Showing posts with label pumpkin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pumpkin. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Staycation: the small business owner's key to work life balance

"How do you manage everything and still stay sane?" Being a small business owner is full of challenges and rewards. One key to happiness and sanity? Taking regular breaks!

#Staycation was wonderful!!
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One of my dearest friends manages our fabulous clothing boutique in town, BlueTique Cheap Chic. She and I have both dealt with the incredible variety of challenges and joys that come with small business management.

One challenge is feeling like you're never EVER going to be done with everything, or even one page of your sprawling to-do list. Funds are likely tight, and while a flight to somewhere warm sounds wonderful, it isn't likely realistic.


One year ago, Ashley and I have instituted a strict and wonderful schedule of one staycation day per quarter. We pick a week day, mark our calendars and protect it from any other appointment or activity with the diligence of a mama bear. There are usually many explanation points in the shared google event. We look forward to it for weeks, and have many excited conversations to plan the menu, the drinks and spa activities, movies, shows and outfits.

Over the summer staycation, we invited Rachel, owner of Lane and Kate to join the fun, on a provisional basis. She brought fun spa stuff, braided our hair added her wild and wonderful dancing to the mix. She is invited for life!

On our most recent staycation, the three of us began with a slumber party at Ashley's new house. We drank spiced rum in hot cider, munched on popcorn and gabbed on the couch.

Usually we have an early morning hike; we would hate to miss a minute of our precious staycation day! This time, we were all so exhausted (new house, remodel at the store and rebrand, extensive travel, etc)  that we actually slept in. We had our first breakfast, Rachel braided our hair, enjoyed a later morning hike (watch out for those electric fences...), and spend the rest of the day lounging about. We discovered a new show, Call the Midwife, took turns soaking our feet in the heated spa and using the shoulder massager.

It is so good to recharge.

Staycation Menu:

First Breakfast
  • Coffee
  • Peanut butter sandwiches and honey crisp apples
Second breakfast
  • Crepes with butternut squash, goat cheese and maple syrup
  • More coffee
  • Hot tea
  • Fruit cake from my recent trip to Vermont
  • Black bean and pumpkin soup
  • Crusty bread and sharp cheddar cheese
  • Dates stuffed with marscapone cheese and maple syrup (I forgot the pumpkin! Eek!)
Alllllll day long
  • Hot cider and spiced rum

Don't forget: you're the boss! You don't have to ask anyone else to take a day off. While there are many challenges that small business owners encounter, there are some rather special perks too - take full advantage of them and enjoy a much deserved day off!

Next staycation: chocolate themed! Stay tuned...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

{Recipe ReDux} Thai Pumpkin Soup

I love pumpkin! Pumpkin pie is a classic treat, but this lovely winter veggie is delicious in so many more dishes! All pumpkins are edible, but the ones intended for Halloween jack-o-lanterns aren't going to taste as wonderful as those grown to be eaten.

Last winter I did my first round of cooking with fresh pumpkins and haven't looked back. Turns out it isn't so hard to cook pumpkin - you can use your microwave, slow cooker, or roast chunks in the oven. I used one magical blue pumpkin to make, quite literally, the absolute best pumpkin pie I have ever eaten. The hunt for a blue pumpkin this year continues...

A great place to start with fresh pumpkin is soup. Want to know a secret? You don't need to peel your pumpkin for pureed soup. 1) it is more work and I'm lazy (strategic?) and 2) you're losing fiber, and you know how I feel about that.

Place your pumpkin on the cutting board and use a very sharp chefs knife to cut it in half. Your ice-cream scoop is the best way to remove the seeds and stringy bits. Cut out the spots where the stem is and chop into chunks. Voila - ready to go! I made this even easier for you by using the slow cooker. You're welcome :)

Thai Pumpkin Soup
  • 1 small pie pumpkin, 2-3 pounds, seeded and cut into chunks
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ginger paste (or fresh minced ginger)
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • zest from 1 lime
  • 2 cups veggie or chicken broth (or water)
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 14-ounce can light coconut milk
  1. Wash pumpkin and cut off or peel any strange areas. Cut into chunks as described above. Place in slow cooker. Add all other ingredients, except for coconut milk, and stir. 
  2. Cover, and cook on low heat for 6-8 hours or until pumpkin cubes are very tender when poked with a fork. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until smooth. Shake coconut milk can, open, and pour into soup. Stir, cover, and heat for 20-30 minutes or until soup is hot. Add salt and pepper if needed and serve.
This recipe is adapted from The Vegan Slow Cooker by Kathy Hester.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Scrumptious Soups: Apple pumpkin soup

Pumpkin soup is hitting the spot! I love having a warm bowl with lunch or dinner (or both). This recipe makes a pretty large pot of soup - which is perfect if you're feeding a crowd or plan to pop some in the freezer. If not, it is simple to cut in half.

Apple Pumpkin Soup

  • 8-10 pounds of raw pumpkin (or 4 cans of pumpkin puree - not pie filling)
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 3-4 medium apples, chopped (no need to peel)
  • 7-8 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2-3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup plain yogurt, milk or half and half
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Using a sharp chefs knife, cut pumpkin open into large wedges. Use an ice-cream scoop to scoop out seeds and stringy bits. Place onto cookie sheet and roast until very tender and starting to brown on the edges. 
  3. While pumpkin is cooking, chop apples and onions. Preheat large saucepan over medium-high heat and add olive oil. Once pan is warm, add apples, onions and garlic and saute for 8-10 minutes or until tender.
  4. Scoop pumpkin from skin using a spoon into soup pot (or add cans of pumpkin). Add stock, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper and bring to a simmer.
  5. Using an immersion blender, puree soup until smooth. Add apple cider vineger, one tablespoon at a time, until you like the balance between the acid and the sweetness of the apples. Stir in milk or cream.
  6. To serve, garnish with a thin slice of apple and a swirl of cream.


Reader Poll: Have you ever cooked with a fresh pumpkin before? What did you make?

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Scrumptious soup: Thai pumpkin

I went a little overboard when I got to the pumpkin patch and managed to come home with eight pumpkins. These are all "food" pumpkins. Technically all pumpkins are edible, but when pumpkins are bred for carving, they tend to lack flavor and the pumpkin can be stringy.

I used one of the large red pumpkins (in the back of the picture) and made two soups - today's Thai pumpkin as well as an apple pumpkin soup. The Thai pumpkin soup was inspired from a recipe I found in a lovely memoir called The Feast Nearby by Robin Mather. It was a good read! She had a lot of great ideas for eating locally when you don't have a garden - she purchased foods from local farmers and growers and did small scale preserving. Great writing, great recipes.

For any pureed soup, my favorite kitchen tool is the immersion blender. They're not a huge expense and don't take up a ton of space in your cupboard, but boy do they make it easy to whip up some soup! You can also blend soup, in batches, in your blender, it just requires a bit more fuss. You could also use a potato masher and have a chunkier soup - just call it "rustic".

 Thai Pumpkin Soup
  •  4 to 5 pounds of raw pumpkin (or two cans of pumpkin puree)
  • 1/4 cup non-hydrogenated peanut butter
  • 2-3 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup cilantro
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Using a sharp chefs knife, cut pumpkin open into large wedges. Use an ice-cream scoop to scoop out seeds and stringy bits. Place onto cookie sheet and roast until very tender and starting to brown on the edges. 
  3. Once cool enough to handle, use a large soup spoon to scoop the pumpkin flesh into a medium sauce pan. Add peanut butter, stock, garlic, ginger, crushed red pepper flakes and vinegar and bring to a simmer. 
  4. Using an immersion blender, a potato masher or your counter top blender, puree soup until smooth. Add cilantro and blend just enough to chop into little bits. Taste seasonings and adjust as needed.
  5. To serve, garnish with a cilantro leaf.
This is a 15 pound pumpkin - I used 1/3 of it for this recipe
Adding the lovely flavor before pureeing!

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Friday, October 5, 2012

Scrumptious Soup: Pumpkin and pear

Sweet, spicy and delicious!
I love fall! It is my favorite season. Have I said that on every post lately? The drop in the humidity during the day and the crisp evening air make for great hiking and biking and make soup sound so good! Many cultures around the world eat soup daily, but here in the US, we tend to eat soup in cool weather.

Pureed soups are a great way to introduce a new fruit or vegetable to reluctant eaters of all ages - people can become wary of new flavors and new textures; a new fruit or vegetable may be both the the person. Since we all ate smooth baby food, we are usually comfortable with this texture. Pureeing also makes it harder for the eater to identify what is in the pot. Think your child, husband or roommate will balk at eating pumpkin? Call it something that they do like - Superbowl soup, Orange crayon soup, sunshine know your audience, sell, sell, sell!

For creamy and smooth soup, you need to use a blender or immersion blender. If you're going low tech, you could chop the fruits and veggies finely and then after cooking, mash with a potato masher for a chunky soup instead (just call it "rustic" and you can get away with a lot!). But, if you love soup as much as I do, an immersion blender is a great tool to have in your kitchen; big work horse without taking up a lot of cupboard space. And plus, you don't have to blend a big pot of soup in batches.

Pumpkin Pear Pureed Soup
Makes 4-6 bowls of soup
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 cups cubed pumpkin, raw or roasted (or butternut squash, or 1 15-oz can pumpkin puree)
  • 2 medium pears, cored and cubed (no need to peel)
  • 2-4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Mrs Dash Extra Spicy Blend (or crushed red pepper)
  • 1 cup fat free plain Greek yogurt
  1. If you wish to roast your pumpkin or butternut squash first, please find directions here. This lends to a more developed flavor, but is optional.
  2. In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, warm up your vegetable oil and add diced bell pepper, onion and garlic. Saute for 3-5 minutes or until tender. Add cubed pear and squash and add just enough broth to cover the vegetables. Cover pot and bring to a simmer.
  3. Simmer 3-20 minutes or until pears and squash are tender when poked with a fork; takes no time if using roasted or canned squash, takes a bit longer if using raw. Just keep checking :)
  4. Using your immersion blender, or a counter top blender in batches, puree soup until smooth. Or, mash a whole lot with a potato masher. Add more stock if you'd like the soup to be thinner.
  5. Taste seasonings; add salt, pepper and Mrs Dash to taste. Add 3/4 cup yogurt and stir until smooth. 
  6. To serve, pour into a bowl or soup mug and add a dollop from the reserved yogurt. Top with more Mrs. Dash, if you wish.
Note: you could also try tossing this soup in the slow cooker (onion through broth) and blend it when you get home from work or school - add the yogurt and seasonings at the end.

Reader Poll: What is your favorite kind of soup?
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Friday, September 28, 2012

Decadent Dip: Spiced pumpkin hummus

Fall is here! My favorite season for so many reasons; the trees putting on a firework display in slow motion, the crisp weather and of course, the delicious seasonal foods available. For this mild and flavorful hummus, I used my prepared pumpkin puree that I made from the pumpkins I picked at Green Truck Farms. Of course, you can also whip this recipe up in a flash using canned pumpkin. Either way, it is delicous, fast, and way less expensive than store bought hummus. And, what store sell pumpkin hummus anyway?

Here are directions for cooking fresh pumpkin in the microwave, slow cooker or in the oven. 

Spiced Pumpkin Hummus
Makes about two cups
  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons of apple juice (or water, but I like the hint of sweetness that balances the heat from the cayenne pepper)
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • dash of cayenne pepper (to taste)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • Pumkin seeds, for garnish - roast the seeds from your fresh pumpkin or find in a latino market - in spanish they're called pepitas and come without the shell
  1. Rinse and drain the beans and place in the blender. Add pumpkin, apple juice and seasonings. Pulse to blend. 
  2. Add olive slowly while the food processor is blending and continue blending until very smooth. 
  3. Scoop into your serving vessel, garnish with pumpkin seeds and serve with pita chips, crackers, or raw veggies. 
This would be a great dip for your Halloween party!

Toss everything in the food processor...
...and blend until smooth. Yum!
You may also like:

Pizza Hummus
Pad Thai Hummus
Roasted Carrot Hummus a l'Orange

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cooking class: the principles of pumpkin

How do you eat seasonably in the winter?

You store the produce when it is ripe. Today's lesson: cooking pumpkins!

Last weekend I spend a glorious Sunday with three friends picking apples at Green Truck Farms in Markham Virginia. Four girls, one zip car, an iPod full of tunes and before we knew it, we were taking in the glorious weather amongst the apple trees. I had never used the picking tool that we were provided, but it did make it easier to reach the fruit! But... I also had to climb the trees too (of course!)

The farm was not limited to apples - throughout the season they have blackberries and raspberries and the owner told me that they just planted 18,000 (eighteen thousand!) strawberry plants which will be producing fruit this spring. They also had a HUGE pumpkin patch with all sorts of pumpkins and other winter squash. I was originally scouting the field for a pumpkin to carve until I realized just how many different kinds of squash they had...and then my thoughts wandered to the kitchen.

I met Brian, the farmer, and he was able to help me distinguish between the carving pumpkins (edible, but not tasty) and the different "food" pumpkins - pie pumpkins are the little baby pumpkins, the reddish, disk shaped ones in the back are called Cinderella pumpkins and the bluish one is called a jarrahdale. All are winter squash, meaning their skin is tough and they will store well, as is, for several months. This is in comparison to summer squash, like zucchini and yellow squash which spoil quickly. 
As pretty as they are to look at on my table, I am thinking with my stomach and can't wait to try eating them. I tried three different ways to cook the pie pumpkins and have them documented to share with you.

I was curious just how many pounds of pumpkin I had purchased (when my friend dropped me off, she looked in the trunk and gasped.."tell me those are not all your pumpkins!", yes?)  but when I plopped  the small pumpkins on my bathroom scale they didn't register. So, I used the trick that comes in handy when you're trying to weigh a wiggly toddler - I weighed myself, weighed myself holding the pumpkin and subtracted the difference.

For any of these cooking methods, the start is the same. Wash off any dirt with water (no soap needed). Using a serrated knife, hack the pumpkin in half using a sawing motion. This is a good workout for arms, and a good stress reliever if you pretend the pumpkin is that person's head. You know who.

Using a heavy ice-cream scoop or a spoon, scoop out the seeds and guts until the cavity of the pumpkin is smooth. The seeds can be saved for roasting (healthy snacks!) or if the pumpkin is an heirloom variety, they can be saved for planting next year.

Method 1: the microwave

I cut the pumpkin into small wedges and tucked them into a large, glass, microwave-safe casserole dish with a lid. This felt like tetris getting all the pieces to fit. (If you don't have a casserole, try a large microwave safe bowl with a plate on top; should work just as well. But, keep your eyes peeled at the thrift store or garage sales for your own casserole dish). I added 1-2 cups of water and microwaved (with lid on) for about 20 minutes or until the pumpkin was very soft when poked with a fork. I checked the pumpkin after 10 minutes and added on 5 minutes at a time until it was soft. Let cool until you're able to handle.

Method 2: the slow cooker

Take your pumpkin wedges and arrange in the slow cooker so that you can get the lid on. Add 2 cups of water, or enough to have about 1/2 of an inch of water in the bottom. Cover, and cook on low for 4-8 hours, or high 2-4 hours or until very soft. Every slow cooker is different, and it will depend on how thick the pumpkin flesh is and how big the wedges are. Poke with a fork - when very soft, they're done; spread out on a plate to cool.

Method 3: roasting in the oven.

Take large wedges and slice into smaller, more manageable slices. Using a very sharp chefs knife, cut the peel off the outside edge of each piece of pumpkin (you can also do this after the pumpkin is cooked - your choice!). Place on oiled cookie sheet and roast until soft. I added some salt and pepper to the roasted pumpkin (not to the slow cooker or the microwave). Your oven can be anywhere from 350-450. When are they done? You have three clues:
  • texture: the pumpkin is very soft when poked with a fork
  • smell: your nose will tell you something magical is happening in the oven
  • sight: the edges will brown a bit
My wedges that were about 1 inch wide took about 35 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

Roasted! I tried peeling when raw and roasted and prefer cutting the raw pieces.

So you have some cooked what?

I pureed my pumpkin so that I can use it instead of canned pumpkin. I used a soup spoon to scoop the pumpkin flesh into a large bowl and then tried a potato masher and an immersion blender. If the pumpkin is really soft, the potato masher works just as well. If the pumpkin is a bit or firm, or is a bit stringy, the immersion blender works better. If you have a food processor or regular blender, those are good choices too. When the pumpkin is smooth, it is ready to be used in recipes or can be frozen for future use. I portioned 1-cup of puree into labeled zip top plastic bags. Expel any air, seal and stack. They take up minimal space in your freezer.

Another option? Baby food: freeze in an ice-cube tray and you have baby-sizes portions to thaw out for your little one.

Was cooking pumpkin three different ways super fast? No, but I enjoyed it. I was listening to the new Mumford and Sons album, hanging out with my roommate and thinking about my weekend on the farm. I'd spend my time in the kitchen instead of in front of the TV any day. Just think: if we cancelled our cable, used that money to buy vegetables and spent the spare time cooking, how much healthier would we be? 

Reader question: Do you have any ideas of how to store pumpkin puree without making more trash? I don't love using plastic bags, but these take up the least amount of space.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup

Recently I whipped up a batch of Rachel Ray's Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup. It is really simple to pull together and is super delicious.

I didn't deviate much from the original recipe, but I did make a swap to lower the fat content and used lower-sodium (ie salt) options where I could. 

Here is what I used;

Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup

  • 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 turn of the pan
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cups canned or packaged low-sodium vegetable stock, found on soup aisle
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) low-sodium diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1 can (15 ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed (lowers sodium)
  • 2 cans (15 ounces) pumpkin puree (found often on the baking aisle)
  • 1 can (12 ounces) evaporated low-fat milk
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder, 1 palm full
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin, 1/2 palm full
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, eyeball it in the palm of your hand
  • Coarse salt
  • 20 blades fresh chives, chopped or snipped, for garnish


  • Heat a soup pot over medium heat. Add oil. When oil is hot, add onion. Saute onions 5 minutes.
  • Add broth, tomatoes, black beans and pumpkin puree. Stir to combine ingredients and bring soup to a boil.
  • Reduce heat to medium low and stir in cream, curry, cumin, cayenne and salt, to taste.
  • Simmer 5 minutes, adjust seasonings and serve garnished with chopped chives.

The original recipe called for 1 cup of heavy cream, and while that version would be delicious, it would also be bad for the waist line! Instead of the cream, I used canned condensed milk; this lends a nice creamy texture, without all of the saturated fat. Another option I've used that works well is the fat-free half and half, found near the milk in the grocery store.

Nutrition note: while it is a good idea to lower saturated fat and trans-fats in recipes for our health, it isn't wise to avoid all fat. Fats play many important roles in our body and they also help with the absoprtion of other nutrients.

In this recipe, the pumpkin is loaded with beta-carotene, a fat soluble provitamin to Vitamin A. This means that our body can convert beta-carotene into vitamin A. However, our body doesn't have access to the beta-carotene unless it has been absorbed. For this reason, I left the olive oil in the soup instead of substituting vegetable spray.
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