Battle Pumpkin

In celebration of the bounty of the season, Sejal and Rick hosted this month’s Food Battle…. Battle Pumpkin. To switch things up a bit, we were all to make brunch foods, rather than the typical dinner foods that we have been accustomed to. The versatility of this main ingredient made the challenge so interesting… Sweet? Savory? Spicy? And to add to the questions… Brunch!?

The challenge was accepted by all parties, and here is what we feasted on…

Appetizer Course – Priti and Chirag
Pumpkin Spiced Yogurt with Home-made Pepita Granola
The yogurt was rich and creamy, and was garnished with just a swirl of vanilla and spiral of pumpkin rind. The granola added texture and an incredibly nutty flavor from the almonds and pepitas. Chirag mentioned that the secret behind the texture of the yogurt was using a strained Greek variety, and then adding the fresh pumpkin and spices. This was a lovely starter – so delicious and something that I would love to add to my Sunday brunch repertoire! 🙂

First Course – Jigna and Piyush
Spiced Pumpkin and Sausage Hash ~ Pumpkin Crepe stuffed with Spinach and Fontina Cheese ~ Poached Egg ~ Spiced Pumpkin Puree

Complicated ingredients and sophisticated plating made an impression even before tasting the dish. But the combination of flavors is what stood out. The slightly spicy hash, the warm zing of the molded crepe, the brightness of the spinach and the perfectly poached egg – it all melded into a harmonious marriage of pumpkin goodness! Super creative use of the ingredient – especially in the crepe – and super tasty!

Main Course – Sejal and Rick
Roasted Spiced Pumpkin with Cream ~ Spicy Pumpkin Hash with Pancetta ~ Pumpkin and Bacon Muffins

Another mouthwatering course – providing the solution to everyone’s brunch dilemma – Sweet? or Savory? The “concern” of the morning was that the two middle courses had similar ingredients – the hash and the egg. But it’s brunch, folks – and two variations of an amazing dish are better than one, in my opinion! 🙂 The roasted pumpkin offered something for the sweet seekers – warm and earthy with just the right amount of sugar. The hash was as savory as could be with the added help from the pancetta and the gorgeous fried egg (good job capturing the dripping yolk, MB!) And the muffin was the perfect balance of both – embracing the sweetness from the fruit and the meatiness from the bacon. Plates licked clean once again!

Dessert – Nita and Manish
Our version of Pumpkin Pie

I refuse to use the “D” word… Deconstructed, that is. I know that it’s what chefs used say, oh 10 years ago or so, to describe their versions of showcasing individual ingredients of dishes and proving that the combination of all of them would be just like the original dish. UGH. I never took well to the term and I hate it even more, now that WE were doing a dish that essentially WAS a deconstructed version of a classic. So, for my piece of mind, let’s say that this was “Our Version of Pumpkin Pie.” 😉 We baked strips of puff pastry as the “crust,” created disks of pumpkin pie custard (essentially the filling without a crust,) made some granola using pumpkin seed oil for the “streusel topping,” a quenelle of cinnamon spiced whipped cream, and dotted the plate with some pumpkin caramel. The custards were sprinkled with roasted, then sugared pumpkin seeds. Mission accomplished, in our opinion – and just in time for Thanksgiving weekend… 🙂

Thanks once again to my co-battlers for an incredible meal. Cheers!

Autumn in a Bowl

Autumn is my favorite season.

My older daughter spent her first five and a half years admiring the green scenery of northern California. She didn’t understand me when I told her that I missed the seasons that we had back east. When we moved back to NJ, she realized what it meant to see the “leaves change.” It was always just an expression until then. She was amazed by our Japanese Maple, and how it could go from being green one day, to brown the next, to a purple and then finally to a scarlet red. And then, the colors fell. FALL – the inevitable but saddest part of the season. That year was a tease, because the autumns ahead were going to be wet and dreary, producing only a few bright colors on our natural canvas, and therefore, more aptly named, FALL.

Autumn 2010. This is probably the most “true to season” autumn we’ve had here in NJ in almost 4 years. My girls are daily commentators on the earthy spectrum of colors that vary in shade day to day – both in front of and behind our house. Trees, flowers, and shrubbery have never been so interesting to them. Such simple pleasures… the fact is that this season in the last four years has been pummeled with rain, wind, sleet, hail, and even snow… washing away the foliage before the changes in hue can even occur.

Paying homage to my favorite season, I’d like to share with you a recipe for “Autumn in a bowl.” I think that the slightly sweet, nutty, and mildly citrus notes of the dish pair extremely well with a Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley. Specifically a Vouvray. And even more specific, if you can get your hands on one, a wine from Domaine Huet.

Spiced Pumpkin Soup with Cilantro Crema

1 medium sugar pumpkin (approx 4 lb)
½ cup water
1 large onion, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons ground cumin
1 ½  teaspoons ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon black pepper
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups water (or more if needed)
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
½ cup crème fraiche
½ cup cilantro, finely chopped
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Halve the pumpkin lengthwise. Place cut sides down on a rimmed baking sheet, and add ½ cup water. Roast for 1 ½ hours, or until tender. When cool enough to handle, peel pumpkin and roughly chop into 1 inch pieces. In a large pot, sauté onion, carrots, garlic, and bay leaf in the olive oil over medium heat until softened, about 10 minutes. Add next 6 ingredients and stir until everything is well coated, about 30 seconds. Add the pieces of pumpkin. Stir until well coated, about a minute. Add broth and water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer, partially covered, about 30 minutes. Add orange juice and simmer for 2 more minutes. Discard bay leaf. Transfer soup to a blender, and blend until very smooth. Use a strainer to refine the soup if you wish. Add water to the soup if you prefer a thinner consistency, and rewarm. Transfer soup to a tureen or serving bowl. Combine crème fraiche and cilantro. Mix well, and add salt & pepper to taste. Ladle soup into bowls, and top with a dollop of cilantro crema.

Serves 6