Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloween Pumpkin Recipe Roundup

I was seriously unprepared for the whole Jack-o-Lantern carving thing. 
What a novice error.

Nelle had a friend over for a play afterschool, and I had visions of all of us carving pumpkins together - a real group activity. (Good mommy, and all that). The girls drew practice faces on scrap paper - they were so excited - and then set to work drawing with pencils, then markers, on the pumpkins themselves. Easy peasy. The whole face-drawing process took about ... 5 minutes.

And then, it was time for carving. And I was on my own.

The girls ran off to play with Barbies while I set to work with a paring knife and a heavy steel spoon. They came back periodically to check on my progress, ooh-ing and ah-ing at the masses of seed and flesh that was accumulating in the dish before me.

"Good work, Mum!"
Yeah, kid. Great.

how to eat Jackolantern carvings

By the end of one pumpkin, I'd felt like Jillian Michaels had just attacked my arm with her fists (like I swear she does in this workout) ... and I still had a second pumpkin to go. The only thing that got me through was the realisation that I was a) sending home pumpkin #2 unfinished (sorry Wendy!) and b) there was NO WAY IN HELL I was throwing out the scooped-out pumpkin innards.

Or die trying.

A quick Google search confirmed my suspicions - Halloween pumpkins are perfectly, cheaply edible ... they're just a lot of work! But if you're carving one or two or more anyway, it makes sense to use up the nutritious centres that you'd otherwise throw away. On Facebook, you told me that you use pumpkin carvings in dishes from curry to muffins to cheesecake, which only goes to show that I really underestimated Halloween pumpkins as food. And also, I need some local friends to make me cheesecake (Jennifer, Lesley - why do you live so far away?)

So what do you do with Halloween pumpkin carvings? 
I used mine in 3 different ways:
  1. I roasted (and devoured) the seeds.
  2. I made a pumpkin and shittake stew, which then became lasagne.
  3. I made pumpkin puree, which found its way into muffins (and, temporarily, my fridge).

NOTE: If you aren't actually Jack-o-Lanterning your pumpkin, you could cut and roast it like you would a butternut squash .. but if you're drawing on it, and filling it with waxy candles, and leaving it out of the fridge and on your porch for extended periods, it's better not to eat the shell part. Stick with cooking up the insides as you carve them out.

Halloween pumpkin recipe

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
The time
20-25 min roasting

The ingredients + process
1. Preheat the oven to 200C (400F). You want to cook these hot and fast, not dehydrate them. (I have learned this difference the hard way)

2. Wash and pat dry the pumpkin seeds and remove as much of the extra pumpkin flesh as possible. (It's ok if you don't get it all)

3. Toss each cup of pumpkin seeds, in 1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil (or coconut oil) and 1/4 -1/2 tsp sea salt (depending on how salty you like them).

4. Spread the seeds across a parchment-covered baking sheet so they (ideally) aren't touching each other too much.

DIY roasted pumpkin seeds

5. Roast for 20-25 minutes,  stirring them up after 10 min. And again 10 min later. And then (if needed) put the seeds back in the oven for up to 5 min more. When done, they should be golden and dry. Remove from the tray and put into a dish lined with paper towel to absorb excess oil (or else they'll reabsorb it and become soggy).

And dig in. These things are super-amazing good for you.

DIY pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin and Shittake Stew
serves 3-4 as a side, double if serving as mains or using extra in lasagne

The time
5-10 min prep + 30 min cooking 

The ingredients
1 onion, minced
2 Tbs butter (one at a time)
1 cup sliced shittake mushrooms (or a mix)
4-6 cups pumpkin (scraped flesh from ~1 medium Jack-o-Lantern)
sea salt and black pepper, to taste

The process
1. In a heavy stew pot, soften the onion in 1 Tbs butter over medium heat. When translucent, add the mushrooms and the 2nd Tbs butter.

2. When the mushrooms are cooked, add the pumpkin with a nice dash of salt and pepper. Saute till soft, breaking up clumps of pumpkin as it cooks.

3. Serve as a side dish, or with rice for a main. Extras are perfect in the lasagne below!

Jack o Lantern lasagne  

Halloween Pumpkin Lasagne
serves 6-8

The time
20 min prep + 60 min baking + 10-15 min cool-down

The ingredients
1 x 700 g jar of passata (or your favourite pasta sauce)
1 x 375 g package of wholewheat dry lasagne noodles
3 cups stewed Halloween pumpkin (see above)
700 g ricotta*
2 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella (or pizza mix)

*If you use cottage cheese instead, add an egg to it. Cottage cheese has a higher water content that can make your lasagne soupy.

my favourite lasagne recipe

The process
1. Preheat the oven to 180C (360F).

2. In a 9x13" glass or ceramic baking dish, layer in this order:

1 cup pasta sauce, evenly spread across the whole bottom of the baking dish
a single layer of uncooked lasagne noodles
3 cups stewed pumpkin, evenly spread
a single layer of uncooked lasagne noodles
1 cup pasta sauce, evenly spread
2 cups ricotta, evenly spread if possible (dolloped is fine)
a single layer of uncooked lasagne noodles
1 cup pasta sauce, evenly spread (add a little water to the jar and shake to get the rest out)
2 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella

NOTE: When making lasagne, make sure the dry noodles are completely covered with a thick liquid of some sort (too thin, and it'll be runny) and insulate with foil for the main part of cooking.

3. Cover with foil and bake at 360 for 45 min. Then uncover and cook an additional 15 min. Set aside 10-15 min before serving. 

This lasagne is so easy, and I can't get enough of it!
Tomorrow I'm seriously topping a slice with fried egg for breakfast.

thrifty pumpkin puree

Pumpkin Puree

The ingredients and process
For every cup of pumpkin flesh, add 1/3 cup water and simmer over low heat until soft (about 20 min). Set aside, and when cool - blend.

Use your pumpkin puree in:
muffins or a huge baked pancake (Dutch baby)
or hot chocolate or popsicles (depending on the weather)
or soup with miso or cashew butter
or chocolate cake
or my all-time favourite curry (from Jamie Oliver's Happy Days with the Naked Chef )
or sub it in for zucchini in this cake-like smoothie

As someone very clever recently said: "the possibilities are endless" :)

For extra
Freeze puree in ice cube trays and store in airtight containers in the freezer until you need them.

I hope I've inspired you to save those pumpkin trimmings this year - and maybe even to go out and buy pumpkins when they go on MEGA sale after Halloween. (Remember, you don't have to carve them - you can just roast them like butternut squash - try this risotto if you do)

So get out there and enjoy all that pumpkin carving! It's totally worth it, trust me - and not just for the food part. Nelle *loves* her special jack-o-lantern :)
Happy Halloween 
Amanda xx

Want more Halloween-y recipes? Check all these great Food Network #FallFest blogs out for inspiration! 

NOTE: This post contains affiliate links to - where all prices are the same for you (except I get a small commission on anything you buy while there). My commission goes straight back into improving this site, usually via books :)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Carrot Top Pesto [and other Tips for Root-Greens]

eat carrot greens

Somehow, I nearly made it to 38 years of age without considering carrot greens. Not as food, necessarily - though I've got a great pesto recipe for you later - but as signs of freshness, markers of vibrance. 

Because here's the thing that (somehow) hadn't crossed my mind: 
greens give away a vegetable's age
Perky, with depth of colour? It's probably better for you, veggie-speaking - most vegetables begin to degrade in quality after after picking, not only losing their attractiveness and sweetness over time, but their levels of antioxidants, too.

Many of the roots you buy in bunches - carrots, beets, radishes, etc - can be stored for a long while before they're used, and when you're choosing them at the supermarket, it's impossible to know how fresh they actually are. Unless you go for the ones with the bright, dark leaves. As they age, leaves wilt, fade, and spot - so appealing leaves on the tops of carrots are sign those carrots haven't been out of the ground too long. And that's a good thing. 

organic carrot topsorganic carrots

Just in case I haven't got you convinced - because we all know that the bunches of carrots with greens on them are more expensive than the bagged, topless ones - you can in most cases also use those greens. Remember, variety is one of the most important parts of healthy eating. Eating the same greens every single day may be good for you, but eating different greens every single day is EVEN BETTER. 

My favourite green-tops? Carrots, beets, turnips, kohlrabi, broccoli and radishes.  
Here's how to get the most out of them. 
  • When buying, choose organic bunches with deeply coloured, un-wilty leaves.
  • Always plan to eat your green-tops the same day you buy them. They might be ok the next day, but for best flavour and nutrition, don't leave them much longer than that.
  • When you get the bunch home, cut the green-tops off the roots and store them separately (or feed unwanted leaves to your worms or chickens or compost, if you're not using them). The greens will continue to respirate in your fridge, so leaving them attached for too long can dry out the roots prematurely.
  • Small or baby broccoli, beet or kohlrabi leaves are great in salads - just treat them as you would lettuce.
  • Larger beet, radish, kohlrabi, broccoli or turnip leaves taste more like spinach, and can be cooked like this or this or this.
  • Carrot tops have a slight parsley flavour to them, so you can mix them into salads (in small doses) or - my favourite - make pesto! 

Sooooo .... maybe you've heard you can't eat these greens - and, yes, there are a couple of caveats here. All the greens I've listed above are totally edible, as long as you eat them in moderation. Most greens (even spinach!) contain natural compounds that aren't good for us in high doses, like oxalate or alkaloids. So mix it all up! Don't eat huge amounts of the same thing day after day.

Also, please don't eat parsnip tops (they contain a sap that burns skin), or pick wild green-tops - carrots have many wild cousins that are highly toxic. At least if you're buying carrots (with tops) at the farmers' market or grocery, you can be assured they're actually carrots!

Alright, I think it's time to make some pesto. Don't you? 

Before we do, I just want to say thanks to all you dear friends who sent me birthday wishes this week. I love hearing from all of you out there across the world! And for the record, I am completely happy to be 38. Every birthday's like a badge of survival :)
Amanda xx

PS. My carrot-top epiphany came about from reading this book - I can't recommend it highly enough! I'm certain I'll be posting more about it in the near future.

Carrot Top Pesto
makes ~2/3 cup
adapted from Diane Morgan's recipe here

I made this last Friday as a pizza topping - though next time, I'm using Kelsey's on-the-grill dough or this old favourite or even pita breads instead of the recipe off the packet of yeast (which came out more like foccacia). The pesto derives from this one, with one important difference - I almost never have pine nuts at home, so I almost always use cashews instead. I made this in the blender and happily scooped it out with a spoon straight onto the flattened dough. Or into my mouth. It was that good.

The time
5-10 min prep 

The ingredients
1 cup organic carrot leaves, plucked off the stems
6 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, pressed
1/4 tsp sea salt
3 Tbs roasted cashews
1/4 cup parmesan cheese

*If you have the time, always leave resist cooking your garlic for 10 minutes after you press or mince it - this simple step markedly increases its absorbable nutrition. (And if you think that little tidbit is cool, you definitely have to read this book)

The process
Blend and eat! You can use this pesto like you would a "normal" basil pesto - it makes a great sandwich topping or dip for veggies, too. Store leftovers in an airtight jar in the fridge for a few days, or freeze as small cubes (use your ice cube tray for this) and store in the freezer in an airtight jar or bag.

The cost
I love these kinds of recipes, where you're using stuff you would normally throw out. The main cost here is the olive oil and cashews - my batch of organic carrot-top pesto came in at around $4.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Roasted Sweet Potato and Kale Tacos

There's a huge difference in the Mexican food I eat at restaurants and the stuff I make at home. Out, my vegetarian plate is likely to include some sort of tortilla-wrapped cheese (and/or bean) dish smothered in cheese sauce. Sometimes the whole thing gets fried. Sometimes there are beans and rice on the side. Always, there are corn chips and salsa to start. And beer.

Now I'm not saying that's not some amazing food I've just described there. But I am saying I couldn't eat it every day. 

What I could eat every day (and often do, here in Arizona) is my version of Mexican food. As far as I'm concerned, this genre has 7 key ingredients: corn tortillas, avocado, cilantro, lime, sour cream, beans and cheese. On top of that, do what you will - but keep things as FRESH and COLOURFUL as possible. 

Don't worry, I know how it is out there. At one time or another (probably around 2am?), we've all eaten burritos that were the colour of dirty sink-water. But let me just say this: home is NOT the place to eat sink-water. Or cardboard. Home is for FRESH. Home is not for canned cheese sauce or re-re-refried beans.

So here we go, onto a recipe for a kickass supercharged taco with - you guessed it - kale. Everybody's pet green at the moment, and with good reason. It's good for you, easy to cook and doesn't taste as strong as silverbeet (chard) does. Greens (like kale) complement well with orange veggies (like oven-roasted sweet potato) in both flavour and nutrition, and around 70-80% of westerners don't get enough veggies of either colour in their diets. It's time to make tacos.

On another note, I'm busy this week preparing for my 2nd wedding - to the same guy - and this time in the US (and legal - woo hoo!). Friends and family are arriving, and the feast preparations are beginning. I can't wait to share it all with you! We're busy but happy around here :)

More soon,
Amanda xx

Kale and Sweet Potato Tacos
serves 4 (3 small but super-stuffed tacos each)

The time
30 min roasting and prepping + assembly at the table

The ingredients
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp cumin powder
zest of 1 lime

2 handfuls chopped kale
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 handful cilantro leaves

3 avocados
juice of 1 lime

sea salt, to taste

+ 12 corn tortillas
+ queso fresco or ricotta or chevre
+ salsa
+ refried beans or black beans or hummus
+ sour cream

The process
1. Preheat the oven to 200C (400F). Dice the sweet potato and toss in 1 Tbs olive oil + cumin powder + lime zest + a pinch of sea salt. Roast on an oiled tray for 30-40 min, until crispy.

2. Meanwhile, massage 2 handfuls chopped kale with 1 Tbs olive oil until softened. Add pinch of sea salt + your cilantro. Set aside.

3. Chop, mince or smash the avocados, with the lime juice and a pinch of sea salt. Set aside.

4. Warm or fry up the tortillas, if necessary. Then assemble!

To serve:
Take everything to the table, or serve up from the kitchen.

(from top to bottom)
top: your favourite salsa and/or sour cream
queso fresco or ricotta
sweet potato
smear of warmed beans or cool hummus
bottom: corn tortilla (premade, cook yourself)

The cost
Gah, I'm preparing for a wedding! I'm feeling too lazy and distracted to cost this one out. Let's just say you can make these soooo inexpensively. Mexican food doesn't have to cost a fortune, especially with all these fresh ingredients. Hit the markets, and get taco-ing.