Thursday, December 29, 2011

Crispy Chicken Tenders

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When I started to cook gourmet recipes and entertaining people, I found that kids were not as receptive to the food as the adults. The kids where hesitant to eat a new concoction and preferred simple flavors that they were familiar with.

I learned this through cooking – most people learn it through parenting. I believe it takes being out on your own and cooking for yourself to truly appreciate fine cooking. Most kids just want to fill-up and go.

For this recipe, I keep things simple and make one of my all-time favorites – the very kid-friendly chicken tenders. I bread the tenders with panko bread crumbs which hail from Japan. They are small, crystal-like shards of bread that have tiny points that stick out in all directions. They provide an extra crunchy texture that is surprisingly lite. Most major grocery chains stock panko crumbs in the specialty food isle and I highly recommend them. They turn this child-friendly bite into a scrumptious feast for kids and adults alike.

I made these chicken tenders for a snack while I watched the Sunday slate of NFL games, I documented them, but I hadn't intended on using this recipe for the print version of my column. I soon changed my mind because I thought it would be a nice recipe for people running out of ideas to feed the kids while they were home on Holiday break. I decided to go with it. After I made the tenders originally, I stored the leftovers so that I could make a couple more recipes using the crispy chicken.

I made both the wrap and salad on the same afternoon. As usual, I took them to Mom and Dad for a taste test. They were going to go out to eat later, so I expected them to take a nibble just to try it. What I didn't expect was for Dad to eat the entire wrap and dinner salad before they went out to eat! I'm glad he enjoyed it but I was surprised that he devoured the entire spread! He's a big eater. I never thought of the crispy chicken wrap AND salad as an appetizer. They are, for most people, a sufficient Lunch or dinner - Separately.

BBQ Crispy Chicken Wrap

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What I love about this wrap is the barbecue sauce paired with the crispy chicken. Most of the time when I eat chicken and barbecue sauce combined, the chicken is grilled. The texture of the crunchy chicken is a nice change from the norm. The size and shape of the chicken tenders also made it natural to put these in a wrap rather than a sandwich.

I love the concept of the wrap.

It's like the American version of a burrito. I consider it a culinary present – you have to tear it open to find out what's inside. This can be equally fun and scary at the same time - especial when it is something your about to consume.

Crispy Chicken Salad

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My former girlfriend, Nicole, who I have mentioned here on my blog many times, thought it would be a good challenge for me to create a salad for one of my columns. I thought it would be a good challenge also, I just didn't have the right stuff to work with - Until now!

I love croutons on salad, the crispy chicken gives a similar crunch here and allows me a chance to use fried tortilla strips as well. I have always thought that tortilla strips and croutons together is almost a conflict of interest on a salad.

I'm glad I finally got to include an actual salad on this blog, it would have been nice to share with Nicole, but we have mutually (and peacefully) parted ways and live in different cities now. I do have to give her credit for the inspiration to this dish, one of the many things that she inspired in me. I dedicate this one to her!

Eat well, cook often ...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Buckeyes

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Since I can remember, every Christmas my Mom has made buckeyes. She makes a number of sweet delicious treats during the holidays but these yummy peanut butter and chocolate delights are hands down my favorite. There have been a number of occasions in the past where I have single-handedly wiped out entire trays of buckeyes.

Mom got this recipe more than 30 years ago from a woman she used to bowl with and it has remained a holiday tradition in our house ever since.

For this version, I add my own twist. Traditional buckeye recipes call for the top portion of peanut butter to be exposed to make the treat look like a buckeye nut. This will cause the peanut butter to dry out after a couple days. To avoid the dry peanut butter my mom coated the entire surface with chocolate. I have taken this smart idea a step further and coated the top portion of the buckeye with a peanut butter topping. It might not look like a buckeye, but it does taste like a delicious holiday treat!

This is the treat I look forward to most at Christmas, and I'm happy that I was able to include it here in my collection of recipes. When I started this, my full intention was to make traditional buckeyes – with the top part of peanut butter exposed. My Mom had always covered the entire treat, and I asked her why. She said she did that so the peanut butter wouldn't dry out. I thought that was a good idea, but I had already made a batch. That's when I thought that I would put another coat on to cover the peanut butter, but instead of using chocolate I used melted peanut butter chips to retain the look. After covering the top I realized that they no longer looked like buckeyes, but I was ok with that. I think that the peanut butter covering dripping down the side gave it a winter like hat - perfect for a Christmas treat.

While writing the 200-word introduction for the newspaper version, I wrote a line that I eventually had to leave out. It was another of my pig-out statements – one of a thousand that I have come up with since starting the column. That's the beauty of the web – no space constraints!

Here is the line about me scarfing on buckeyes in the past that didn't make the print version:

"I must have looked like a relapsing sugar junky who had broken into a Reese’s Candy Factory."

Eat well, cook often ...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cheesy Chili Dog Dip

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Looking at this dip will add calories. It's the Medusa of all party dips. Weight Watchers wants me arrested for creating this culinary monster that registers a colossal 13 points per serving. I would recommend eating this guilty pleasure no more than twice a year – unless your immune to all the bad stuff contained in unhealthy food or you just flat out don’t watch what you eat.

Why would I create such a culinary beast? It’s ridiculously tasty. Consider it a special dish for a special time. Make it for the most cherished occasions – weddings, child births or an NFL football game.

For this recipe, I take everything that is wonderful about chili dogs and transform it into a dip. It can be served on a bun, but here it’s delivered on a tortilla chip. This dish will satisfy even the strongest cravings for chili dogs - which I am prone to for some mystical reason. After eating a large helping of this creation, I suggest spending the next three days on a raw vegetable diet or training for a triathlon just to compensate.

I love chili dogs. I wish they weren't so bad for you. In the past I have craved them after a late night of drinking. It's almost as if my body says "well after what you did to me last night, you might as well fill me up with the most unhealthy thing you can find." I like to top my chili dogs with shredded cheddar cheese and raw onion, which I incorporate here. The cheese and chili bring this dip together, much more is needed of the two in this dip than what is needed when eating a traditional chili dog. Usually the chili, cheese and onion are a compliment to the dog. For this dip, it is the opposite. The chili and cheese are what binds everything together to form a dip that will be easy to grab with a chip.

I made this dip to take to my cousin's birthday party. I decided to share it with my Mom and Dad before I went to the party. Mom got a taste and so did I. I then left a huge portion out in the kitchen that I thought I would put back into the pot I had made for the party. When I went to retrieve it before I left Mom and Dad's for the party, I noticed Dad had destroyed the entire bowl. Next time I decide to let Dad test out a guilty pleasure like this, I will be sure to leave just a small portion so there isn't as much to tempt him to over-indulge.

Eat well, cook often ...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The New York Club Pizza

A typical New York slice of pizza has a thin layer of sauce and a simple blend of Italian cheeses as toppings. The crust is thin, making it easy to fold into a taco shape for eating efficiency. It’s the opposite of Chicago-style deep dish pizza which is more likely to be consumed with a knife and fork.

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There were many times when I lived in the Big Apple that I needed a meal quick, and a warm slice was much easier to eat while walking to my destination than a burger and fries from a fast food joint – just fold it and go. When it is eaten like a taco you never have to put it down, but it has to be held carefully, otherwise, you’ll have stuff running down your forearm. It was and still is one of my favorites bites.

For this recipe, I make a simple New York style pizza, but I top it with another favorite – a BLT. The bacon goes on before it is baked and the lettuce, tomato and mayo sauce go on the after it comes out of the oven. The cool and fresh toppings create a sandwich-like experience on a slice of pizza.

The closest restaurant to get food at my first apartment in New York was a place called Twins pizza. It was owned by an Italian family that had twin sons. The father was always working in back making pizzas while the twins worked the counter. I always suspected the place was a front for organized crime (which is always a first assumption in New York) because every time I went to get a slice of pizza the only people in the place where the families of the Twins. Plus, both the twins had sports cars that they often parked out front. The walls of the place were adorned with pictures of the twins standing next to New York sports celebrities from the Mets and Rangers. (I'm sure the place was legitimate, the foot traffic that passed by was probably enough to keep a couple of families well fed.)

I soon discovered that the pizza at Twins was almost identical to nearly every other mom and pop pizza shop in New York City. The best deal was a regular slice for a $1.50 - which was a large slice of thin crusted cheese pizza. You could get other toppings on the slice for a little extra, garlic knots and other pizza parlor staples. That is the basic menu of every pizza joint in New York. I always got a chuckle out of people who claimed one pizza place was better than another, because to me they were all virtually identical. Much like the brothers who worked the counter at Twins.

If you are ever in New York, I highly recommend getting a basic slice from two or three different pizza parlors. There are slight differences in the lightness of the crust and the amount of sauce and cheese on a slice, but they will all taste nearly the same - and will always hit the spot. The New York slice is a home run every time no matter what local pizza joint you choose.

Eat well, cook often ...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Beef Stew to Warm the Soul

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There is a lot of stuff about the cold weather that I really don’t like – blizzards, frost bite and having to change my wardrobe to pants instead of cargo shorts. One thing I do like about cold weather is comfort food. To me, slow cooked cuts of meat are as delicious as a tender ribeye off the grill in the summer.

One of my all-time favorite comfort dishes is beef stew. I consider the potatoes and fork tender beef as just the icing on the cake in this dish. Like a great drummer in a rock band, the real star of a good beef stew is the gravy like liquid that brings everything together.

Some stew recipes call for the liquid to be thickened at the end of cooking. I like to thicken it near the beginning - with root vegetables mixed in to imparted their flavors into the beef as it is cooked tender. Also, I add carrot and potato chunks near the end of the process so they aren’t over cooked.

For this recipe, I broke out the cargo shorts and spent a couple hours in my cozy kitchen creating a dish that will warm the soul.

I documented this dish the day before Thanksgiving – six days before it would go to press – and the weather in Fort Wayne was unseasonal to say the least. We have been enjoying a rather warm fall so far. I worried that this recipe would run in the paper and it would still be warm out. The forcast called for a cool down - But you never can tell with the weather.

I grilled a Turkey breast on charcoal for Thanksgiving thanks to the warm weather. The day after, the high temperature was in the lower 60s and I was wearing my cargo shorts while raking leaves and covering stuff up outside – basically using the warm weather to get things ready for winter. Our mild fall allowed this work to occur after Thanksgiving this year rather than after Halloween.

As if on cue though, old-man winter swept through and dumped four inches of snow on us the day before this recipe went to press. Sometimes the stars aline just right and a project comes together. I knew the cold was coming and really wanted to share a favorite comfort dish which is why I chose stew. It would have been odd to publish this recipe when the weather man was calling for highs in the 60s. Instead, when readers got this, the ground was covered with snow here in northern Indiana. Which I hope made it seem even more appetizing.

I really hate to pack away my shorts in the winter, I usually keep a pair out for lounging around the house. In the summer, I will go months wearing shorts – it takes a wedding or a funeral to get me to do otherwise. Well, it's cold and wintery here now, and it will be that way for the next several months – I need a winter home in Florida!

Eat well, cook often ...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving Leftovers: Turkey Chili

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While I lived in New York, I always volunteered to work for Thanksgiving. That way I would be guaranteed to be home for Christmas. A few years ago, I began having my own Thanksgiving party the Saturday after for all of my friends who were also away from their families for the holiday.

The first year I cooked a whole turkey and had lots of side dishes. A lot got eaten, but it seemed like I had enough leftover to feed half the homeless people in the borough of Queens. Each year I cooked less, but I always had a refrigerator full of leftovers after the party. That’s when I realized they are just part of the holiday tradition –  along with storming through the doors of a department store at 3 a.m. on  black Friday.

For this recipe, I make chili from leftover turkey, chicken can be used just as well. Instead of traditional tomatoes and kidney beans, I use tomatillos and great northern beans for flavor and appearance. It’s a great dish to warm the belly and use up some of those Thanksgiving leftovers.

My sister has been making a version of "white chili" that is absolutely delicious for some time now. She makes it with chicken and white beans. This recipe was inspired by her recipe, turkey, like chicken, is a delicate meat that will take-on what ever flavors it's surrounded by. It's like a culinary canvass for a cook to paint flavors on. Rather than making turkey sandwich after turkey sandwich, this dish will rid the fridge of that pile of turkey in one fell swoop – And you'll hardly notice your eating turkey because it will take on the bold flavors of the chili.

Now that all that turkey is gone, it's time to start thinking about what to make for Christmas!

Eat well, cook often ...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving: Turkey, Creamy Mashed Potatoes, and Green Beans with Caramelized Onions

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It’s commonly believed that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in Plymouth colony by the pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621, but similar celebrations occurred before in Jamestown and the feasts were not held on an annual basis.

Thanksgiving wasn’t an official holiday until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln designated the last Thursday of November as a “national day of thanksgiving.” He made the declaration after key victories of the Union army in the Civil War at Vicksburg and Gettysburg. Since then every president has declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.

For this recipe, I have prepared turkey, the traditional centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal. For flavor and moisture, I soak a turkey breast in a salt brine overnight. The brine will lock in moisture and infuse the meat with the flavorful spices included in the mix. The use of a meat thermometer is also essential, the turkey is cooked to perfection when the internal temperature of the thickest part reaches 165°.

Creamy Mashed Potatoes

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No Thanksgiving dinner can be complete without mashed potatoes. For this version, I went for creamy and smooth. What does that really mean? Lots of added fat! Heavy cream and butter make these potatoes rich and decadent. The chives add a hint of onion.

This is the way I expect mashed potatoes when I order them at a nice restaurant as a side to a cut of meat or some other star on the plate. Just a nice flavorful side of potatoes. Usually, I like to add cheese, bacon bits or a more fragrant herb like rosemary or thyme. But those flavors appear elsewhere in this Thanksgiving feast and that's what makes this version so good – it's just about the potato!

Perunamuusi (Mashed Potato)

Green Beans with Caramelized Onions

I bought these beans fresh the night before cooking this feast and when I cleaned them the next day I decided to leave them long and intact, rather than cut them into thirds. This choice made the final product a different experience when it came to consuming. Instead of stabbing at a pile of beans with my fork and getting 4 or 5 bean chunks on it before taking a bite, I was just fishing for one at a time, much like the way I eat asparagus. It was a different and welcomed change. I also left the beans slightly crunchy. It made for a nicer texture and gave this side a savory salad feel.

The other two elements in this dish put this one out of the park. Smoky bacon and sweet caramelized onions. Need I say more? Well yes, I need to say just a little more – the sweet onions and smoky bacon act as a smoky and sweet dressing to the beans. The bacon provides the salt in the dish, a little pepper can be thrown in if desired. The crunchy, al denté-cooked beans are the star here and the other two ingredients come along for the show, providing small hints of extra flavor.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Eat well, cook often ...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Meatballs: A Savory Little Bite

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I love meatballs. They are versatile and unique to the individual that makes them. The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson sums up meatballs the best, he says, There are “many manifestations around the world of this item, which is essentially minced meat (of any edible animal) formed into a ball and cooked in various ways.” I like the “any edible animal” phrase. Makes me wonder if an explorer in Antarctica has ever tried to make meatballs out of penguin.

For this recipe, I use lightly sautéd vegetables to add an extra layer of flavor to the meatball instead of herbs or spices. The light cooking will remove the raw flavor. When raw garlic is added to a meatball mixture it can take over and turn it into a garlic ball. (same is true with meatloaf) These meatballs are browned in a skillet before finishing in the oven so that they have a nice crust on the outside. I served these individually with a simple marinara sauce. They work as a snack for a party or as a center piece of a family meal.

I generally try to avoid doing a recipe for sandwiches in consecutive posts. I had originally planned to make a pasta and meatball dish as the second part but I could not resist. I have a special place in my heart for meatball subs. (here I call it a boat – more on that later)

I went to visit Ball State University in the Fall of 1992 for orientation. I had been accepted for the spring semester and was summoned to get all the paper work finalized and see the beautiful campus located in Muncie, Indiana. It was my first glimpse of the place where I would spend the next four and a half years, earning a bachelors degree with two majors, journalism and history.

On that rainy fall day, I ate lunch at Subway. I ordered a Meatball Marinara Sub and proceeded to slop it all over my sweatshirt. Unscathed by the mess I had made of myself, I got my paperwork finished, toured the campus and got completely fired up to get started and join the group of people that will always be able to say they "went away to school." Everytime I eat a meatball sub it reminds me of the adventurous kid who took a chance and left the security blanket of home. Funny how a certain food or meal can remind you of such specific things in the past.

One thing I don't like about meatball subs is the mess. That is why I hollowed out a hoagie and stuffed it rather than cut it in half. It made for a much easier sub to devour - which I did in about three bites!

Eat well, cook often ...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Steakhouse ThickBurger: A True Man Bite

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While watching football a couple weeks ago, I saw a commercial for Hardee’s and Carl Jr’s new Six Dollar Steakhouse Thickburger. According to the ad, the sandwich was created by Hamblor, god of hamburgers. He has the power to shoot french fried onions from his hand, rides a giant saint bernard that carries a keg of A1 steak sauce around its neck and he is flanked by beautiful goddesses that seem to love eating massive burgers. Laughing hysterically at this divine commercial, I made a pilgrimage to get one.

After devouring this glorious celebration of beef and bun, I knew it was my earthly duty to recreate it. What make this sandwich stand out is the french fried onion strings that give the burger a nice crunchy element. Also, blue cheese crumbles work surprisingly well with the tang of A1 sauce. I’m confident Hamblor and his goddesses would agree that this homemade version is far superior to the one prepared in a flurry at the chain store.

Had the Catholic church presented such holy visions as Hamblor and his busty goddesses as part of sunday school growing up, I would have been valedictorian of St. John Bosco's confirmation class in 1988. But that is exactly what the add is targeting – Guys. Guys 18 to 34 to be specific. That's the demographic Carl Jr's. and Hardee's market their food too.

In the past, they have used scantily clad celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton and Audrina Partridge to sell their food. In 2005, Carl Jr's created an uproar with an add that featured a provocatively dressed Paris Hilton washing a car and eating a Spicy BBQ Six Dollar Burger. It created such a frenzy when it was released that a company-made mini-website featuring a longer ad billed as to racy for television crashed for nearly 4 hours do to heavy traffic it was not equipped to handle.

I learned all of this after I ate and recreated the burger. I went and bought two of these sandwiches. One to eat, and another to take apart and study for the purpose of this post. The Steakhouse Thickburger was made for men – Complete with an ad campaign featuring a Hamburger god flanked by gorgeous women indulging on it.

This is a true Man Bite.

Eat well, cook often ...

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Roast for Dinner Part 3: The Corn

This corn dish is the second side to my roasted pork loin, but really this is a side to the mashed potatoes! I love mixing corn with my taters! I have done it since I was a kid. Throw in the red pepper - I'm in side dish heaven.

This recipe is quick and easy. The toughest part is chopping the ingredients. I use canned corn here. I marvel at the Food Network cooks. It seems like most of them always roast whole ears then slice off the corn.  I've never had great luck with that. When I cook an ear of corn I eat it on the cob! I'm usually a purist and cook with fresh ingredients but corn is an exception for me.

Of all the peppers, the red pepper is my favorite. I think it's sweeter than a green pepper and there's no heat, unlike chilis. That combination makes it versatile and I use it in many of the dishes I create. I especialy love them roasted! I think that would have worked well here also.

Cooking an entire meal and breaking it up into my separate entries for the blog is new for me. I think this is how I'm going to approach the complex meals and bites that I feature here. It allows me to concentrate on the details of each element rather than a huge post, like my pumpkin feast, with a massive info graphic in the middle. Don't get me wrong, I still love to create giant recipe infographics. It's just a better work flow for me to break up the bites. I can still put them all together in the end but I guess I'll have to save that for the book.

I need to create a word for recipe infographics, any suggestion?

Eat well, cook often ...

Part 1: The Loin
Part 2: The Potatoes

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Roast For Dinner Part 2: The Potatoes

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The potato side dish for my roasted pork dinner contains not only cheddar cheese but a little fresh rosemary as well. I love the taste of pork with rosemary, but I left it off the pork and incorporated it into the side. I leave fresh herbs off meat when I am roasting it for a long time in the oven. They seem to crisp up and burn when bathed in heat for such a long period. If I had choose to use rosemary on the roast, I would have used the dried version and probably incorporated it into the brine.

I leave the skin on the potatoes for nutrients and looks. (I always do when using red potatoes) I add butter for creaminess, and mash it all together. It is simple and comes together in about 25 minutes. It's a great compliment to the tender pork loin.

Part 1: Perfectly Roasted Pork Loin
Part 3: Sweet Corn and Red Pepper Relish

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Roast For Dinner Part 1: The Loin

It’s a common belief that pork needs to be cooked into oblivion before humans can eat it safely. In my family, Dad is notorious for burning it on the grill. Most books say to cook it to an internal temperature somewhere between 170° and 185°. This will provide a dry and overcooked product.

Printable version
The misconception about how to cook pork comes from the fear of trichinosis. In the past, this was a legitimate threat and people commonly contracted it from eating pork that was under cooked. Today, trichinosis has been virtually eliminated because of legislation prohibiting the feeding of raw-meat garbage to pigs. As a precaution, the Center for Disease Control says that whole pork loin should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145° and rested for three minutes to eliminate any threat.

For this recipe, I soak a loin in a simple brine overnight and I roast it to 150° (a little extra just to assure my Dad it’s safe). Then rest it 10 minutes. The end result – a juicy, tender and safe slice of pork.

Roasting the pork to the right temperature is key to a tender and juicy bite – but the brine is equally important. I have preached about brine on this blog before. (Right here) I swear by it. It is the best way (beyond frying) to get juicy and tender pork or turkey.

It was time to get the facts about pork and the temperature it is supposed to be cooked, out into the world. I have been cooking pork until it's just cooked through for years and I can't tell you how many times I have heard it's not cooked enough. I never plate uncooked or unsafe pork. I just pull it from the heat at the right temperature. People are trained to think pork needs to be destroyed in order to eat it. It doesn't. You'll never go back if you try it.

For the test cook of this recipe I used the simple brine listed and then cut the loin in half and used two different rubs. What stood out after cooking it wasn't the rubs at all. It was the succulent pork! I decided then to make this column a simple and basic recipe that features perfectly cooked and seasoned pork. I can feature a new rub later on down the line. I thought it was more important to share the technique.

I made an entire meal when I did the second cook. To compliment the loin, rosemary-cheddar mashed potatoes and a sweet corn relish with red pepper join the party. The step by step instruction for these recipes will be featured here in the next two posts. It's perfect for any dinner fiesta.

Part 2: Rosemary-cheddar mashed potatoes
Part 3: Corn and red pepper relish

Eat well, cook often ...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Great Pumpkin Feast

I have a theory about pumpkins and Halloween. Back in the old days, when people subsisted on the land, families lived on what was growing on the farm. That meant October was filled with a steady diet of pumpkin and other winter squash. If a hard-working farmer was forced to eat pumpkin every night for a month, I can see why he might take great pleasure in plunging a butcher knife into one and carving it into a spooky decoration to scare small children for Halloween.

Printable version
For this recipe, roasted pumpkin is the star of a feast featuring a spicy soup and flat bread which includes spinach and ricotta cheese. The soup is smokey with cumin. The heat is in the seeds that are sprinkled on just before eating. I wasn’t thrilled with this flat bread when I first tasted it. But, other than spaghetti squash, I have never really liked any of the winter squash varieties.

It was when I witnessed my niece slurp chunks of pumpkin off her slice – like a shop vac picking up gravel – that I decided to use it. She and my Mom loved it. If you like pumpkin, you’ll like this. I call this flat bread and not pizza because it contains no sauce and pizza crust was just the easiest option to deliver the toppings. I could have used a number of different breads to the same effect. (For the newspaper version of the column I did call it a pizza.)

While I was making a recipe for spaghetti squash the week before last, I ate it 4 days in a row. I was really tired of it to say the least. My opening thought about pumpkins and Halloween and taking pleasure in carving a pumpkin is what popped into my head. I wrote it down, like I do when any peculiar thought comes to me, something I started doing while I was a working stand up comic. When I started to think about what I was going to make for this week, I decided to incorporate pumpkin. I created this pumpkin feast because of a quirky paragraph I wrote the week before. Ironically it was inspired by another member of the winter squash family. Sounds crazy but here we are.

I really had never made anything with pumpkin before.

I started by roasting it al dente. I knew that I would be applying heat again to it, so I didn't want it to be complete mush when I pulled it from the oven. The first batch I roasted, I seasoned the pumpkin with different spices. I realized then that pumpkin itself is an acquired taste and, unlike beer, I hadn't really acquired a taste for it. The spices didn't help. The second batch I seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper and went from there.

For the soup, I was inspired by potato-leek soup. I replaced the potato with pumpkin. I start with the smokey flavor of bacon and end with the compliment of cumin. The seeds feature smokey chipotle and contain the zing for the dish. If I made this again, I would serve it as a shot with the seeds going on right before it is consumed. I could see this as a gourmet appetizer for a fall party.

For the flat bread, I choose to compliment the rich and creamy flavor of pumpkin with ricotta cheese and spinach - and it worked. As I mention in the introduction, I just don't care for the flavor of pumpkin. The soup features bolder flavors that mask it, the flat bread is all about pumpkin. I really thought my efforts were a bust until other family members – who happen to love pumpkin – couldn't get enough of it. The recipe wasn't bad, it was my dislike of pumpkin that soiled it. I rarely eat pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving and have only ever enjoyed the seeds. The soup I would make again for myself, but I'll never crave the flatbread. I would make it for my family but, if I were to make it for myself, I would replace the pumpkin with artichoke and shower it with some fresh grated ... oh wait, that's for another post.

Eat well, cook often ...