Monday, October 26, 2009

Curried Pumpkin Soup

Coconut-Curry Pumpkin Soup

1 8-pound Musquee de Provence Pumpkin — also called a “Fairytale” pumpkin — or other deep-orange, thick-fleshed eating pumpkin or squash

32 oz. chicken broth

2 tbs. olive oil

1 large onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp. grated fresh ginger

1 15 oz. can coconut milk

3 tsp. sweet curry powder

1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

4 tbs. sugar

Kosher salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wash pumpkin. Cut it into halves and scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp. Spray a baking pan with nonstick as well as the cut sides of the pumpkin. Place the pumpkin on the tray cut side down and cook for about 90 minutes, until flesh is fork tender. Remove from oven and allow to cool enough to handle. Scoop flesh from the skin.

Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven or stock pot. Sweat the onions and garlic until onion is translucent. The difference between a sweat and a brown is the stove temperature. Sweating is a medium-low temp that gets your onions and garlic (aromatics) to give up their moisture and flavor easily. You do not brown the veggies when you sweat them. Browning takes a medium-high temperature.

Add the curry powder, red pepper flakes and ginger and stir for half a minute to get the curry going. Add stock and heat to a boil. Add the pumpkin then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

Use a stick blender to puree the soup. This type of pumpkin is very stringy, but it will blend easily. Add the sugar and the coconut milk and heat through. Season to taste with the salt. If desired, garnish with cilantro. This soup tastes better the second day when the flavors have blended more.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pumpkin Shortage? Make Your Own Pumpkin Puree

There has been a lot of news lately about the pumpkin shortage. Good news is, not all states are affected. More good news is that many of the "decorative" pumpkins you see are actually delicious, edible pumpkins in disguise.

Have no fear this October should you reach for a can of pumpkin and the shelf is bare. It's easy to make your own puree.

First, get a large pumpkin. Not the jack-o-lantern kind. Or get a few small sugar (pie) pumpkins.

I used a "Cinderella" variety. It is large, flattened and a beautiful deep red-orange. The flesh is thick and has a high water content. So, the pumpkin is heavy for it's size. This one weighed in at 16 pounds. Other heirloom varieties that are supposed to be good for puree are Musquee de Provence (Fairytale), Long Island Cheese and Hubbard Squash.

Roughly, you can figure on about 6-8 cups of puree for a 16 pounder, 4 cups for an 8-pounder, etc. The first step is to be sure you wash the pumpkin.

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Now, cut pumpkin in half and remove seeds and pulpy part. You don't have to peel it! Spray a baking pan with cooking spray and spray the cut sides of the pumpkin as well. Place pumpkin, cut side down, in pan. Bake until the flesh is soft, about ninety minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Be sure you do not leave the cooked pumpkin out for more than two hours. Got to remember that food safety!

After it has cooled, scoop the flesh from the skin and blend flesh in a food processor. Now, fresh pumpkin is going to be much more watery than the canned kind. So, you will need to line a strainer with cheese cloth and place the puree on top of this. I make a little bundle to help "press" out the liquid. Set the puree and strainer both into a larger and deeper bowl. Cover with wrap and place in the fridge overnight to drain.

I saw an article on how to "save" your jack-o-lantern and make puree with it after Halloween. This is not a good idea.

Think about it. How often do you take produce out of your fridge, cut it open, set it on the front porch for a week, share a bit with the neighborhood squirrels, burn a candle in it, then take it in to cook?

The cut flesh that gets exposed to air collects a fair bit of bacteria while you are handing out all that candy. Additionally, this is not the best tasting pumpkin since it is cultivated for size and carving, not eating. Especially after it's been outside for a bit. Compost that sucker.

Here are a few more pumpkins sold as decorative that are actually edible — and delicious.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

'tis the Season for Food Donations

We're coming up on the holiday season, the time of year when most of us probably do all of our charitable giving. In November, food donations are especially frequent as we all prepare to sit around our own tables and give thanks for plenty.

Recently, I spent the day (along with all my co-workers) volunteering at Harvesters, one of our nation's largest food banks. My main job was to sort those very food donations that each of you generously provides. I learned quite a bit from the experience, so I wanted to pass along some of those observations about the food donation process.

What is a food bank or network versus a food pantry?
A food bank is a large warehouse facility that has tremendous purchasing power, then in turn, fills the shelves of local food pantries and organizations at little to no cost. Food banks handle donations from individuals as well as corporate and manufacturer donations, makes bulk purchases direct from manufacturers. Food banks also handle fresh bread and produce donations, many of which can move those donations quick enough to be able to leverage most of these perishable items in a day. It's a pretty amazing operation. Food networks are the combined power of food banks working as a group.

How many people require food assistance?
I don't have numbers for nationwide, but for Harvesters, in the 26 counties they serve, they feed over SIXTY THOUSAND people per week. This 60K people includes 550 nonprofit agencies; such as emergency food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, children’s homes, homes for the mentally disabled and shelters for battered persons. With the economic challenges, the demand has risen by 40 percent and continues to increase.

What happens to my food donations?
Once the donations are gathered, they go into large bins on a sorting floor. Volunteers and staff sort each and every item by hand into different food categories such as beverages, vegetables, meats and proteins, baking goods, and even baby items. Here is a behind-the-scenes look that might help you understand the donation process and maximize your gifts.

Glass containers
Each item that comes in a glass container has to be individually washed and placed in a separate bin to avoid risk of injury or breakage. Hint: Avoid donating glass containers.

Canned Goods
Canned good are inspected for dents and damage. Some damage is unavoidable just in handling, but each dented can has to be reviewed and determined to be safe or not based on the condition of the can, size and location of the dent. When in doubt, it gets tossed. Hint: Avoid donating dented goods.

Similar Items
Once sorted, similar items, 24 different cans of green beans for example, must all be re-packaged as a group, even if they are not the same brand. This allows the items to be shipped to the agencies that need them in bulk quantities. Hint: The easiest donations for sorting and volunteer time are items purchased at a big box store like Costco and left in their bulk packaging.

Unique Items and Ethnic Foods
Even with additional time to sort these items, they have great value. Ethnic foods are very welcome, especially for food recipients of that culture. Unique items also help add variety and even premium quality to the food mix. I was pretty happy to see a lot of great organic items and a good mix of ethnic ingredients. Hint: It's a great idea to be inclusive of culture and quality food options with donations.

Save the Date
To keep the sorting a bit interesting, we all were on the lookout for the most obscure items. We were also advised to look for any kind of label that we knew was dated. Canned good items must be within a few years of expiration date. Preferably, they should not be expired. We found such exotics as a 1970s can of smoked oysters (that would be, like, lethal to eat!), a vintage box of gelatin, a glass jar of Borscht so old it was brown, and some Jiffy Pop in its pre-microwave stovetop form. Ancient instant coffee (old AND instant? That's just doubly cruel). Hint: If the item has been in the back of your pantry so long that it would cause bodily harm to consume, don't donate it. Especially baby foods and formula.

More Dregs from the Pantry Bottom
We also found random items like a box of drink mix, opened, with only one envelope in it, partially consumed items, a few miscellaneous tea bags in a plastic baggie. All of this refuse from folks' pantry clean outs has to be discarded. Why not do it yourself instead of wasting volunteer time? Hint: I did not enjoy cleaning out your pantry for you.

Making the Most of Your Donation
We all like a bit of snack items and sweets now and again. But, if you are in dire need, then the food items that are critical are the ones that have nutrition and substance. There are a lot of items that are especially needed, that list includes:

  • Canned vegetables
  • Canned fruit
  • Boxed meals - (Hamburger Helper, Pasta Roni)
  • Canned Meat/Tuna
  • Peanut Butter
  • Canned Soup
  • Cereal – hot and cold

  • Household goods, (think if you had to choose between food and toilet paper because you can't afford both), are also needed. Baby items like wipes and diapers. Quality, non-glass containers of NON-expired baby foods and cereals, formula are also highly valued donations.

  • Household Products
  • Soap
  • Deodorant
  • Shampoo
  • Toilet Paper

  • The Harvesters site has a lot of great ideas about how to organize your own food donations, or have a party with friends to come volunteer together before you go have a drink, host a holiday dinner party and charge an "entry fee" of a food donation. You can even donate fresh produce from your own garden if you have a green thumb!

    Really, there are a lot of great ways to give. 1970s smoked oysters are just not one of them.

    Mixing it Up

    "Mommy, I don't want to eat the same thing a lot."

    Saturday, October 17, 2009

    Sharing the Wealth - FREE BOOKS for you

    Lately, I have been blessed with a massive stack of food books to review. It's taking me some time, especially with our own manuscript due very soon. But, I will be getting to that stack.

    The only problem — besides needing another couple hours in a day — is that I have run out of shelf space. So, I've decided to share the wealth with all of you. Starting November, there will be one book of the month prize awarded to a randomly drawn name from all the NON-SPAM comments that are left on the book post for the month. I'll post the lucky winner each month and the title of the next giveaway.

    November's book is Vegan Lunch Box Around the World by Jennifer McCann. So, leave a legitimate comment on each month's giveaway announcement (like this post), then check back at the end of November to see if you won! I'll post how to contact me with an address where to send your FREE book.

    Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    FTC and Bloggers

    I was crushed recently with the news that Gourmet is no more. It's been depressing to watch the passing of newspapers and now, likely, the single best food magazine. Worse, for me personally, has been watching my own local newspaper minimize its James Beard Award winning food section.

    It begs the question, who will be the source of writing on seasonal, local, ethical eating and cooking? There are a few bright spots online such as Ethicurean. Sources that play at the national level across issues. But what about my local foodshed?

    I would have to guess that some of that local content will be filled in by bloggers. People like me. Thing is, as hard as I try, I can't replace a full time staff of journalists. I do adhere to standards of good research, fact checking and journalistic ethics. But, not all bloggers have that background.

    The FTC has moved to close some of that inconsistency. Bloggers are now required to be transparent about any product or service they write about, if that product or service has been provided to them for free. So:

    Courtesy of Andrews McMeel Publishing, I will be attending the following event here in our KC area. Spots are still available!

    Meet Chef


    Monday, October 19, 2009

    at a four-course dinner at Jasper’s

    featuring dishes from

    Chef Besh’s first cookbook

    My New Orleans

    Dinner includes non-alcoholic

    drinks and dessert

    Alcohol, tax, and gratuity additional

    Cost: $75.00; includes a signed copy

    of My New Orleans

    Reservations: (816) 941-6600

    Here's the thing. If I did not want to attend the event, I would not have accepted the offer of the ticket. Besh appears to be one of the chefs that actually walks the walk on local sourcing. I want to find out in person. I want to taste the food. I'll let you know how it goes. If you aren't already going, too.