Thursday, November 22, 2007

Lumberjacks and Jack o’Lanterns

pumpkin-briocheThough, technically, autumn began a few weeks ago, there have been few nights in the past couple of months with real fall crispness. Remember how warm it still was on Halloween? And I don’t just look forward to autumn—I crave it. The burning colors, brisk air that yields pink cheeks, leaves crunching under a new pair of leather boots…to say nothing of the food! On plenty of the recent October’s summery nights, I said “to hell with this heat wave” and tried to channel that luscious autumn chill by throwing cardamom and nutmeg into my dishes. Now that the need for coats has finally become constant and Thanksgiving is almost here, I’m celebrating the season’s true arrival by searching out one of my favorite autumn ingredients, good for both savory and sweet: pumpkin.

Pumpkin, the object of much of my autumnal food lust, deserves a fate better than canned pie filling or spooky, carved up, hollowed out, gourd carcass.I’ve seen it used in a lot of inventive ways in the past, but this season, I’m eating it around town, out of town, and exploring some recipes of my own creation.

Recently, I went up to New Hampshire for a girlfriend’s wedding. When we arrived at the bride’s parents’ house for the rehearsal dinner, we were greeted by the creaks and groans of well-trodden hardwood floors and the kind of warmth on your face that only a crackling fireplace can provide. As my ladies wandered from room to room marveling at family photographs and then made their way outside to the bonfire in the backyard, I happily snooped around the kitchen, imagining how fabulous it would be to wake up in a house like that, descend the stairs barefoot, bundled up in a knit woolen blanket, an antique teapot whistling away on the stove, and some lumberjack sort of man in a flannel shirt pouring real maple syrup over the stack of pancakes he’d laid out, awaiting me, on the rustic wooden table (that he’d made with his bare hands, of course)… you get the idea. A very “Food and Wine meets Harlequin novel” fantasy, I realize. That’s my way!

I was so wrapped up in my lumberjack/flapjack fantasy that, at first, I didn’t notice Sara calling out to me (with more than a little of her signature sarcastic tone), “Uh-oh, Kimberly, you have got to take a look at this.There’s something here you’re gonna love.” When I snapped out of it, I turned and saw her pointing to a loaf of brioche…shaped into a pumpkin, shiny from a good egg-wash shellacking, complete with an adorable, little stem rising from the top. “Sooo cute,” I cooed. (I am, fact, more likely to describe a loaf of bread with that exclamation than a puppy, or the tiny clothes people fawn over in the window of the Baby Gap). Sara rolled her eyes and left me to admire the pumpkin loaf, muttering that she hoped there was something without a ton of carbs for her to eat during the dinner, since she was already feeling guilty about the indulgent 7 Eleven Slurpee she’d sucked down during the car ride up to New England. I assured her this one would be very different from a typical pumpkin loaf, which is, of course, often heavy with the crunch of walnuts, good and sweet, and perfect for breakfast or as dessert.Alas, she would have none. But she MISSED OUT, because it was delicious—a touch of spice combined with the light, buttery chewy-ness of a brioche. I slathered my piece with some sweet butter and devoured it wantonly.

There was a wide array of goodies at that rehearsal dinner, and the wedding, for that matter, but the cleverness of that brioche loaf was what set me to contemplating other pumpkin creations. Pumpkin soups, pastas, cookies—at home, I went tearing through my loose-leaf recipe collection.

Here’s a little something to satisfy your pumpkin craving and put the seeds to good use. Tomorrow I’ll give you something to sprinkle them on top of:

Naughty & Nice Pumpkin Seeds

Both sweet and spicy, naughty and nice, the dueling flavor profile of these seeds hits the g-spot for lovers of pumpkin (and lumberjacks) far and wide. They make the perfect road-trip snack and can be used as a crunchy topping on anything from soups and salads to pastas and muffins. So wrap that pashmina tightly around your shoulders, break out your gloves, and warm up with this toasted treat:

•1 cup raw Pumpkin Seeds

•1/4 cup Butter (melted)

•1 T Tabasco Sauce

•1 T ground Ginger

•1/2 T Cayenne Pepper

•1 TB Sugar

•1 T Cinnamon

•1/2 T Nutmeg

•1/4 T Allspice

·2 pinches of Kosher Salt

One large pumpkin or one smaller sugar pie pumpkin yields about 1 cup of pumpkin seeds.Scoop the seeds from the pumpkin and rinse. Some small pieces of pumpkin pulp may adhere, but they won’t hurt the seeds and might even add a little more flavor. Pat seeds dry with a cloth towel to prevent sticking.

Toss the seeds with the butter, Tabasco, sugar, and spices.

Place pumpkin seeds on un-greased cookie sheet.Bake at 300 degrees for 35-45 minutes or until golden brown and crisp, stirring seeds once halfway through baking.Store in an airtight container.


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