Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Great Pumpkin Goes To India!

   It's been nearly a month since I've cooked a real meal. Hell, it's been nearly a month since I've eaten a real meal. All of this is due to my recent dental adventures. So even though I've made chili verde and fig jam and sandwiches and oven fried chicken, cookies, bacon and soup, none of it was for me. Well, except the soup. That I could handle. Otherwise I've spent the better part of the last month with cottage cheese, yogurt, and soup.
   So I was understandably stoked to be getting my sutures out this last Friday.   Even though the full process won't be complete until around April or May (it's starting to sound like some giant public works project) I am finally free to eat whatever I want (can chew). I decided to celebrate my new food freedom with a special Halloween treat. The Giant Pumpkin Bake.
   I don't quite remember what started me off doing the Halloween Giant Pumpkin Bake, but I've done it at Halloween for years. I think I like it because let's face it, putting a honking big pumpkin stuffed chock full of goodies down on the table is damn impressive. It's an incredibly versatile dish since it can be made vegan, vegetarian, or with meat. In fact,  it's a great choice as a vegetarian entree for any Thanksgiving menu.
   It suited my purposes perfectly since everything in it and around it was soft enough for babys' first meal. Baby being me.
   I decided to throw a Stitches Coming Out Party this Halloween weekend. It would be my first time back behind the range and eating at the real dining room table in almost a month. I decorated.
    The original pumpkin I'd planned on using became part of my centerpiece. I had bigger fish pumpkins to fry bake!
   To cook this dish you don't necessarily need a super big ginormous pumpkin. You can have a great dinner for two using a small Sugar Pie pumpkin, or even a large squash. The key thing to remember if you are using a pumpkin, is to get an eating pumpkin and not a Jack O' Lantern special. Believe me you can taste the difference.
  When I went pumpkin shopping, I got an 8 pound pumpkin. I was planing on serving about 5 to 6 people, and the concept of this dish is that when the pumpkin is cut into, one gets both the stuffing and a lovely slice of the cooked pumpkin or squash.

   Here's how to put this pumpkin dish together.

Baked Stuffed Pumpkin

   Start with a pumpkin (duh) sized to the number of people you are planning on serving. This will have to be as they say... eyeballed. 

 Cut around the top of the pumpkin as though you were opening a Jack o' lantern.  Now for the fun part. Stick your mitts inside the guts of the pumpkin and rip out all the strings and seeds.
 Go all Night Of The Living Dead on it!  You may want to cackle wildly while doing this... or not. Either way, clean the pumpkin out thoroughly, saving the seeds for toasting and seasoning later.

Now that your pumpkin has been thoroughly cleaned, rub it on the inside with a bit of Kosher salt for flavor. Then set it into a baking pan or oven-poof dish filled with an inch of water.  Set it without its' lid in the center of a pre-heated 450 degree oven and bake it for about 45 minutes to one hour. Check on it periodically. You want the pumpkin softened but not collapsing since you will be baking it again after its stuffed.

Now it's time to talk stuffing. Last night I decided to make an Indian spiced ground meat and rice stuffing. The ingredients of the stuffing are cooked seperately and then combined later. This is the part of the recipe that's creative because one can actually do whatever one wants with this dish. Let the imagination run wild! Here's what I do.

 In a large skillet heat 2 Tbs of olive oil. When the oil is hot add in:
 1 finely chopped large onion.
 Cook it until the onion is translucent then add in:
1/2 lb ground pork
1/2 lb ground veal
1/2 pound ground  lean beef.
 Salt and pepper to taste.
 Brown the meat and as it begins to cook, add in:
 2 Tbs of dried crumbled sage
 1 tsp of ground cinnamon
 1 tsp of ground cumin
 a couple of pinches of cayenne
 1 cup of dried currants
 2 pinches or so of allspice
 a pinch of ground cardamom
 a pinch of nutmeg
 1 16 oz can of drained chopped tomatoes
 2 Tbs of tomato paste
 I am a being a bit vague here on purpose. There is no set formula. I always like to taste as I go and check my seasoning as I do. The goal is to have a subtle and aromatic blend of spices, slightly hot and slightly sweet. Of course if you have a favorite stuffing, use that instead.
Once the stuffing is done, set it aside.

To this meat I added an Indian rice dish made with complementray spices.
 In a large pot I heat 2 Tbs of vegetable oil.
 When the oil is hot add in:
4 whole cloves
4 green cardamom pods
4 whole peppercorns
 1 bay leaf
 Stir the spices around for a few seconds then add in:
 2 cups of basmati rice
 1 Tbs of ground coriander
 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
 Stir this around in the pot for about 5 minutes, coating the rice thoroughly.
 Pour in 3 cups of unsalted chicken broth
 1/2 tsp of salt
 Stir this in.
Cover the pot ,turn the heat very low, and let it cook for about 15 minutes.
Lift the lid add in:

1 Tbs of brown sugar.
Stir the sugar into the rice well with a fork, put the lid back on and cook for an additional 15 to 20 minutes.
While the rice is cooking in a dry pan, toast about 1/2 cup of slivered almonds. Set them aside.
When the rice is done, mix it well with the ground meat mixture. Then spoon it into the partially cooked pumpkin shell. Place the filled pumpkin on  a foil-covered cookie sheet. Cover the top with foil, or set the lid of the pumpkin on top. The idea is to seal the contents so the stuffing doesn't dry out.

Put the whole thing back into a preheated 450 degree over for another 40 minutes or so, so that the pumpkin is thoroughly cooked and soft  inside.
Cut the pumpkin open. Everyone should have a wedge of pumpkin and stuffing on their plate.

  This makes an easy and delicious meal for a group of people. Toss in some homemade buttermilk biscuits and an intriguing salad (recipes to come) and you've got a winner. If you don't want to bother with cooking the pumpkin all the way through, you can always use it as the serving vessel and cook some butternut or acorn squash separately and serve it alongside. For those of you who enjoy wine with your dinner, our friend Mr. X brought this and I hear it was excellent!

   So there you have it in a nut shell... or rather a pumpkin shell, the perfect One Dish Fall Fun dinner. Because face it, this time of year who doesn't like to go all Michael Meyers and stab a Pumpkin??
   Actually here's a confession. John Carpenter is an old friend of mine and I was Michael Meyers' first victim in the original Halloween movie.  You know where he goes into his teenage sisters' room and stabs her...  the naked teenage sister sitting there combing her long hair? Well, that was me. Okay, another confession. Actually that was my voice. I wasn't doing the naked part, I was doing the screaming and yelling part. Story of my life.
   Coming up next... the rest of my Great Pumpkin Dinner!


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