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Pumpkin Sculpting

pumpkin

Pumpkin Sculpting

It’s October and time to put out the pumpkins.  Every year the kids and I adorn the house inside with various fall/Halloween decorations, and my husband takes care of the outside placing fall flower pots around our yard and porches.  But the kids really get excited about picking and carving pumpkins.  This year to make it even more special, my husband grew some beautiful ones in our garden and it was so much fun to watch their progress.

Usually the five of us gather around the table about a week before Halloween and we all carve pumpkins together.  But this year we just could not wait to begin, and I wanted to do something different in addition to traditional carving.  I am not an artist by any means, but I do love the look of a sculpted pumpkin.  So the other day, as a dry run before the kids got home from school, I took one of our home-grown pumpkins and went to work free-form sculpting.  I had no sculpting tools, just the pointed end of a melon-ball kitchen tool.

You can see by the picture that I had no particular pattern in mind. I simply set about sculpting as if I was doodling on a piece of paper.  The pumpkin in the picture took me about an hour, and I have to say, it was very relaxing. It ended up looking like filigree and I was pretty pleased with the end result.

Once I realized how easy and fun it was, I went to the store and bought the pumpkin sculpting tools…a set for each of the kids (they are available everywhere right now.  I bought mine at CVS).  You can buy or print out stencils on line, or you can simply draw the outline of a picture/image you would like to sculpt.  Or, like me, you can free-form and let your creativity guide you. The pumpkin with the witch’s head was drawn by me free-hand so that the kids could sculpt the outline and then, since the sculpting can be tricky for younger kids, my little one outlined the features with black paint and a paint brush.  It is something fun for the whole family.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Select a pumpkin with the best shape
  • Wipe the pumpkin so that it is clean and be sure it is dry before you begin
  • Choose the best side of the pumpkin to work on, but for more intricate patterns, the flatter side of the pumpkin will work best.
  • Use a pair of latex gloves when you sculpt, as the oils in the pumpkin flesh can severely dry out the skin on your fingertips.
  • If you are planning on lighting a sculpted pumpkin, carve a whole on the bottom and gut the pumpkin from the bottom. Your stem will remain intact and you can sit the pumpkin over a candle.  However, if you are using a traditional candle and not a battery operated candle, you must cut a hole in the back of the pumpkin for ventilation.
  • To preserve the life of your carved or sculpted pumpkin, rub the inside with petroleum jelly.  It will keep the pumpkin from drying out.
  • If you are going to sketch a design on the pumpkin to guide you, a grease pencil works best.
  • Roasting the pumpkin seeds?  Try adding garlic salt and paprika, then toss and roast.  Delicious!

Pizzelle

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Pizzelle

When I was a little girl, my grandmother and mother used to make these thin, crisp cookies that almost resembled a waffle, and they were called Pizzelles!  These ultra-thin cookies were flavored with vanilla, anise or lemon and then sprinkled generously with powdered sugar. My siblings and I loved these treats, but my family only made them during the holidays.

Fast forward to present day, and I have children of my own.  They too, love these addicting crisps.  But I make them year round and flavor them to go with the season; Lemon or Orange in the spring and summer, pumpkin or maple in the fall and vanilla, anise, almond or chocolate in the winter.

The most difficult part of this recipe is finding the Pizzelle Iron, which you must have to make this cookie.  You will have more success ordering them
on-line than finding them in stores.  Although the press resembles a waffle iron, do not try to substitute a waffle iron.

These Pizzelles make a wonderful gift, as they are beautiful to look at all stacked and dusted with powdered sugar.  And, they stay for days wrapped in an airtight container. You can buy pizelles in the bakery aisle of most supermarkets, but they can’t come close to tasting like the homemade version.

Pizzelle

  • 1¾ cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 extra large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pizzelle iron
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla
  • ¾ cup powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the pizzelle iron at a 3.5 setting (every iron is different, so read the directions on yours)

In a small bowl combine the flour and baking powder.

In a large bowl mix the butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla together.

Pour in the flour and baking powder and stir to combine thoroughly, but do not over mix.

Using a pastry brush, butter the grids on the top and bottom so the batter will not stick.

Drop 2 teaspoons of batter on the bottom of each pizzelle grid.

Press the lid down on the pizzelle machine. Most pizzelle irons have a signal that sounds when the cookies are done and you can open the iron. Read the directions that come with your pizzelle iron before making the cookies).

Carefully lift the pizzelles from the grid (I slide a butter knife underneath them), split them in two and break off the square edges so you have a perfectly round cookie (do this while they are still warm).

Continue in the same manner with the rest of the batter.

When the cookies are cool, dust with powdered sugar (be generous).

The Elegant Occasion Note:  All pizzelle irons vary.  Careful reading of instructions for your machine is recommended.  Also, start with scant teaspoons of batter when you begin making the cookies.  If you put too much, the batter will seep out the sides of the machine and make for a messy clean-up.  If you use too little, you will not get a fully formed cookie (although they will still be delicious).  I have learned through trial and error that two generous teaspoons on each grid work well with my machine and give me a perfectly formed cookie.  But it does take a few tries to get the size exact.

The Elegant Occasion Note:  These cookies can also be shaped into waffle cones and cannoli shells.  Simply roll the hot pizzelle immediately off the iron over a cannoli form.  Remove the form after 60 seconds, and you have a perfect shell to fill as you wish.

Indian Chicken Curry

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Indian Chicken Curry

No matter how many recipes I have, once and a while I get bored by my repertoire and I need to make something totally different to get me recharged.  I love Indian Cuisine, but had never attempted to make ituntil a few days ago.  This is truly a “feel good” dish from the moment you begin preparing it.  The fragrances at each phase of the cooking process take you on a journey.  And once you sit down to feast on this dish, you will want to take the journey over and over.

This, in my opinion, is a great dinner party meal because it will encourage conversation.  In addition, it gets better with a day in the refrigerator to meld the flavors.  I served the chicken over steamed Jasmine rice alongside a platter of warm Naan to soak up the wonderful sauce.

PS: Garam Masala is available in the spice aisle of most grocery stores.

Indian Chicken Curry

Serves 6

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped fine
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon plain, fat free Greek yogurt (room temperature)
  • 1 ½  teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped fine
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
  • 1 Serrano pepper, chopped (you can use jalapeno if you cannot find Serrano)
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • ¾ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon cayenne
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, lightly pureed in the blender so they are still a bit chunky.
  • ¾  cup chopped, fresh cilantro plus more for garnish
  • 2 teaspoons Garam Masala
  • 12 bone-in chicken thighs, with skin removed

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat.

Add the onions and stir.

Reduce the heat to medium and cook the onions for approximately 15 minutes (stirring every 2-3 minutes), until they get a deep, rich golden brown.  This is a very important step, so pay attention and do not burn the onions.  You want them to caramelize and give off their sweet flavor.

Add the ginger, garlic and Serrano pepper to the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the chicken in batches (6 pieces at a time) and brown on both sides (removing the first batch to a plate before adding more chicken).

When the second batch of chicken has been browned add the first batch back in to the pot with any accumulated juices (be sure to pour everything that has accumulated on the plate back into the pot.  The first batch of chicken will have picked up pieces of ginger, garlic and pepper and you want to add those flavors back into the pot).

Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne and salt.

Stir the chicken again to make sure the spices have distributed throughout the pot.

Add the tomatoes and give another good stir, being sure to scrape up all the brown bits that accumulated at the bottom of the pan.

Add the cornstarch to the yogurt and stir to completely incorporate.

Pour the yogurt into the pan and stir vigorously.  The yogurt will act as a thickening agent for the sauce.

Bring the chicken to a boil and then turn down to a simmer.

Put the lid on the pot and cook for 30 minutes.

Taste for seasoning and at this point, add salt or more cayenne to your liking.

The Elegant Occasion Note: You can make this recipe to this point, and store in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

To Finish the Dish

Place the jasmine rice (I follow the directions on the package for 4 cups of cooked rice) on a large serving platter and then place the chicken pieces on top of the rice.  Ladle some sauce over the entire platter and then sprinkle the Garam Masala all over the chicken and top with additional fresh cilantro.

Place an additional bowl of sauce alongside the platter.

The Elegant Occasion Wine Pairing: Riesling or Gewurztraminer

Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies

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Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies

I mentioned earlier this month that I am working on various pumpkin recipes. These chocolate pumpkin cheesecake brownies are delicious.  It took me a time or two to get the recipe exactly right (thank you to my friends who were only too happy to taste test my various attempts to get this recipe down), but I finally did it.  For extra richness I drizzle chocolate ganache over them when I am ready to serve.

PS:  This may look like a lot of steps, but it really is quite easy.

Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies

For the Brownie Batter

  • 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Hershey’s Special Dark)
  • 6 ounces dark chocolate pieces (I use Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate Chips)
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 3 extra large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

For the Pumpkin Cheesecake Batter

  • 8 ounces cream cheese (room temperature)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup pumpkin puree

Grease an eight inch brown pan and line it with parchment paper.

Melt the butter and the dark chocolate pieces in a heatproof medium bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Stir until melted and smooth, remove the bowl from the heat and add the vanilla.  Let cool for about 6 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, flour, baking powder and salt.

Once the chocolate has cooled, whisk in the sugar and eggs and pour the entire chocolate batter into the bowl with the dry ingredients.

Stir until well combined and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whip the cream cheese until light and fluffy.

Add the egg, sugar and pumpkin and mix again until the batter is smooth.

To Assemble the Brownies

Pour half of the brownie batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.

Drop dollops of the pumpkin batter (using a tablespoon) on top of the batter leaving one inch between each dollop.

Pour remaining chocolate batter over the top and gently spread evenly.

Drop spoonfuls of remaining pumpkin batter on top and swirl the batter gently using a butter knife.

Bake the brownies in a 350 degree oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out very moist, but not wet (approximately 25 minutes). The brownies will continue to cook a bit while they cool.

The Elegant Occasion Note: You do not want to overcook the brownies, so be sure to check them.  Removing them from the oven while still moist and slightly undercooked will ensure a fudgy brownie.

Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a wire rack.

Let the brownies cool for 2 hours before cutting so the cheesecake filling can set completely.

Store the brownies in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.

Chocolate Ganache

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup dark chocolate pieces

½ teaspoon espresso granules (optional)

In a heat proof bowl, microwave the heavy cream, chocolate and coffee in 30 second intervals, stirring at every interval until chocolate has melted.

Stir until completely smooth.

Drizzle on top of the brownies, or drizzle on individual plates and sit the brownie on top of the chocolate sauce.

 

Beef Barley Soup

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Beef Barley Soup

With the chill in the air, it is starting to be soup season.  Last night I made one of our favorites; Beef Barley.  I love how hearty and robust this dish is.  I serve the soup with a salad and crusty bread, and it is a delightful, comforting meal my entire family enjoys. The kids even take it to school for lunch, as it keeps well in a thermos.

The other thing I love about this recipe is what I can do with the leftovers.  See the note at the end for another terrific meal option.

Beef Barley Soup

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 pounds beef short ribs
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 1 cups diced celery
  • 2 shallots, diced
  • 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic split in half
  • ¼ teaspoon thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 8 cups beef broth (low sodium preferred)
  • 1 cup barley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon corn starch

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven.

Working in batches so you don’t crowd the pan dredge the short ribs in flour (shake off any excess) and sear over medium heat until the ribs are browned on all sides. This should take about 10 minutes.

As the ribs are done browning, remove them with a slotted spoon and place them on a plate.

When all the ribs have been seared and removed from the pan turn the heat to medium low and add the carrots, celery, shallots, mushrooms and garlic.  Cook the vegetables until they begin to soften (about 6-8 minutes).

Add the thyme, bay leaves, broth, salt and pepper and stir.

Add the short ribs and any juices that accumulated back into the pan with the broth and stir.

Bring the soup to a simmer and then cover the pot and cook for two hours.  The meat will be tender and falling apart.

Take the soup off the heat and place the short ribs on a plate to cool enough that you can handle them.  Remove the meat from the bone and shred it with your fingers.

Place the meat in the soup.

To Finish the Soup

About an hour before eating cook the barley:

In a large pot bring 4 cups of water to a boil.

Add one cup of barley and cook uncovered for 30-40 minutes (until tender).

In the meantime place half a cup of broth into a measuring cup and add the cornstarch, whisking until smooth.

Place the soup back on the stove at medium heat, and pour in the cornstarch mixture.  Whisk until the soup comes up to a simmer.  The soup will thicken slightly.

Drain the barley and add it to the soup.  Cook for another 20 minutes at very low heat (uncovered).

Serve immediately.

The Elegant Occasion Note:  Want to try something a little different with the leftovers?  Place the left over soup in a sauté pan over medium heat and continuously stir the soup as you would a risotto.  The broth will be absorbed by the barley and you will have a lovely barley risotto.  Place the risotto on plates and garnish the dish with shavings of parmesan cheese!

The Elegant Occasion Wine Pairing: Rioja or Beaujolais