Pumpkin-centric Weekend

It seems like I spent the majority of my time over this past weekend dealing with pumpkins. On Friday night I cooked up all three of my orange jack-o-lanterns (I had two white ones as well, but they had white flesh and a melon-like consistency, so I decided they probably wouldn’t cook up well with the more traditional kind). Even without the white pumpkins, I think I will have enough to last me for a while.

This is all going into the freezer for now, but a good quantity of it will become pumpkin butter as soon as I deal with the other fresh food in my fridge that I have to put up. I did a lot better this year with regards to processing my pumpkin in a timely manner, since I only got to it at the start of December. I mean, it hadn’t spoiled, but I was definitely running slow. I didn’t have a lot of leeway this year since the gourds were already carved, and once the innards are exposed to the air they can go bad pretty quickly.


Photo by Karen Turnbull

Then on Saturday I headed out to Metcalfe where the South Tower Armouring Guild was hosting their annual Great Pumpkin Massacre. Basically, sword handling enthusiasts get together with their weapons and take turns using them on pumpkins, which are bought by the truckload after Halloween. People also bring along their Halloween pumpkins and carved jack-o-lanterns. All kinds of weapons are used in the “massacre”: swords, axes, knives, maces, sledgehammers, machetes… No projectile weapons, though! Everybody just hangs out and has fun practicing their technique and/or venting their frustrations in a safe environment on some inanimate gourds. It may sound silly to some, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

Looking back through my photos I realized that I’ve actually been attending this event for eleven years! The above photo was taken by a good friend of mine back in 2009, on a year when the weather was much nicer. I didn’t even bring my camera this year because it was raining and I didn’t want to chance getting it wet. (And yes, the sword I’m holding in the picture is taller than I am. It belongs to a much taller person. Yes, I can wield it. No, I cannot wield it well.)

Although I took the above photo of a friend of mine in 2014, it’s a better representation of the weather we had yesterday — and everyone was even more bundled up than this! And muddy. Very, very muddy. It was very cold and wet, with wind that just drove the moist, cold air right through your warm woollies. We still had a good time, but it would have been better if the weather had been lovely and sunny like it was on Sunday.

Pumpkin Massacre 2018 Slo-Mo

As you can see, despite the weather the pumpkin horde met their demise. I think that this year’s weapon of choice was the sledgehammer, specifically because it makes the pumpkins splat so nicely.

I’d like to say a big thank you to STAG for hosting and coordinating this event every year. It has been one of the highlights of my autumn for eleven years now.

Halloween Food

One of the things I try to do every year is to send some treats to school with my kids for Halloween. Some years those treats aren’t food, and instead come in the form of seasonal trinkets such as erasers and pencils (especially the stacking point kind because it brings back so many happy memories from my childhood). If I choose to send along food, I prefer for it not to be straight-up candy, since I know that the kids will be getting enough of that when it comes time for trick-or-treating. This year, Thing 2 requested that I whip up another batch of her favourite Graveyard Five-Layer Dip, which was an easy enough wish to grant. But since Thing 1’s favourite thing is, in her words, “chocolate with chocolate in it and chocolate on top,” I had to make something else for her.

I was inspired by Delish’s Pumpkin Patch Brownies for Thing 2’s dish, enough so that I even baked a second batch for her to take to her Girl Guides Halloween party as well. However, I wanted to make the brownies themselves from scratch instead of from a boxed mix. (I generally find that if a boxed mix requires additional eggs, water, and oil, you’re really just paying a lot extra per pound to have someone pre-mix your dried ingredients for you.) I used the Book Club Brownies recipe on page 762 of the Joy of Cooking (75th Anniversary Edition, Rombauer & Becker, 2006). It’s a solid recipe that is based on the Brownies Cockaigne that has appeared in Joy since the original 1931 edition. Since I knew that these brownies would be eaten in a classroom, I opted for making them slightly less messy by not adding the frosting and Oreo “dirt”. Instead, I just traced the “vines” on with green icing and made sure that every square got a pumpkin — since every kid argues about which piece is “better” based on number of toppings.

As can be surmised from my Happy Halloween! post, we also carved our pumpkins this year. In an attempt to waste as little food as possible, I had the girls separate the guts from the seeds while I cleaned out the pumpkins. Then I roasted the seeds with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, on a sheet pan in the oven for about 30 minutes at 300°F (150°C), checking every ten minutes or so. They turned out lovely and will make a wonderfully crunchy, salty snack while they last. It always surprises me how few seeds you get from a single pumpkin! This is the result of five quite large gourds, and it probably won’t last us a week.

Happy Halloween!

I hope you all have a safe and happy Halloween! We just have our fingers crossed that it doesn’t rain or snow while I’m supposed to be taking the kids out trick-or-treating.

(The three pumpkins to the left were designed by me, the one second from right by Thing 2, and the one to the far right by Thing 1. I carved them all this year, but I think next year that Thing 1 at least will be old enough to do her own.)

Pumpkin Spice Muffins & Cheerios

It’s no secret that I love pumpkin spice. A lot of people joke that it’s a flavouring made specifically for white women, and there may be some substance to that. After all, it does smell distinctly like the pumpkin pie that was a treat in my family around Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I’m guessing that other people of a similar background have similar nostalgia. They say that smell has a great deal of power when it comes to memory, at any rate.

When I was growing up, though, pumpkin spice wasn’t in everything come fall. Pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread, if you were lucky, and that was about it. The popularity of Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte is what really got the ball rolling, at least around here. I’m not a coffee drinker, so I was later than many about hopping on the bandwagon. I really rather liked the Oreos and the Kahlua. That being said, I firmly believe that some things really don’t need to be pumpkin spice flavoured, or have been poorly done, so I like to try out a few new dishes every autumn as a kind of experiment.

The first dish that I tried this week was pumpkin spice muffins baked from Krusteaz Pumpkin Spice Quick Bread Mix, which I bought from Costco on a recent trip. The box says that you can make loaves, pancakes, cookies, and muffins, but I was feeling lazy so I just made the muffins. They rose nicely and looked great in the pan, but they fell and became rather overly moist once they left the oven, despite being cooked through. Even so, they were fairly tasty; the kids especially liked them.

For my part, I think I will stick to the Joy of Cooking‘s Pumpkin Bread recipe for this kind of muffin. I’ve had better luck with this recipe in the past. However, I do wonder, in the case of the mix, if it’s trying to do too many things — or if a different preparation might suit the mix better? At any rate, I have three more packages of mix to cook, so I should be able to try them all out.

I also tried some Pumpkin Spice Cheerios. These are definitely a sweet cereal, which to me isn’t suited to breakfast at all. Actually, I found them quite cloying in (unsweetened almond) milk. However, they’re not half bad dry, and make quite a nice snack. However, if I’m going for a sweet Cheerio, I much prefer Apple Cinnamon Cheerios. They came out in 1988, so they have a place in my heart as being a special treat from my childhood (we weren’t allowed sugary cereal except on special occasions). Also, I just find that they taste less sweet and cloying, which is funny because according to the nutrition info, pumpkin spice has 8g of sugar per serving, and apple cinnamon has 9g. Maybe it’s how it’s cooked, or just the spice mixture? It’s even stranger when you realize that one of the major components in pumpkin spice is actually cinnamon. At any rate, I still like Apple Cinnamon Cheerios better.

Soup & Bread

I’m still trying to keep the energy consumption around the house as low as possible post-tornado, in an attempt to do my part to keep demand on the grid low until the Merivale power station is repaired. So tonight’s dinner was as simple as possible:

That’s Slow Cooker Caribbean Lobster Bisque that I had made back in August in bulk, so all I had to do was thaw it in the microwave and serve with the last of my ciabatta buns! Super easy. Make-ahead meals are perfect for times like this when it’s just not possible or practical to make a complicated homemade meal. Sadly, this marks the last of the bisque I had in the freezer, so I’ll have to make some more the next time I find lobster on sale — after all of the repairs to the grid are made.

Slow Cooker Caribbean Lobster Bisque Recipe

About four years ago I had the opportunity to try PC Jammin’ Jamaican Lobster Bisque, which is a frozen entree that was created by Winslow Taylor of Mississauga, Ontario for the PC Recipe to Riches contest. I loved it! It was creamy and filling with just the right amount of bite. Sadly, this frozen dinner didn’t stay on the shelves long, and it has been years since it’s been in production, I think. So a I did some research and some testing, and I came up with what I consider to be a really nice non-dairy Caribbean-style lobster bisque that you can make in a slow cooker. I originally posted this recipe in my old blog a few years back, but I’ve had the chance to refine it somewhat since then. Enjoy!

Slow Cooker Caribbean Lobster Bisque

In a frying pan, gently heat:
1 Tbsp olive oil
To the oil, add:
1 white onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
Saute until the onions are clear. Stir often so that they do not brown. Put sauteed items in slow cooker.
Add to slow cooker:
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
3 cups pumpkin* puree**
6 Roma tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded & chopped
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt***
1 tsp paprika****
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 tsp Scotch Bonnet hot pepper sauce*****
With a large sharp knife, cut off the fan part at the bottom of:
4 lobster tails****** (totaling 400g or more)
Reserve the remaining meaty parts of the lobster tails for later.
Add the fan part of the lobster tails to the crock pot. Stir. Cover and cook in the slow cooker for 6 hours on low.
Remove and discard lobster tail ends & thyme. Using a blender or food processor, puree the soup until it has an even, creamy consistency. Put the soup back in the slow cooker, and add the reserved meaty parts of the lobster tail. Stir, cover, and cook for about 45min to 1hr, or until lobster shells are pink and meat is cooked through. Remove remaining lobster from the slow cooker and let it cool until it is comfortable to handle.
While the lobster is cooling, stir into the slow cooker:
1 can (400mL) coconut milk
Remove lobster flesh from the shells. Discard shells. Chop lobster flesh into small bite-sized pieces and add to the slow cooker. Stir.
Optionally, garnish each serving with:
a sprinkle of fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped

This bisque is delicious as an appetizer or as a lunch. It freezes well; I like to freeze it in single-sized portions so that I can take it along with me for work lunches. It goes well with crusty bread and strong cheese.

Notes:
* Equal quantities of winter squash puree such as butternut, calabaza, or Hubbard squash may be substituted.
** When I can my own squash, it comes out much more watery than the commercial canned versions. If you are using a thicker canned squash, add enough water to the mixture in the slow cooker so that it has the consistency of a thinner cream soup. This amount will vary depending on the consistency of the puree.
*** If you use regular chicken broth instead of the reduced-sodium version called for in this recipe, omit the salt. If you use homemade chicken broth with no salt at all, add an extra 1 tsp salt.
**** If you can get it, smoked paprika adds an extra layer of flavour to this recipe. Otherwise, regular paprika will do.
***** I used the Scotch Bonnet hot pepper sauce made by Grace (which is available at most grocery stores around here), but you can use the one of your choice. My original recipe called for 4 tsp of this sauce, but it ended up too hot for anyone in my family except me. If you like your food spicy, add a little more than 2 tsp. If you aren’t that fond of spice, cut it down to 1 tsp for a tiny bit of a bite. If you don’t like spice at all, you can omit the sauce altogether for a mild bisque redolent with coconut – although if you do this, I’d recommend adding more thyme.
****** I have used lobster tails to make this soup, I have also done it with satisfactory results with other (cheaper) parts of the crustacean, like the claws. Just set aside the bigger, meatier parts for the last step of cooking, and use the smaller, mostly-shell parts for the slow-cooking stage to add flavour. Remember to take any parts with shell out before you blend!

Boxing Day

Boxing Day in our family is mostly a relaxing day where we play with our new Christmas toys and then head over to my parents’ place for the traditional turkey dinner. (I would have taken pictures of the food, but we all dug in so quickly that I didn’t have a chance!) Mom’s turkey dinner includes stuffing, gravy, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, butternut squash and apple casserole. Dad makes Yorkshire pudding that we either cover in gravy or spread with butter.

My contribution to the meal this year was my usual pumpkin pie. It’s usually one of my best desserts, but I was really disappointed with it this time. The consistency was good, the crust was reasonable (considering it was in the fridge for two days), but the filling was almost bitter. I distinctly remember putting sugar in the filling, but I doubled the recipe and I think what I did was double everything except the sugar. This also means that I have a second, bitter-tasting pumpkin pie sitting in my freezer that I might just throw out. What a waste. It was almost palatable smothered in whipped cream, but that’s not a ringing endorsement.

See, this is what happens when you bake for three days straight in preparation for a holiday: something’s bound to get messed up. I should have just thawed one of the berry pies that I’d frozen for future use back in the summer. I wanted to be traditional with pumpkin pie, but in retrospect it would have been better to lighten the cooking load a bit. Oh, well. Maybe I’ll have learned my lesson by next year.