of recipes to make, I stored the fresh pumpkin puree in the refrigerator. If I was planning on keeping the puree longer, I would suggest freezing the puree in freezer bags and laying them flat. If I am freezing something with a more liquid texture, I can pretty easily break off the amount of food I'd like to use when frozen in a freezer bag. This is what I did with my pumpkin puree for my pumpkin smoothie.

I roasted a second pumpkin alongside a second squash I picked up from the farmer' market called a sunset squash (future ingredient in barley risotto!). This second time I preheated the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. I found that this didn't change much for the pumpkin but I preferred the results for the smaller squash. The squash had more of that caramelized brown color I wanted while remaining firm after cooking for 20 minutes.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Winter Squash Challenge: Dal with Winter Squash

Growing up, the most adventurous my family was with winter squash was pumpkin pie and roasting pumpkin seeds from a jack-o-lantern, occasionally. I had no idea what to do with the acorn squash I would find every fall in the super market. One fall, I decided I could try an acorn squash for $1. The only recipe I knew or my friends knew was to roast the squash with brown sugar and butter. Picture it: a college student sitting home alone of the couch with a bright red plastic plate with half a golden brown acorn squash. Even though I made a very pretty squash, that didn't make my list of favorite meals, too boring.

When I found very inexpensive squash last fall, I decided to use that as a learning opportunity. I fell in love with acorn squash! Here are some of my adventures from last fall:
My discovery this fall has been delicata squash. I love the versatality and flavor of this heirloom squash and have used it many meals, like:
And I have more to share! The challenge to try as many new winter squash and pumpkin recipes has begun! As I am typing, my pumpkin is roasting away in the oven. I already have two delicious meals planned!

One of my favorite smells in the world: browning onions.

After making Roasted Ragout of Winter Squash and Chickpeas, I discovered bold, earthy flavors like curry and garam masala provide a delicious counter-balance to winter squash's sweetness. I decided to try creating a variation of a Cheap Not Frugal Eat staple by adding winter squash. That is how Dal with Winter Squash was born.

Almost any dal or combination of dal could be used in this recipe. I used mung dal because it doesn't take as long as some other dals and I love the texture. Mung dal will keep some of its toothsome texture while creating a creamy dal.

Almost done!
 If you want a really creamy dal, try red lentils. They are also quick cooking like mung but break down when cooked. Yellow split peas would be another great choice. They just require a longer cooking time than I was willing to dedicate. And, they are one of the cheapest dal! If you can't find any of these dal, brown lentils would be a great choice too. If you are going the brown lentil route, I would look to my recipe for Brown Lentil and Yellow Split Pea Dal for direction. Enjoy!

Dal with Winter Squash

by Ace Nation
Keywords: vegan beans/lentils/dal winter squash

Ingredients (serves 2-3)
  • 1-2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 fresh red chile, such as Fresno or cherry pepper
  • 1/2 delicata squash, about 1 cup squash, roasted and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 cup mung dal
  • 4 cups water, or more as needed
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder, such as Madras curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • Kosher salt, to taste
Heat 2-3 tablespoons canola oil in a soup pot over medium-low to medium heat. Adjust heat as needed while cooking to make sure the pot does not get too hot and the food burns. Add onions and season liberally with salt. Cook until brown and soft, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add chile and garlic. Cook until soft, about 3-4 minutes.
If the pan is dry, add a drizzle of oil, add spices to this oil, and let cook only 30 seconds to one minute.
Add water and mung dal. Stir to combine, bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally, cook 10-12 minutes.
Add roasted squash to the dal and continue cooking until dal is tender, about 10 more minutes.
Serve with basmati rice and enjoy!
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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Look What I Bought Today

I've had my eye on a display of small pumpkins for the last week debating. I bit the bullet and decided to buy one. I've never cooked with fresh pumpkin and thought I should try. That's what all the cool kids do. Right?

Holidays always make me think of my mom. She was the best at celebrating with us kids. Halloween was always fantastic! We decorated the house a month in advance with figurines and window hangings we used every year. I got to dress up as whatever I wanted. I think for three years, I was as I would say, "A lovely, lovely lady with a big butt". I had a pink costumey dress that made me think of Victorian ladies with their bustles. I would wear shorts underneath and pin two balloons to my bum. In fourth grade, while the class was quietly listening to a speaker (I have no idea why there was a guest on the day of our Halloween party!) one of my balloons popped! In the silence, that pop was deafening.

Come back soon to see what I do with fresh pumpkin and hear some cute stories that involve pumpkins from my childhood.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Recent Meals

I've been doing quite a bit of cooking lately, mostly variations of old-favorites with a few new recipes sprinkled in. I just wanted to share some of my favorite meals from the last couple of months.

The picture above is a delicious breakfast of fried potatoes, onions, and peppers. I cooked them in a wok!

Z's red sauce is still one of my favorite foods on this planet. It's amazing! I had nothing to do with that bowl of pasta besides stuffing my chubby cheeks with it. I did grow the basil!

 I made the Pioneer Woman's Baked French Toast just for myself. It was delicious! That upper version is made without the topping. The bread on the top layer became a little crispy while the lower layer was soft and custardy. Here is a picture with the topping:

I love simple pasta recipes. The lighting I used does not do the colors of this meal justice. I have onions, garlic, red Italian roasting peppers, carrots, and chickpeas. Use a quick-cooking pasta and whatever veggies you have on hand and you have a delicious, quick meal.