Wednesday, October 31, 2012

everyone loves a pumpkin.

Marketing the seasons is nothing new. According to retailers, school starts in July, Halloween in August, Thanksgiving in September, and Christmas...well, it seems like any time is a good time to start your Christmas shopping.

The pumpkin market, though, is in a class all by itself. When fall hits, every restaurant, coffee shop, and grocery store plasters their walls with posters advertising pumpkin spice fill-in-the-blank. The pumpkin phenomenon may have gotten out of hand. This assertion might make me sound like an old lady screaming at trick-or-treaters to get off my lawn...except I'm about to offer you a pumpkin recipe.

One of my friends had a pumpkin-themed potluck last night, and as much as I make fun of the pumpkin trend, everyone brought something delicious that included pumpkin. Pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin salad, pumpkin pizza, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cookies, a fabulous pumpkin bourbon milkshake (heavy on the bourbon, light on the pumpkin)...the list goes on. I decided to go whole hog (whole gourd?) and hollow out an entire pumpkin, stuff it, and bake it.

I knew I would get points for presentation, but I honestly didn't have incredibly high hopes for this combination of flavors. As it turned out, they melded perfectly. Although my serving method wasn't perfect--I just stuck a spoon into the stuffing, so most people only ate that and didn't get any pumpkin--I combined the two on my plate with wonderful results. Next time I would follow the directions Dorie Greenspan offers and either slice the pumpkin with the stuffing for individual portions, or scoop it all into a big bowl and mix it up.

I made a vegetarian version, but if you're only serving this to meat eaters I would definitely add some bacon or sausage. You can use pretty much any combination of bread and cheese--whatever you think would go well together. No matter how you make it, this is one pumpkin recipe worth trying.

pumpkin stuffed with everything good
adapted from dorie greenspan
serves 6 as a side or 4 as a main course 

1 medium cooking pumpkin, 3 to 4 pounds
about 4 c bread, torn into chunks (I used cranberry pecan)
6 oz cheese, shredded (gruyere, emmentaler, cheddar, or whatever you like)
4 cloves garlic, minced
about 1/2 c heavy cream
freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper 

Place the oven rack on the bottom Preheat the oven to 350. Cut out the top of the pumpkin, leaving a large enough hole for your hand to fit. Remove the seeds from the pumpkin, and save them if you'd like to toast them. Rub the inside of the pumpkin with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl combine the bread, cheese, and garlic, and mix with your hands to combine. Stuff the pumpkin with the bread-cheese mixture, filling it but leaving space to put the cap back on.

Combine the cream with as much nutmeg, salt, and pepper as you think is necessary, and pour the cream mixture into the pumpkin, covering the bread but not submerging it in liquid.

Place the cap back on the pumpkin and place it on a parchment-lined cookie sheet or in a Dutch oven. I used a Dutch oven to make sure my pumpkin wouldn't collapse, but it held up remarkably well. Bake for about 2 1/2 hours or until the pumpkin is easily pierced with a fork. I removed the cap after about 2 hours to let the top of the stuffing brown. Prepare to impress your friends and family!

Monday, October 8, 2012

a recipe to share

Have you ever had an experience that totally turned you upside down, that reminded you what's important? Of course you have; everyone has. (So I hope.) I visited my friend Cara in Austin last week for my fall break, and it helped me remember what matters, what brings meaning to our lives: human connection. That may sound trite or overly sentimental, but I don't mind so much. It's still true.

After 72 waking hours in Austin (but who's counting?), on Saturday I came home to Nashville, back to the realities of school, work, and a routine. It felt a bit like a crash back into normal life, but at least I can hold on to a few things: memories, a lesson or two, new sources of hope. It also helped that I came home to friends, and even better, shared three dinners in a row with them.

I wish I could share everything about my trip with you all (or most of it, anyway). For now, though, I can only offer a great recipe to enjoy with others. This recipe for Hungarian goulash, a beef stew, is a childhood favorite of mine. No, I'm not Hungarian, but when I was growing up my mom made it all the time. It's easy, humble, comforting, and delicious. This recipe makes way more than one person could eat alone, so share it with people you love.

hungarian goulash
adapted from williams-sonoma essentials of slow cooking
serves 4-6

1 tbsp vegetable oil
it photographs humbly as well.
1 1/2 - 2 lbs beef chuck, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 quart reduced-sodium beef broth
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
1 bell pepper, chopped
3 medium red potatoes, diced
3 medium carrots, chopped
Sour cream (optional)

In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, warm the oil.  Meanwhile, season the beef with salt and pepper. Add the beef to the pan and brown on all sides, 5-7 minutes (you may have to work in batches to ensure that the beef browns rather than steams). Remove the beef from the pan and place in a large slow cooker.

Add the onions to the pan and cook until softened, 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Stir in the paprika, caraway seeds, oregano, tomato paste, and broth, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and pour into the slow cooker over the beef. Add the canned tomatoes and their juice and stir to combine.

Cover and cook until the beef is tender, about 6 hours on the low-heat setting. Uncover and stir in the bell pepper, potatoes, and carrots, and re-cover. Turn the slow cooker to high and cook until the potatoes are tender, 2 1/2 - 3 hours longer.

Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with sour cream, if desired. Crusty bread is a nice addition as well.