Friday, November 9, 2012

Pumpkin Party 2012

The fourth annual Pumpkin Party brought nice additions to the pumpkin recipe repetoire. Pumpkin party recipes must meet certain criteria, which limits to a degree the types of dishes I will offer. If you compare the menu each year, distinct patterns will be quite obvious. Nevertheless, I spend a lot of time looking for creative ways to update my basic pumpkin party theme. The recipes below were all winners, not just because they can be made in advance, require little attention to serve, and are meat-free, but also because they were delicious and a little bit different.

I guess the sign of a great party was that I didn't have time to take photos of the food. Except for the cake of course, which was not just the coup de grace for the pumpkin party, but was also my 35th birthday celebration cake.

Hors d'Ouvres
I made a dip for chips and crudites by cooking 1/2 cup of red lentils and pureeing with a cup of canned pumpkin along with salt, pepper, olive oil, garlic powder, freshly ground cumin and coriander. Mix to taste! This can be made ahead and frozen, though I needed to strain it after thawing because it released a lot of water, so that's a bit of an annoying step, but it will bring it back to a nice creamy texture.

Mixmaster Will used this recipe for a "fall leaf fizz" as inspiration for our pumpkin-pear punch. You will want - as always - to mix to taste, but his version was approximately this. It looked stunning in my mom's antique pressed-glass punch bowl, and for better or worse, many friends commented, "I can't even taste the alcohol!"
2 cups vodka
3 bottles sparkling wine
4 cups pear cider (available at Trader Joes)
1 jar (10 oz) pumpkin butter (from Trader Joes)


Black Eyed Pea and Pumpkin Salad
Serves 20
This recipe was my flavor template, but I wanted a more fall, earthy palette than the bright flavors this recipe uses with lime and basil.
DressingI made my own walnut-flavored oil (because it seemed like a worthy experiment and given the expense of actual oil from walnuts). I used black walnuts because I had them leftover and they have a strong walnut flavor, but a bitterness that I don't enjoy in baked goods but thought might be tempered by this process. I toasted 5 tablespoons of chopped black walnuts, then added in 6 tablespoons olive oil and heated over medium, then transfer to jar to steep overnight. Strain before using and mix with 1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 2 teaspoons mustard, and salt and pepper to taste.
one sugar-pie pumpkin
1 cucumber, seeded and chopped
2 cups cooked or canned black-eyed peas
1 1/2 green bell peppers, seeded and diced
1/2 cup parsley
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 pound baby spinach or mixed greens
Roast pumpkin by cutting in half, seeding, and baking cut-side down on an oiled baking sheet at 450 for 40 minutes. Cut into dice and toss with remaining ingredients when cool.

Butternut Squash Bread Pudding
Serves 20
This could be understood as an odd concept if you think of bread pudding with raisins and rum sauce. It certainly doesn't seem like something for a cocktail party. And the reviews of the original recipe or terribly mixed, so I was probably unwise to test this out as the main course for 16 friends. But it received huge compliments, enough so that I decided to serve it to my parents, in-laws, and grandmothers the next day as leftovers and they all raved.

1 pound day-old french bread, cut in 1" cubes
1/2 cup cream; 1/2 cup skim milk
5 eggs
freshly ground nutmeg and black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons stone ground mustard
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 pound kale (I used "baby kale" from Costco)
3/4 cups shallot
2 small cloves garlic
1 1/2 pounds butternut squash cubes (available refridgerated at Costco, or Trader Joes - cutting your own is dangerous because the squash rind is very tough, and will take forever!)
8 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese
olive oil
Mix cream, milk, eggs, seasonings, mustard, and wine. Soak bread cubes in this mixture about 30 minutes.
Toss squash cubes with just enough oil to coat, and roast at 400 for 20-25 minutes.
Saute shallot in olive oil until tender. Add kale and stir over medium until wilted. Allow to cool slightly.
Layer 1/2 soaked bread cubes in 9x13 buttered baking dish, top with 1/2 squash, 1/2 kale, and 1/2 cheese, then repeat layers, ending with cheese.  Bake at 350 for 20 minutes covered, then 20 minutes uncovered. Broil at end for two minutes to make a bubbling cheese crust if desired.
Can be refrigerated covered overnight before baking if desired.

For this version (in November, 2012) I used a 1/2 recipe based on above,
with acorn instead of butternut squash, walnuts instead of hazelnuts,
and spinach instead of kale. Both are yum!

Kabocha Squash and Shitake Rigatoni
This is a dense, rich dish which could easily stand alone as a main course. I made a number of substitions from this version which had mixed-reviews. I made my sauce the day before. I cooked the pasta the morning of my party and tossed with the sauce, then refrigerated until I was ready to serve and reheated on the stove. It made so much that we were eating it for days and it held up very well.
1 pound rigatoni
5 ounces dehyrated shitake mushrooms, reconstituted in boiling water
2 pounds kabocha squash, roasted at 400 degrees until tender
8 ounces goat cheese
1/2 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
4 cups stock
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
Puree squash with goat cheese and stock to desired consistency. You may want less squash or less broth. Add seasonings.
Saute mushrooms in butter until tender. Toss with sauce and cooked pasta. Sprinkle with hazelnuts to serve.


To make this adorable pumpkin cake, I used this pumpkin spice bundt cake recipe. You will need two cakes to build the pumpkin. I do not recommend doubling the recipe, because it was too full for my stand mixer, so make the recipe twice. I also like my cake spicy, so I added an additional teaspoon of freshly grated ginger and 1/4 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg to each batch.

Place one cooled cake flat-side up on a platter. Stack the other cake flat-side down on top. I used cream-cheese frosting died orange. My favorite recipe is from Joy of Cooking; 8 ounces of cream cheese, 5 ounces softened butter, 4 cups of powdered sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

To decorate, I saved the pumpkin stem from the sugar pie pumpkin I used in the salad - wrap in plastic and store in the fridge if you aren't going to use it for the cake right away. It fit perfectly in the bundt cake hole, and I just frosted over to the base of the stem. I also used piped green frosting and some licorice ropes and gumdrops for leaves and vines. Obviously, this makes a ton. I only used half the cake for my party, but instead of cutting slices through the whole pumpkin, I cut slices just through one layer of cake, and we only ate the top half. The next day, I flipped the bottom layer right-side up and had an entire uncut bundt cake which I refrosted and served to family. Gross, or clever? You decide. But it was most definitely delicious. This cake stays moist and fresh for days.

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