battle 12–day 3–pumpkin

Pumpkin week ended with a mini-vacation to Southern California where we planned to get our ghoul on for Halloween. We and 13 of our friends rented a totally shabby 5,000-square-foot shack on a golf course, put in many long hours of hard labor by the pool during the day, and suffered through some really boring live music at night. It was a tough gig. To relieve us of this misery, my initial plan was to bake and bring everyone pumpkin treats—pumpkin crisp and pumpkin cookies—but some last-minute packing emergencies (i.e., I didn’t start packing until the last minute) derailed that plan, so instead I took some breaks from the laborious tasks of sleeping late and lounging in the hot tub to bake the crisp and cookies in the shack’s grossly oversized kitchen.

The recipes for both pumpkin treats originated with Supporter Jenn, and before that I think they might have come from a Phish chat board (who knew people used these boards for talking about more than which version of what song they saw at what show what year under what circumstances and whether it rained?), but they were both super easy and–for my vegetarian friends, which are, I think, like, all of you–totally meatless.

This was the first time I’d cooked anything in a kitchen other than my own, which was a challenge. I thought about this earlier in the week when Lauren was making lasagna in our kitchen, because she mostly didn’t seem fazed by the fact that she was in someone else’s kitchen making this extremely complicated recipe, but when I looked around I realized it was probably because she’d brought her kitchen with her, all her own pots, pans and utensils. I mean, she even brought her own casserole dish. Pfft. I have a casserole dis… nope. I absolutely do not own the size of casserole dish Lauren used for pumpkin lasagna. Oh, snap.

Of course, before I got lost in that gigantic kitchen, I got lost in the grocery store, which I thought was totally reasonable since I was practically in a foreign country. PROJECT 29 to 30 Steph, who had already done her new thing for the day, turned her attention to helping me find evaporated milk. No shit, it took us 20 minutes and walking up and down the same four aisles 12 times before she finally found it on the coffee aisle. For real? When I bought evaporated milk a few days earlier in Atlanta (before the packing emergency), I found it on the baking aisle, so I thought it couldn’t possibly just be my grocery store ignorance that had us wandering the store for so many minutes. To soothe my ego about this recurring issue, I did some investigating on getting lost in the grocery store and found this awesome piece about placement of grocery stock. Suddenly I felt a lot less bad about all the times I’ve been lost at the farmers’ market. From now on whenever I can’t find something I’m just going to blame it on the stock boys. Assholes.

Back at the house I fumbled around the imposing kitchen looking for all the baking accoutrements I would need for my first pumpkin treat: pumpkin crisp. Despite its impressive demeanor, the kitchen of our casa de fancy pants was seriously lacking in cooking and baking supplies. I imagine the people who live in these kinds of houses don’t do much cooking. They have people for that. Fortunately for me, I can barely tell one kitchen item from another, so using a broiler pan as a cookie sheet was completely acceptable. Our real only obstacle, which threatened to be relatively major, was that no one could figure out how to work the can opener. Actually, we weren’t even sure the object we were using was a can opener or a cork screw; when we finally determined it was probably the former it became even more frustrating when it turned out to be nothing more than a can-opener-or-corkscrew-shaped paperweight, since accessing the contents of the can was kind of crucial for assembling the pumpkin treats.  You know. Pumpkin.

can opener

Several people had gathered in the kitchen at this point—either because they were shocked I was actually awake before noon (Sarah F), or this was the first time they had actually seen me cook (Sarah F), or because actual real breakfast food was happening on the stove (everyone else)—and it was someone among this group who finally noticed that an electric can opener had been sitting on the counter the whole time, laughing at us as we each took turns fighting with the can opener/corkscrew paperweight. Whatever.

Things moved at lightning speed after that. Ingredients mixed. Mixture in oven. Pumpkin crisp baked, removed and summarily devoured. Because the crisp was so easy to make after those first few hiccups, it made me think about how easy my life will be once I know where every single thing is in the grocery store and once I have every single kitchen item at my disposal forever until eternity. I can cut prep time on everything down to like 30 seconds. This was such a great daydream. Until I made the fucking cookies. Goddamn fucking pumpkin cookies.

I took a break between the crisp and the cookies. A long break. I consumed a few adult beverages. And sat by the pool a little. And lounged in the hot tub a bit. And took a nap. By the time I got around to the cookies, I was A) overconfident and B) drunk. The thing about cookies is you have to have sustained interest in tending to them in fits and starts: one batch in and one batch out, remove some to cool, put more on the cookie sheet, another batch in, another batch out. Blah, blah, blah. But there’s always a weird time period of five or seven minutes in between with nothing to do; it’s just short enough that you can’t really start a new chore or project, but just long enough to be bored to tears standing in the kitchen by yourself. Cookies really aren’t for me. I read over the recipe again while the first batch was in the oven, trying to entertain myself at my little pity party in the kitchen. It was then that I discovered the flaw in cooking while overconfident and under the influence (CWOUI): things such as, like, measurements get blurry but you don’t care. I might have accidentally added twice the amount of pumpkin the recipe called for. Oops.

To fix this I just started adding shit to the remaining batter. To be fair, this little revelation made my pity party a lot more interesting. A little more flour here, a dash more of whatever else was in the recipe there, and voila….fuck, more batter. More cookies. More time standing here by myself. I really hate baking cookies.

Pumpkin crisp, in. Pumpkin cookies, out.

**********************************

Pumpkin Crisp

Prep: 15 min.; Bake: 1 hr., 5 min.; Stand: 10 min.

1  (15-ounce) can pumpkin
1  cup evaporated milk
1  cup sugar
1  teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon
1  (18.25-ounce) package butter-flavored yellow cake mix (I used Betty Crocker Super Moist Butter Recipe Yellow Cake Mix, per the original recipe’s suggestion)
1  cup chopped pecans (I skipped the pecans, but eh, it was still delicious)
1  cup butter, melted
Whipped cream (optional) (I didn’t do this optional part, but I’m sure it would have been great)
Ground nutmeg (optional) (I don’t think I did this either, I don’t like nutmeg)

Stir together first 5 ingredients. Pour into a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle cake mix evenly over pumpkin mixture; sprinkle evenly with pecans. Drizzle butter evenly over pecans.  Bake at 350° for 1 hour to 1 hour and 5 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven, and let stand 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream, if desired. Sprinkle with nutmeg, if desired.

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battle 12–day 2 1/2–pumpkin (lasagna recipe)

Hi friends. I’m still here. And even though pumpkin week totally revived me from my winter vegetable funk, I promptly went on vacation to sunny southern Cali and left half my brain there. Whenever it decides to rejoin me, I’ll post more updates about the cooking I did out there and what I’ve done since I’ve been home (I found kohlrabi!).

In the meantime, I’ve had a lot of friendly and insistent reminders to post the pumpkin lasagna recipe. It was one of the best meals of the whole project so I encourage everyone to do it while pumpkins are still in season (the cooking ones, not the smashing ones). Many thanks again to BFF Lauren for this gem.

Northern Italian Pumpkin Lasagna, from “Pumpkin, A Super Food for All 12 Months of the Year”

1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced (Lauren skipped the onion for me)
2 lbs/4 cups fresh pumpkin, seeds and fibers removed, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp oregano
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ lb bulk sweet Italian chicken sausage (Lauren will have to verify what she used; I think it was special)
1 large clove garlic, minced

12 oven-ready/no-boil lasagna noodles* (Lauren boiled whole-wheat noodles)

Béchamel sauce:
5 tbsp butter
6 tbsp unbleached, all-purpose flour
5 c nonfat milk
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp white pepper
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
3 c grated part-skim mozzarella
1 ½ c freshly grated parmesan

*Using no-cook noodles cuts out one step; however, if using regular noodles, cook and drain them and reduce the amount of sauce: use 4 tbsp butter, 5 tbsp flour, 4 c milk.

  1. Heat the butter and oil in a large sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for five minutes, or until wilted. (I say skip the onion. Yuck.)
  2. Stir in the pumpkin and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with the oregano, the salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Add the sausage and cook until it loses its color, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute longer. Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour. Cook for 1 minute, until bubbly. Whisk in the milk and cook, stirring, until mixture thickens and bubbles, about 5 minutes. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg, and set aside.
  4. Combine the two cheeses in a medium bowl.
  5. Heat the oven to 375.
  6. To assemble the lasagna, spray a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Ladle ¾ cup of sauce on the bottom of the pan and top with 3 noodles, placed crosswise.
  7. Pour another ¾ cup of sauce over the noodles, then 1/3 of the pumpkin filling. Sprinkle 1 cup of the cheese mixture over the filling. Repeat the layers of sauce, noodles, filling, and cheese twice. Top this with the remaining noodles, pour over the remaining sauce, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. The lasagna should look soupy.
  8. Spray a sheet of aluminum foil with nonstick spray and cover the top of the pan, with the oiled side facing down. Bake for 45 minutes, uncover, and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned and bubbly. Let sit for 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

Holy complicated. I’m so glad Lauren made this for me. Truly, it was worth every ounce of her effort.

battle 12–days 1 and 2–pumpkin

All I have to say is, thank god for pumpkin week. And all BFF Lauren had to say was, it was a good idea in theory…

Pfft. I thought scheduling pumpkins for Halloween week was a great idea since the stores and churches and schools and farms would be bursting with fresh patches of big, orange squashies. Then again, the only pumpkin item on my agenda that actually called for fresh pumpkin was the lasagna Lauren has been planning since the project started, so it wasn’t likely I would be dallying in any pumpkin patches and if there were gonna be any consequences of my bright idea (which there obviously were), I probably wouldn’t have to bear them.

Monday was still gloomy and gray so I spent most of that day thinking and planning (i.e., moaning and groaning) rather than shopping and cooking. While I was thinking, planning, moaning and groaning, I decided I should incorporate into pumpkin week the three most culturally prominent pumpkin foods: pumpkin pie, pumpkin seeds and Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte. Then I laughed. Like I’m going to make a pie. But I can probably manage seeds and a latte, and two outta three ain’t bad (thank you, Meatloaf).

At happy hour on Monday with Erin and Amber at the Spanish-Venezuelan-Cuban fusion Mezcalito’s in Oakhurst, I actually discovered a salad with pumpkin seeds (I mean, it’s not like I was digging for gold, it was just right there on the menu). So I added grilled steak to that bitch and knocked Day 1 out of the park. To be fair, they were just seeds and I couldn’t even really see them, so I’m not positive the kitchen remembered to put them on my salad, but it was a good try.

I was most looking forward to pumpkin lasagna on Day 2, though, which I really intended to be my inaugural pumpkin meal. BFF Lauren has been talking about pumpkins and pumpkin lasagna for weeks now, ever since she discovered a cookbook with nothing but pumpkin recipes (an entire book), because apparently pumpkin is not just a vegetable (and even that may be debatable), it’s a super food. I don’t know what a super food is, but it sounds important. Each time Lauren has made pumpkin lasagna she tells Facebook, and everyone there seems to agree it sounds delicious. So. Bring on the deliciousness.

Except for that one part about the consequences of my bright ideas…

OK, but for real, if you were planning this project, wouldn’t you have put pumpkin during Halloween week? It’s just fucking clever.

So the thing about pumpkins is they come in various sizes, most of which are appropriate for cooking, except at Halloween when their only sizes are big, bigger and monstrosities, which are really only appropriate for carving and smashing. Obviously I wouldn’t know this because when would I ever have had occasion to cook with a pumpkin before? And frankly, I didn’t know stores sold pumpkin at any time of the year other than Halloween. So actually, I thought I was doing pumpkin week a favor by situating it at the end of October. You’re welcome, pumpkin week.

But, eh, sorry, Lauren.

So Lauren, who had planned her day around pre-prepping the rather laborious pumpkin lasagna construction, wound up a bit perplexed by the scarcity of the cooking pumpkins amongst all the carving pumpkins. She got a carving pumpkin anyway and called me to let me know the situation and that it might be a little longer before she got to my house, like I had any fucking clue what she was talking about.

pumpkin

Meanwhile, back at my place, I served a pumpkin seed appetizer (it was just pumpkin seeds in a fancy bowl) to David and my sister, Bethany; played loud music; and showed off my best dance moves while they ignored me and talked about esoteric bullshit. Whatever, yo. It’s pumpkin week.

Lauren called again to say the larger pumpkin wasn’t working, so she was delayed because she had to go out and found some smaller ones. Now that she was prepped and ready to go, she and her pumpkin lasagna parts were officially on their way.

cooking pumpkin

Pumpkin lasagna has a lot of parts. I’ve discovered that most of the recipes of this project that have been really worth it have had a lot of parts. And pumpkin lasagna… so fucking worth it.

We spent the next hour doing what has come to be my favorite part of this project: spending time in the kitchen with friends and family around warmth and yummy smells. The buttery, orange pumpkin sautéing on the stove and the creamy white béchamel simmering in Lauren’s bright red pot were the perfect antidote to my winter vegetable blues. Suddenly I was transformed into a cozy snow bunny, dreaming of hot chocolate and roasting marshmallows by an open fire on chilly nights, bundled in sweaters and hats and scarves, mmmmmmmmm. I love pumpkin week!

bechamel

pumpkin lasagna


Lauren carefully layered all the parts—whole wheat noodles, sautéed pumpkin and chicken sausage, béchamel, and mozzarella and parmesan cheese—in a casserole dish and popped that prettiness in the oven. When it came out all pretty and golden 45 minutes later we ooh’d and ah’d. It was beautiful. A fucking masterpiece. Lauren was not surprised.

“I make pretty shit.”

And I win shit. We’re such a good team.


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