Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pumpkin Party 2011 - Appetizers

The pumpkin party started a number of years ago partly as a way for me to throw myself a birthday party without anyone bringing me cards and presents. As an only child and only grandchild and end-of-the-family-line in all manner of consideration, my birthday already garners ample attention from my relatives. The other factor is just that while summer offer the prime weather months for entertaining, there's really so much to do outside to have time to plan a big party. But when everyone's home from their summer vacations, and the days start to get damper and darker, that's the season when I like to start sorting through recipes, firing up the oven for baking blitzes, and quashing the doldrums with a great group of friends.
Thus gestated the Pumpkin Party.

The gist of the party is to wear festive fall colors, decorate the house with gourds and candles, and eat from a menu where some form of pumpkin, squash, or similarly vibrantly-colored food is incorporated into every dish. Pumpkin Party menus from years past are posted here and I try not to make do repeat some of my favorites every year. 
Click on the menu for a larger, legible version. This post is about the snacks,
check later posts for recipes for the dinner and desserts.

For example, I absolutely adore the Curried Pepitas, and think they are fabulous for snacking, but also are terrific sprinkled on salads. They would be delicious atop a butternut squash bisque or cauliflower chowder. They have the satisfying crunch of nuts, without being quite so rich. And the spicy saltiness makes them an excellent accompaniment to cocktails or beer. For some reason, no one has ever seemed as excited about these as I am. Will tells me he appreciates them as a condiment, but would never bother to snack on them alone. Finally this year, a friend's husband who hadn't attended the party in the past scarfed these down even faster than I do and I finally feel vindicated in my love for them. I can't imagine a pumpkin party without these somewhere on the menu. This year, I just had them out in a bowl alongside drinks.

Other munchings included kalamata olives, and a pumpkin-bean dip with carrots and pita chips. Any beans would work great in this dip; I've previously made a black bean-pumpkin dip (great for Halloween!) and cannelini or pinto beans would both also be good for their soft texture and mild flavor. I selected cranberry beans because I think their colored striations are so appealing, and also of-the-season. Of course, none of that is visible once they are blended to a paste and mixed with pumpkin puree! But the name paints a visual picture that contributes to the taste almost as much as the actual flavor in the mouth.

Cranberry Bean and Pumpkin Dip
makes about 4 cups
1 cup dried cranberry beans, soaked overnight in cold water
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds, freshly ground (or 1 teaspoon powdered)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup vegetable broth

Rinse soaked beans and cover with 1 inch of water. Bring to simmer, and cook covered over low heat 25-35 minutes until soft.
Drain, and transfer to food processor. Add pumpkin and seasonings. Puree, adding broth by the tablespoon until mixture blends smoothly and is desired consistency. I like mine as smooth as possible, but you can leave it a little chunkier if you prefer. Serve with chips, crackers, or crudites.

I'll share about the rest of the repast in upcoming posts, so check back soon!

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