Night Of The Living Pumpkins
Jenny's Rubber Ducky
Following on the overwhelming success of my cute landlady and my last feast we booked ourselves a whole Night of Pumpkin treats.
This time it was my friends who turned up and Aline's who bombed.
Alex brought some of his tasty French Onion Soup, Andrew and Ztacci brought beer just to emphasise the fact that I'm on the dry and Jenny brought a rubber ducky.

Since it's now over two weeks since Hallowe'en all the large pumpkins in our universe have turned into coaches or ceased to exist, so things weren't looking promising for the annual Chicken In A Pumpkin. I would have bought one earlier, but I wasn't sure that it would have kept well enough to still be edible so I started considering a brand new concept - Partridge In A Pumpkin. Actually I was starting to get quite keen on the idea, thinking it would probably be easier to find a good fit between pumpkin and bird, but then we went to the Farmers' Market on Saturday and lo and behold found the last large pumpkin in the world. So I bought it. It's going to be a Chumpkin evening after all. Hurrah!

Actually one of the advantages of missing out on the Hallowe'en pumpkin frenzy is that afterwards you can buy genuine culinary varieties, which definitely taste far better than their sour, stringy, watery overgrown cousins, even if they are much smaller. And we needed about half a dozen of the suckers.

The farmer's market also coughed up an incredibly expensive organic chicken, which ought to taste bloody fabulous for the price, but I was maybe a little cautious with the size and ended up with a very loose fit. It's easier to accommodate a too-small chicken by packing the pumpkin with extra stuffing than trying surgically reduce a too-large one, but from previous experience I know that this packed stuffing ends up too wet to eat.

With Christmas on its way, and with it the need to plan a stuffing for my family's traditional Festive Goose I thought I'd quite like to try a quince stuffing this year (I don't know why, but I've had "quince" and "kumquats" in my head for a couple of weeks now) having abandoned my original idea of working something around mango (too Eastern).

As you may recall from earlier meals, cooking for Aline brings its own special challenges (though not so very unusual in this increasingly food-fussy age), with her intolerance of all things fleshly, lactic or glutenous. Suffice to say she was not about to partake of the Chicken, so there I had a free hand, but had to do some dodgy adaptions for my other dishes.
So if they turned out rubbish - there's my excuse!

Pumpkin "Damper" Bread
Thai-Spiced Pumpkin Soup
Roasted Pumpkin Salad
Chicken-In-A-Pumpkin. My seasonal centrepiece.
Pumpkin Bake
Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Well, you should do something with all those seeds.
Pumpkin Pie
To finish. What else?

Pumpkin Damper Bread
bread veg
I adapted this recipe from Titania Hardie's Hubble Bubble Cookbook. It's one I have tried very successfully before, but needed to make it gluten and lactose friendly for Aline, so substituted soya margarine for the butter, gluten-free flour (with added Xanthan gum) for the regular flour, and soy milk for the regular milk.
Fortunately Aline has a very fine collection of plant pots available for bread baking.

Incidentally, Aline assured me that soy milk was an excellent milk substitute and that I would have trouble distinguishing it from the real thing. She was wrong. It's a thick glutinous white liquid that smells slightly sour and has the texture of phlegm. And there its resemblance to milk ends.

I then followed Titania's Damper bread method, but the bread hardly rose at all, and was still uncooked after 15 minutes. I stuck the pots back in the oven for another 15 minutes, after which the bread at least was cooked, though still unrisen.

Surprisingly the bread tasted rather good nonetheless.
So a complete gluten/lactose-free success!


That ol' Chicken In A Pumpkin thing.
main fowl
The usual Chicken In A Pumpkin setup, I calculated 20 minutes per pound plus 20 minutes cooking time for the overall weight of stuffed pumpkin. For my (approximately, since I didn't have scales with enough range) 10lb chumpkin, that worked out at around 4 hours. I actually allowed a bit more cooking time, gradually adjusting the oven temperature down as the chicken cooked and the pumpkin darkened so it wouldn't burn. This time I also made sure the bird was properly cooked using a meat thermometer to avoid any risk of poisoning.
Because we had a number of other dishes to prepare in the oven for the main course, I let the chumpkin stand, covered in tin foil, for about an hour before we ate it. It held its heat pretty well I thought.

Serves A Dinner Party

Make the stuffing.
Cut the lid off the pumpkin and reserve to bake separately.
Clean out the pumpkin of seeds and stringy goop with a spoon.
Roast the chicken for about 20 minutes in a hot oven to crisp up the skin.
Fill the chicken with stuffing and the pumpkin with chicken.
Pack any huge gaps around the chicken with more stuffing.
Put the chumpkin in a baking dish large enough to hold it if the pumpkin should collapse.
Bake the chumpkin at Gas 6 for 20 minutes per pound plus 20 minutes.
Watch the chumpkin for browning/burning after half-time and reduce the heat as necessary (you can wrap the whole thing in foil if you prefer to better protect the skin).
Using a meat thermometer to check the chicken is cooked is a really good idea!
Cooked, the chumpkin will stay warm covered in tin foil for 30-60 minutes if necessary.
This time around my chicken was a bit on the small side for such a large pumpkin, so I made plenty of stuffing, and packed the spaces between chicken and pumpkin with it, even right up to the top of the pumpkin.

I baked the chumpkin a bit hotter (around Gas 8) for about 20 minutes just to get things going at the start, then reduced to Gas 6, then gradually lowered the heat towards the end as the pumpkin threatened to burn.

As usual, the chicken itself is wonderfully moist and tender and the stuffing inside the chicken was very good, but the stuffing inbetween the chicken and the pumpkin ended up very soggy from all the pumpkin juices.
Leaving (mostly) the lid off the pumpkin during cooking meant that the stuffing near the top of the pumpkin stayed dry and quite edible, and allowed the exposed chicken skin to crisp up nicely too. I think I'll make that a permanent chumpkin method!
I baked the lid separately in the oven for while too, just so I could serve the pumpkin with an equally cooked-looking lid on it if I wanted.
The next day, gather up all the leftover chicken skin, gristle and bones and roast them up with flour and tomato purée at Gas 6 to make the base for a lovely dark chicken stock.
You can use quite a lot of the leftover pumpkin flesh (and anything else) too (I used about half of mine, plus some tomato bits and the stock is delicious!).

Pumpkin Bake
side main veg vegan
I thought a dish along the lines of Elizabeth David's Courgette Bake might also work with pumpkin using a tomato base to replace the missing moisture and cauliflower to break up the pumpkinness. I also wanted to introduce a slightly sour flavour and would have used ricotta cheese or yoghurt, but Aline's lactose intolerance precluded those. So I decided to try and work in some tagine-style flavours using black olives and preserved lemons. I must confess I had expected the pumpkin to disintegrate much more than it did (and have more flavour also - damn those culinary pumpkins). The verdict: Dry, dull and tasteless. The dish might have potential (particularly the black olive and the cauliflower), but would need a good deal more work.

Served 6

Grind the coriander seeds fairly thoroughly in a spice grinder.
Peel, de-seed and cut the pumpkin into chunks, sprinkle generously with sea salt and the crushed coriander seeds then roast in a hot oven until cooked through and starting to soften.
Make a small cross in each tomato near the stalk end and dunk them in boiling water. Peel, de-seed and dice.
Fry the cauliflower pieces in olive oil until they brown, and set aside
Soften the onions, add the garlic, ginger, saffron, cumin (which I skipped), coriander, tomatoes and cook with the wine until reduced to a thickish purée.
Mix the pumpkin, cauliflower, olives, herbs (if you like), Lay on a layer of preserved lemons.
Cover with soft breadcrumbs and dot with butter.
In deference to Aline's culinary peculiarities, I used her strange rice-based crumb mix and blended it up with soya margarine until it looked something like breadcrumbs (though still smelling of axle grease).
This topping seems able suck all the moisture from the world and yet still lie there like a heavy fall of moondust, so maybe things would have worked out better with real bread.
Bake at Gas 6 for 45 minutes.
I blame the topping. And the filling. That was rubbish too.
It managed to have both too many competing flavours (I think I should have skipped the preserved lemon) and not enough taste (too dry, and the pumpkin was surprisingly tasteless).
Ho hum.

Quince Hazelnut stuffing
side ingredient veg

Makes enough for about 3 chickens, or 1 chumpkin

Roast the hazelnuts in a hot oven for 5 minutes. Roll them in a tea towel to remove the skins. Chop quite finely.
Peel, core and chop your quince.
Finely chop the onions and garlic.
Crumb the bread with a food processor or grater. I left the crust on this time because I didn't have much bread, but I would normally cut those off.

Heat a little butter in a frying pan, add the quince, sprinkle with the sugar. Cook, turning, for 15 minutes until they begin to nicely caramelise, then set aside. In more butter, fry the onions and garlic to soften.
Mix everything together (you could also add an egg or a little stock to soften things up), and stuff into the bird, and the pumpkin.
The stuffing was quite nice really, and popular, but I wasn't keen on the big chunks of hazelnut. I think you'd want to chop them more finely, and maybe use less?
The best stuffing was from the top of the chumpkin, which had picked up some juices from the bird and the squash, but stayed dry during the roasting process (since I left the lid off).
The next best bit was from inside the chicken. The stuffing from deep around the chicken was a bit too soggy really, though the leftovers baked up quite nicely left at the bottom of a moderate oven for two hours the next day.

Thai-spiced Pumpkin Soup
soup curry veg
Keep in mind that different Thai curry pastes have differing strengths. Start with a teaspoon to start and then build from there until the soup has a level of spiciness and flavor that works for your palate. Top with toasted pumpkin seeds.

Serves 6

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and place the oven racks in the middle.

Carefully cut each squash/pumpkin into halves (or quarters). Slather each piece of squash with butter, sprinkle generously with salt, place on a baking sheet skin sides down, and place in the oven. Roast for about an hour or until the squash is tender throughout.

When the pumpkin/squash are cool enough to handle scoop it into a large pot over medium high heat. Add the coconut milk and curry paste and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and puree with a hand blender, you should have a very thick base at this point. Now add water a cup at a time pureeing between additions until the soup is the consistency you prefer - a light vegetable stock would work here as well. Bring up to a simmer again and add the salt (and more curry paste if you like, I used just shy of 6 teaspoons but the curry paste I use is not over-the-top spicy).

A bit raw on the spices for my taste.
Aline made this without butter obviously (too lactic), and used green Thai curry paste. Lots of green Thai curry paste.
The result was a bit over-spiced (and you don't hear me saying that very often!), and I think the paste might be better fried to get rid of some of the harshness, though that does reduce slightly if you keep cooking the soup for a while.

Roasted Pumpkin Salad
salad veg
Serves 4

Preheat oven to 375.
Toss the pumpkin in a generous splash of olive oil along with a couple pinches of salt, and turn out onto a baking sheet. At the same time, toss the onions with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and turn out onto a separate baking sheet. Roast both for about 45 minutes, or until squash is brown and caramelized. The same goes for the onions, they should be deeply colored, caramelized, and soft throughout by the time they are done roasting. You'll need to flip both the squash and onion pieces once or twice along the way - so it's not just one side that is browning.

In the meantime, make the dressing. With a hand blender or food processor puree the sunflower seeds, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and honey until creamy. You may need to add a few tablespoons of warm water to thin the dressing a bit. Stir in the cilantro, saving just a bit to garnish the final plate later. Taste and adjust seasonings (or flavors) to your liking - I usually need to add a touch more salt with this dressing.

In a large bowl, toss the wild rice with a large dollop of the dressing. Add the onions, gently toss just once or twice. Turn the rice and onions out onto a platter and top with the roasted squash (I'll very gently toss with my hands here to disperse the pumpkin a bit). Finish with another drizzle of dressing and any remaining chopped cilantro.

* To cook wild rice:
Rinse 1 1/2 cups wild rice. In a medium sauce pan bring the rice and 4 1/2 cups salted water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Cook for 40 minutes or until rice is tender and splitting open, stirring occasionally. You'll have enough for this recipe and some leftover.
When Aline made the dressing I thought it was pretty tasty, but somehow it got completely submerged in the salad, and the result was a bit on the dull side.
Perhaps there was just too much rice?

Spice-Kissed Pumpkin Pie
dessert sweet veg
... freshly ground spices, make all the difference in a recipe like this. For the filling, you can also substitute roasted sweet potatoes or other roasted winter squash as the base ingredient. If you are pinched for time you can also use canned pumpkin puree (but I really prefer the flavor that comes from roasting my own). If you used canned puree, be sure it is pure, non-spiced pumpkin puree. You can certainly use a store-bought crust if you like, for a pie like this I use a standard pie dough recipe (pate brisee). I use whole wheat pastry flour in place of all-purpose flour.
Alternate crust option:
you can make a simple pat-in-pan graham cracker pie crust by giving 2 cups well-crushed graham cracker crumbs, 1/3 cup melted butter, and 2 tablespoons of honey a whirl in a food processor. Then press (intensively) into a 9-inch pie pan, and proceed with filling.

You can use the filling in tarts, or for individual pies/tarts as well. I love to use deep, dark Muscovado sugar in place of standard brown sugar for its flavor, but some people are turned off by the darker color it lends to the filling.

Makes one 9 or 10-inch pie

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, racks in the middle.

Puree 1 1/2 cups of the toasted hazelnuts in a food processor until they turn into a hazelnut paste, past the 'crumble' stage. Set aside. Chop the remaining 1/2 cup of hazelnuts and set aside separately, these will be sprinkled on top after the pie is baked.

To make the pumpkin pie filling, whisk together the brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice blend, salt, and arrowroot. Stir in the pumpkin puree, and vanilla. Now stir in the eggs and coconut milk until just combined. Set aside.

Before filling the pie crust, crumble the hazelnut paste on top of the pie dough into the pie plate, quickly and gently press it into a thin layer across the bottom creating a layer of hazelnuts that will sit between the dough and the filling apparently helping to keep the crust from getting soggy. Using the last egg gently brush the decorative edges of the pie dough. Use a fork to prick the pie dough a few times to prevent air bubbles. Fill the pie crust with the filling and bake for about 50 minutes - the center of the pie should just barely jiggle when you move the pie - the edges should be set.

Let the pie cool a bit, this makes slicing less messy. Serve straight or with a dollop of bourbon-spiked, sweetened whipped cream or creme fraiche, and a sprinkling of chopped hazelnuts.
Aline went for the pat-in-pan pie crust option, and I made some (delicious) maple-syrup squirty cream to go with.
Note To Self: Remember to give the foamer a shake and try an experimental squirt into the sink before you cover the guests in farty foam.

The crust was thick and oleaginous and the filling a bit too dry and heavy for my taste though. I don't think I'd try it again.

Kathy's Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend
ingredient veg vegan
Makes 2 tablespoons

Use a coffee grinder to separately grind each of the following: cinnamon, allspice, and cloves. Smash the cinnamon a bit before grinding it. The spices should be powder-fine, and sifted into a bowl together. Stir in the ground ginger, and use in any recipe calling for a pumpkin pie spice blend.

Roasted Pumpkin Purée
ingredient veg vegan
Makes a couple of pounds of purée

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Carefully cut the pumpkin into four big wedges - get rid of the stem. Scoop out the seeds and pulp (you can toast the seeds if you like), drizzle then rub the pumpkin wedges with olive oil, sprinkle generously with salt, and then bake on a baking sheet (middle rack) until tender throughout - about an hour. Scoop flesh out of the skins and puree with a hand blender or mash well by hand.
It is easier to peel the pumpkin once it's cooked and the flesh easily separates with a spoon, but you can also peel and chop the pumpkin and just simmer it up instead.

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