Happy Thanksgiving!

Vegetables | November 21, 2017 | By

Smashing pumpkins. It may be a band name and a vandal’s badge of Halloween infamy, but around this time of year I picture more of a British exclamation, “Smashing! Pumpkins?!” It’s the expression of my proud, mental high-five for making the move from canned pumpkins to fresh, as well as the internal bewilderment over why I didn’t do it earlier.

Pumpkins are so often viewed as ornamental, but they offer us so much more in terms of health benefits between their Vitamin C and beta carotene rich flesh, possible anti-cancer and immune boosting properties, and their seeds which have multiple health benefits. When you turn that beauty into a dessert, you can almost feel giddy about getting your fruit (though we think of it as a vegetable since it isn’t naturally sweet) that way.

My former sister-in-law told me that sugar pumpkins were easy to use and that her husband couldn’t go back to eating canned pumpkin after the first time she baked with them. I owe her one, especially since I’ve succumbed to feeding Daniel vegetables in the form of pouches and desserts just to get them into his body. I’m a little desperate. 

I put up an unadulterated picture of a naked roasted pumpkin to show you how not intimidating it is to cook and use them. You can almost palm these pumpkins, and somehow this feels good to someone my size who has never been able to palm a basketball. I palmed the peeling in this shot to remove it.

This is the easiest method I know to use sugar pumpkins. If you have any others, let me know. (I suppose, on a rushed day, I might put the whole pumpkin in and slice it open after it roasts if slicing it presents a challenge.)

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Wash and dry the pumpkins with paper towels.
  3. Holding the pumpkin steady with one hand at the base of the stem, press it against a cutting board and use the tip of your knife to cut into the center.
  4. Moving the knife horizontally across the equator of the pumpkin. The stem of the pumpkin should be north of your knife and the base of the pumpkin south of it. 
  5. Leave the peel on! 
  6. Scoop out the seeds and save them (cook separately using “Mary’s Method-to come in the recipe section soon)
  7. Stick the pumpkin halves on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper if you don’t want a lot to clean up at the end.
  8. Roast the pumpkins until they are tender between 30-45 minutes.
  9. Remove the peeling from each pumpkin half. In the photo above, we were able to lift the peeling off completely with no fuss.
  10. Puree the pumpkin in the blender.
  11. Use the puree in any recipe that calls for canned pumpkin. Be careful of waterlogged pumpkins which may need to be cooked down more before use in lieu of canned pumpkins.
  12. Warning: Don’t use your decorative pumpkins that you would normally carve into Jack-o-lanterns for this use, because they aren’t suited for dessert applications.

Last Thursday, we made hand held pumpkin filo desserts. They didn’t have the depth of pumpkin pie or the super smooth mouthfeel, because it doesn’t have a custard-like base (hence, it is also short several calories and grams of fat), but they were very good (even Daniel ate them). I appreciated the ability to do something different with pumpkins during the Thanksgiving season. We omitted the powdered sugar but added freshly whipped cream (of course, we added back in the fat we missed), and Daniel loved them! When we finished making them, I could see the link between this Greek dessert and modern day fast food chain, hand held pies but these are, of course, a better option. 

Next time, I’ll post the roasted pumpkin seed recipe and the pumpkin chocolate chip cookie recipe from Saucy Boy, so stayed tuned.

Wishing you many blessings this Thanksgiving, lots of fun, peace of heart and mind; and good health around your table, Rufina

Preserved Lemons: A Condiment Equivalent to that Perfect Little Black Dress

Poultry | September 10, 2017 | By

Preserved lemons in jarVenturing into the Unknown and Suspect

Around the same time, I came across a recipe for Moroccan chicken that called for preserved lemons as an ingredient. A vegan acquaintance raved about these lemons as a staple in her diet in salads, vinaigrettes, and anything else she felt needed some zing.

She made preserved lemons sound like the perfect little black dress, good dressed up or down, with a few different accessories. So I decided to try on some preserved lemons in my life. It marks the pursuit of something new, a shift in moving away from a Midwestern diet to other diets that are lighter or provide more interesting nutrients.

My Egyptian uncle-in-law once picked his California grown lemons off the tree in his yard and pickled them like his mother used to do. He let me try them, and I enjoyed the pleasantly explosion of sweetness vying with sourness in my mouth from one slice of that lemon. It perked me up almost in the same way a good espresso does. The pickling solution was familiar, and so those lemons fell within my comfort zone.

A fully brined lemon though, sounded overpowering and maybe in some ways unhealthy, like a high blood pressure producer. Despite this thought, I put aside that bias in order to learn something about authentic flavors in Moroccan cuisine. I wanted a new staple in my refrigerator ‘wardrobe’ that I could mix and match with more things and feel great about it.


Sweet Potato Politics

Food Politics | August 30, 2017 | By

sweet-potato-500A new problem has surfaced in agribusiness. ConAgra has decided that sweet potatoes are the new potato. And it isn’t good enough. Orange is the new white, I suppose.

There was a time in life when I grew sexy, plump non-GMO tomatoes in the back of my Cambridge, Massachusetts condo. In my urban haven, an oasis of herbs and tomatoes existed to make my solitary Sundays bright with rituals of biting straight into a tomato like an apple. For contrast and salt, I enjoyed shaved parmigiano reggiano drizzled with olive oil to savor between the luscious, juicy bites. These tomatoes were always better than anything I ever bought.

My long office hours as a corporate biotech attorney felt balanced by that small connection with nature in my morning walk around to check on my tomato plants, pressed into the soil and covered with mulch or newspapers to prevent black bottom fungus. Each day, I watered them like a child tipping the watering can further and hoping for immediate growth. I breathed a little deeper and reflected a little longer about the beauty of watching this plant life transform from day to day—deep greens first matched plant stems until the unripe tomatoes turned into a mélange of greens and orange until finally giving way to blaring reds that announced the arrival of August’s ripeness.

I had known for a long time that different companies were using genetic engineering to manipulate plant genes for increased harvests. In culinary school, we read about the science “breakthrough” of splicing a tuna gene into the DNA of tomato plants to protect their fruits from frost. My friend, a leading biotech partner in Boston, and I spoke about food occasionally in the corporate cafeteria. With all that we had learned through our work with biotech companies, neither of us wanted any part of tomatoes with tuna genes.

Philosophically, I’m okay with using technology to help us determine which types of plants of the same species can be cross-bred effectively to produce a stronger plant. If it would happen in nature and technology only helps us select the right plants faster, it seems like technology-based Darwinism. It’s the unnatural being sold as the natural that bothers me. The shaping of life to fit what seems to be an agribusiness need.


Diva Deviled Eggs and Pickled Beets

Recipe | August 23, 2017 | By

IMG_1140-minA student once taught me how to dress up a deviled egg like a diva. Granted, the deviled eggs her family recipe called for were more likely a light pink. Other versions of this Midwestern favorite hors d’oeuvre call for soaking the whole eggs only long enough to create a pink and white swirl effect.

I say, if you’re going to color the eggs, might as well take the deep dive into fuschia. There’s something unnatural looking about it, but also still alluring. If you’re going to do something different, you need to commit. That’s probably the theme for my life right now.


Pate à Choux to Profiteroles 101

A letter of gratitude to Jacques Pepin.

finished-single-pate-a-choux-min 300As I embark on teaching a French cuisine course for the first time, I want to say “Thank you, Jacques Pepin.” You are  the teacher of all teachers when it comes to so many things French, including a great pate à choux.

Your recipes always work, and for that I’m eternally grateful. As my Saucy Guy partner always says, “His recipes are foolproof.” They are perfect for me, a self-declared non-baker, who bakes only what she likes to eat and only as part of a practice in the discipline of measurements and mental clarity. Your recipes always give me confidence and calm reassurances at every stage. The final products always look good enough for any local patisserie.


A Parody of The Cat in the Hat in These Politically and Racially Heated Times

I recently read The Cat in the Hat to my son, Daniel, and found myself thinking that there was some similarity in the absurdity of the story and our political reality that could work to describe the sad political events of late.

Maybe someday soon, I would try to explain this history to my son who is too young to understand. The absurdity of each day’s new information sometimes makes life and our POTUS feel unreal, hence, the more mythical representation in my cartoon drawing.

Part of my job as Mom is to doodle for Daniel’s delight. Since I declined an offer to continue as Associate Dean in order to have more time with Daniel, I have more time for odd, creative expressions. Needless to say, the drawing could use more work.

Gosh, I feel badly that this post isn’t about food; but I recently decided to allow myself some creative freedom in July, and the poem below showed up.

As a mom of a multi-racial child, it is important to me that something different happens in 2020. Share if any part of this tribute to Dr. Seuss (I heard somewhere that he started as a political cartoonist) and a desire for change, resonates.

Lines from The Cat in the Hat are italicized and quoted below as much as possible.