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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Halloween Redux, part three: pumpkin foods!

  fifteen inch long banana squashImage at left: fifteen inch, two dollar banana squash from Alemany farmer's market.

Dinner at my cousin's place was fabulous: he served a kabocha squash (the very dark, blue/green/black squash you see in the market, similar to hubbard but not as lumpy) that had been baked whole, pureed, simmered with coconut milk and mild curry spices, and then had more squash added later, so that the soup was thick and smooth, with chunks of firmer squash resting in it. It was soooo good! Rich, satisfying, and perfect for the cold, wet weather we have been having. (And vegan, which maximizes its perfection!)

I have been on a winter squash bender.

It's not like there is any lack of spring and summer food still available in this strangely warm, dry year. A week ago at the farmer's market, mounds of strawberries and plums confused what would have been an otherwise autumnal theme, with stalls filled with apples, winter squash, and persimmons.

Late summer is running especially late this year. My haul last weekend included: raspberries (three baskets for $8), red kuri squash (pictured below), banana squash (above), butternut squash, green beans, young red onions, cucumbers, pomegranates and fresh pomegranate juice, mixed sweet and hot peppers, sweet bell peppers, pluots (including the locally popular "flavor grenade"), guavas (!!), avocados, plums, limes, garlic, and a range of tomatoes, including some very intensely flavored, DEEP red dry-farmed tomatoes that make a heavenly, heavenly salsa.

For pumpkin carving at home, I had a simpler menu of pumpkin foods this year, to reflect the highly informal, spontaneous nature of the event. I still managed to serve four kinds of squash: long, yellow, orange-striped, ovoid delicata; kiss-shaped red kuri; pear-shaped, beige butternut; and yellow-orange banana. I baked all of these, halved and seeded, in casserole dishes with a bit of water in the oven for about an hour at 400 degrees Fahrenheit prior to adding them to the dishes below:

-Kopan pumpkin soup: a sweet and mildly hot soup of baked and pureed butternut squash, onions, chilies, cinnamon, and ginger root. It is an unusual way to have pumpkin, and is warming in several gentle, pleasant ways.

-pumpkin quesadillas: flour and corn tortillas filled with a sauté of sweet-hot peppers, onions, chunks of baked red kuri squash, cumin, cayenne, and basil. Served with homemade guacamole (this time just avocados, garlic, lime and lime juice), a salsa fresca (a chunky puree of dry-farmed tomatoes, onions, sweet-hot peppers, and red onions), and tortilla chips.

red kuri squash-pumpkin pie: a puree of delicata or butternut (one of each) with tofu, four pumpkin pie spices, succanat, and vanilla extract, served with whipped cream. This was an experiment: I usually make this pie according to this recipe, using a combination of honey and brown sugar. Succanat is basically evaporated cane juice, which hasn't been bleached or processed the way white and brown sugar have, and it has a lot more flavor of its own. It worked very well, and came out just as good as the honey/brown sugar combination usually does: the only catch was that the pies made with this recipe don't really have full flavor until they've had a chance to chill for a day, and I made these in the morning. They were okay that day, but have been fabulous ever since the day AFTER I had people over...

The delicata squash make a lighter colored, more delicately sweet pie; the butternut makes for a slightly redder, more classic "pumpkin" pie. I rarely use the classically round, orange "sugar pumpkins," just because these other squash are so insanely good.

As I am typing this, there is a spaghetti squash in the oven. Feign surprise...

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posted by Arlene (Beth)11:14 AM

Saturday, November 10, 2007



unusually lumpy winter squash, as photographed by Steven P.Once again, one of Steven's friends held her annual pie competition.

This year I learned more about the genesis of the idea: there was a guy she used to date, and his family had a tradition of getting together after their regularly scheduled Thanksgiving Feast to have a fierce pie competition. It sounds like a rather odd idea to me: first, it doesn't seem practical to be able to really evaluate many pies after a feast - there just wouldn't be any ROOM to eat more, if their Thanksgivings are anything like mine. Second, you'd think that relative-filled holidays would be stressful enough without overt competition. I mean, covert competition between family members really ought to satisfy everyone, right?

Anyway, she revised the tradition to be a stand-alone event at her house, detached from other food holidays. She invited us last year (I wrote about that here) and we got a feel for what the event was about. Steven and I discussed our strategy for this year, and we decided (1) that we didn't really share the tastes of the folks at the party, and so we should make a pie to please ourselves, and (2) that the trophy (a ceramic rooster teapot) wasn't something we should really concern ourselves with competing for.

I may have mentioned that we got a really wide range of winter squash for carving on Halloween, and there were two or three that I had selected specifically for baking. One of those, weighing in at over 20 pounds, was an unusually lumpy "French" squash which looked like a hubbard mixed with a Hokkaido, mixed with... a brain. I'm attaching a photo Steven took of the squash before we baked half of it. Anyway, the enormous squash had more than three inches of thick flesh all the way around, and baked to a nearly buttery, smooth texture. In other words, it was PERFECT for a honey-sweetened, cholesterol free "pumpkin" pie. Steven named it "lumpkin," which was cute. I made the crust, and he made the filling according to my usual recipe, but he cut out an adorable little jack-o-lantern face out of crust to put on the top. It baked beautifully.

Off we went to the pie competition, planning to have fun and NOT win. All went as planned.

The pies this year (other than ours) were:

-grown-up grasshopper pie: a mint cream frozen pie, made with mint Bailey's. It had a chocolate cookie crust. Though I'm not a frozen-cream pie kind of person, this was a really great example of its genre, and I voted for it as best overall. This meant it was not going to win.
-strawberry pie, by the same person who made the fabulous strawberry rhubarb pie last year. This was very, very tasty.
-pecan pie, in two separate varieties: a drier, more solid "Indigenous Treat" pecan pie, and a maple bourbon pecan. The maker of the latter pie also handed out shots of bourbon as part of their presentation. (The hostess joked that she'd hand out twenty dollar bills next year as part of her presentation.) I'm not a huge fan of pecan pies, though these were both respectable. This means that one of them was destined to sweep the awards in nearly all categories - the one that involved bourbon shots, of course.
-"pink inside," which was basically pumpkin with a layer of cranberry cream. This had a ginger snap crust. This was an interesting idea, but the flavors competed too much for me. Steven enjoyed it.
-apple pie, in two separate variations: one that was soupy inside (a ladle would have helped), and one that was made with bacon. No comment.
-"oil spill," a comment on the recent oil spill that is contaminating the San Francisco Bay. This consisted of "apple pies" purchased from our nation's largest fast food chain, which were crumbled up, covered with crushed Frito chips in a dinosaur-shaped pan, surrounded by small dolls and a photo of Jesus, and slathered with chocolate sauce. This won for "most original." I told the hostess that I couldn't vote in any category for a pie I was fundamentally unwilling to eat: otherwise, the "most original" category could go to a frosted brick, or a pile of leaves. She told me that made me a harsh judge. You can see how, if I'm actually going to be voting for things based on their fundamental pie-ness, I've gone astray in this particular event.
-cran raspberry. This pie was in a tall, cylindrical, very hard crust, and was covered with crust cut-outs of animals. I voted for in the "best presentation" category. It won, ruining my otherwise perfect record record of having nothing I like win. There is a catch, of course: after the judging was over, the baker admitted that she had added bacon fat to the crust, and merrily said, "it's not like you said it had to be vegetarian, right?" Great. Being a local girl, I can't imagine putting in an ingredient like that and not disclosing it: even before thinking of other vegetarians, I would think of people I know who are Jewish who would need to be able to avoid that dish. I only had a narrow strip of the pie, and didn't eat all of the crust on that small piece (because I couldn't break the last part with a fork, because it was hard), so I'm hoping I will not be in the bathroom being violently ill in three hours, the way I was the last time someone hid something like that in my food.

So, the evening was fun and educational: everyone was in a good mood, and people were fun to chat with. Among other things, Steven learned that TWO samples of each of the pies (excluding the apple-bacon) was one sample round too many.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:07 PM

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