Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mac-n-cheese for fall

I kept wondering what I was going to do with that second half of the pumpkin. Pumpkin bread kept coming to mind - or perhaps muffins. They'd be great to bring to work. Oh, but I really wanted those pumpkin muffins! But somehow, they just didn't want to be baked. It seemed to me that the pumpkin had other ideas, and it was my job to figure out what those ideas were.

So I thought about it as I went about my days, cooking other meals, reaching into the pantry for other ingredients, and spying that pumpkin, lying in it's bag in the bottom of the fridge.

Just who ARE you, and why can't you just be something ordinary, like bread?
Pumpkin was silent.

I began using the island in my kitchen to cut mattes. Our office has been redecorated with new colors, a new desk and new carpeting. There's a lot of wall space, just waiting for something to go up, and I've got a lot of photos that need to be hung up. A friend gave me a matte cutter, and I've made more trips than I'd care to think about to the art store for mattes. It's been fun, but humbling. My friend who gave me the matte cutter told me that it was simple. It's not. I've yet to achieve that perfectly straight edge, even though I'm using a blade that hooks onto a metal rail, so to speak. But I will get better at this if I keep doing it. I'm determined....

So my kitchen has been used for art projects more than cooking. (It's a good think I make large amounts when I cook -- I'd never survive without leftovers!) Art projects make me hungry, and I find myself snacking. Reaching into the pantry for some dried fruit....or just searching for an idea....

And then I realized that I've been looking at the answer to pumpkin's second incarnation all along. That jar with the little elbow pasta, sitting in the front of the pantry..... It's getting dark early, and even though it isn't particularly cold, it's still the time of year where I start looking for comfort food. How about a pumpkin mac and cheese? Never heard of it, but it sounded like it might work.

I started by making some browned sage butter, then added the pumpkin, which I had mashed with a potato masher. And then I grated some sharp cheddar. I bought a package which weighed in at .72 pounds, and I used about half of it. After stirring that into the mashed pumpkin, I added the mixture to the cooked pasta, scooped it into baking dishes and popped it into a 375 oven for about 15-20 minutes. It turned out surprisingly well for something that took almost no time or effort to make. It had a nice balance between sweet and salty, and that hint of sage in the background. The only thing I might tinker with is the idea of throwing in some roasted pumpkin seeds. I think I'd like the crunch...

The dish you see in the photo was given to me by the wonderful Cynthia over at Tastes Like Home. I made a comment on her blog that I loved the serving pan she had in one of her photos, and the next thing I knew she sent me two of them! Is that gracious, or what?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pumpkin Soup

It's that time of the year again. I absolutely adore autumn!! My biggest problem with living in San Diego is that the weather here is so incredibly temperate the whole year long, that we don't get that achingly beautiful autumn that I remember from childhood. Oh, we have it - but if you live in town you have to drive to the mountains to really experience it. It's only about an hour's drive, but that's different than walking out your door in the morning and feeling it, seeing it, smelling it. And yes, tasting it.

Autumn is winter squash time. Pumpkin time. Oranges and dark, dark greens. I had a large pumpkin sitting on my counter, threatening to rot. I do not, as a rule, let food rot. I love food too much to let it rot. So I cut it in half, scooped out the seeds, put a little olive oil on it and roasted it, cut side down on a cookie sheet.

That stopped the rot. Now I had to figure out how to deal with all this pumpkin. This post is about half of it. The soup half. I've made plenty of squash soups in my life, but I don't believe I've ever made one using pumpkin. But in China I ate pumpkin made with garlic - a combo which intrigued me and which turned out to be drop-dead phenomenal. I have no idea what else went into it, but we all ate that one down in a heartbeat. Anyway, it got me to thinking about pumpkin as having much more value than just as a pie filling. So I decided to go for a soup - with an Asian flare.

Now I had to decide what I meant by an Asian flare. I decided that fish sauce and sugar - two basic ingredients in Asian cooking - were essential. And then there's lime. Since I couldn't decide between Kaffir lime leaves or lime juice, I decided to do both. I threw in a handful of leaves, and at the last minute opted for lime zest.

Chicken stock and low fat coconut milk combined to make a tasty stock. I decided not to puree the soup, but to leave some chunks of pumpkin in it. When I tasted it, it still needed something.... maybe some more salt? I scoured my pantry and spied a bottle of Ponzu. Perfect! A good splash of that and voila! A Halloween-cum-Thanksgiving pumpkin soup, perfect for guests, and rescued just in time before it was devoured by a certain new cat.....What's your favorite way to use pumpkin? I need ideas for Part II!!!