Sunday, October 18, 2009

Crazy about pumpkin?

What a coincidence that the Food & Wine section of the Chronicle today was all about pumpkins in the middle of a few weeks of being crazy about pumpkins. I have always loved pumpkin pie. I mean LOVE pumpkin pie. To give an example, when I was in college I would reward myself with a slice from the cafeteria every time I aced an exam. I graduated summa cum laude. Was it the pie? Is pumpkin brain food?

We love our winter squashes, particularly the brilliant orange dumpling squash and the faithful butternut. We like to roast our squash and then make a soup or serve the flesh mashed as a side dish. It occurred to me last year that a pumpkin is just another variety of winter squash that I should be able to treat in much the same way in the kitchen and vice versa. As the pumpkins started making their appearance at the Farmer’s Market a couple of weeks ago I have been experimenting with them.

I started with the classic treatments for pumpkin by making a pumpkin bread and then a pumpkin pie, both started from a sugar pie pumpkin. My pumpkin pie was so good that I ate the entire pie in three days save a forkful that Stacy stole before I devoured the tasty treat. It was the best pumpkin pie I have ever eaten. It probably benefited some from being the first pumpkin pie this season, although I give credit to poaching a fresh sugar pie pumpkin and grinding fresh spices to making the pie light, fresh and sublime. I also made a pumpkin bread that I steamed like an English pudding. It was good, seriously good. Again, I started with a fresh sugar pie pumpkin and then used fresh, organic ingredients to make the best bread I could. Stacy took the finished bread to work which received accolades from her co-workers. Seriously good indeed. Here’s the recipe which can be made in a simple loaf pan, a fluted tube pan, or a traditional English pudding pan (a fluted tube pan with a lid to contain the steam).

3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1 ½ teaspoons fresh ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon fresh ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups sugar (granulated definitely works. I plan to try brown sugar in the next bread)
1 cup vegetable oil (I used canola for the pie last week. I plan to try ½ cup vegetable oil and ½ cup melted butter in the next bread)
3 eggs
2 cups fresh pumpkin puree (I poached a sugar pie pumpkin)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup chopped raisins (I used some dried red flame raisins from a farmer on the plaza)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and soda, spices and salt
In a mixing bowl, combine sugar, oil and eggs whisk to blend well.
Stir pumpkin into the egg mixture.

Gradually add the dry ingredients about ½ cup at a time stirring after each addition. Fold in the raisins and walnuts. Prepare tube pan with butter and flour. Spoon batter into tube pan. Bake for about 1 hour and 15 or 20 minutes until a knife inserted in thickest part of bread comes out clean.
Remove from oven and cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan. And cool completely on rack before slicing.
This loaf serves a large dinner party of 12 easily for dessert with seconds.

Market Report:
What else? Pumpkins are all over the market. Lots of stalls have sugar pie pumpkins and the Balakian Farm stall also has several heirloom varieties. I plan to try one of the Musquee de Provenance which is also known as the Fairy Tale pumpkin. If you like eggplant there are many varieties available now from several stalls at the market. I plan to use some as a stuffing for poultry using the recipe in the Café Beaujolais cookbook. We arrived at 9:30 AM and already Marin Sun Farms had sold out of their eggs from pasture-raised chicken. Bummer. The best news for us was that Mountain Home Ranch had chickens that weighed about 2 pounds each. We found the small birds to be delectable last spring before the farmer starting growing the birds too large (over 6 pounds each). He is being rewarded with bringing smaller fowl as some upscale restaurants around the City have discovered him. I hope that keeps him motivated to continue to harvest his flocks while the birds are young and tender.

There are still some tomatoes available, which are pretty much all early girl variety. Still sweet and firm, they make an excellent caprese with the fresh mozzarella from Cow Girl Creamery and some basil from the garden. It is the last gasp of summer as we get into the cooler and blustery fall season.

Stacy and I rounded out our trip to the market with a stop at Sur La Table to buy four Emille Henry 2-cup terrines. The vessels are perfect for my chicken pot pie with a butter crust. Stacy liked the one I made for her on Tuesday of last week so much that she wanted to serve the dish as the entrée for dinner with our weekend guests and good friends Jim and Kristin. The ceramic terrines were perfect for the dish as the shape distributed the heat evenly to the filling and the smaller opening in the top allowed me to make four perfect caps from one 9-inch butter pie crust. Our meal was simple and comforting. Kristin brought a shrimp-stuffed jalapeno wrapped in bacon as our spicy appetizer that we enjoyed on our deck with a flute of champagne. We then went into our dining room to dig into the piping hot chicken pot pies. The yellow terrine was beautifully presented with a golden brown crust on a multi-colored Kate Spade dinner plate that had yellow accenting a red and black rim and white center. It was a simple meal with gourmet flavors. We drank some wonderful wines grown and made by a mutual friend on their vineyard in El Dorado. We finished the meal with Kristin’s homemade carrot cake cupcakes. It was divine.

We are all booked up for the Thanksgiving Prelude meetup coming up November 7. It promises to be a fun day with some interesting and enthusiastic cooks.

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