dirty pumpkin seeds

IMG_1040

Happy Halloween!  Retrogrouch and I carved our jack-o-lantern last night, and got our scaaaaary on.  I am bedecking our porch with body parts, and he’s been nailed through the head.  Luckily, the injury wasn’t bad enough to stop him from the carving.

IMG_1029

For me, the best part of pumpkin carving has always been roasting the pumpkin seeds.  Each year, I carefully separate out the seeds from the goo, rinse them and dry them, salt them, and put them in a 350 degree oven.  Each year, I also forget about them and have to throw half of them away when they get too dark.

Last year, when working on the Master Food Preserver hotline, someone called in and asked how to make pumpkin seeds.  I started to give my standard schpiel, then realized that I could (and should) look up a recipe in our giant binder of recipes and techniques that are tested by our Extension program and others across the country.  And lo!  The Good Book shewed that she was in great error.  I was roasting the seeds at way too high of a temperature, hence the bitter charring when I forgot about them.

This year, I looked at the seeds with their pretty orange lacing of goo, and thought that I might capitalize on the extra flavor of the pumpkin pulp on the seeds, so I didn’t rinse them.  I tossed them in some oil with coarse sea salt and black pepper, then roasted the speckled, striped seeds.  And lo!  Dirty Pumpkin Seeds were born.  And they were delicious.  Even after I forgot about them.

IMG_1049

Dirty Pumpkin Seeds

This recipe doesn’t measure the amounts, since the amount of seeds one gets from a pumpkin can vary widely.  The larger jack-o-lanterns can actually have fewer seeds than the smaller ones.

  • Seeds from one jack-o-lantern
  • Coarsely ground sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.  Carefully pick through the pumpkin innards to get all the seeds.  Discard malformed seeds and as much of the orange goo surrounding the seeds as possible, placing seeds in a clean bowl.

Do not rinse the remaining pumpkin goo off the seeds.  Add coarsely ground sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, then coat the seeds in enough vegetable oil to make them slick but not dripping with oil (I used about a tablespoon).

Spread seeds out in a single layer in a Pyrex dish or cookie sheet.

Roast for about 45 minutes, checking occasionally, until light gold in color and completely dry.  If you forget about them, they’re ok for about an hour.  You’ll smell a gentle roasting smell, not the charring of burnt seeds, as a reminder.

They tell me the seeds will keep for about a week unrefrigerated, but mine have never lasted more than a day or two.

second-best blog!

IMG_0594

Thank you to everyone who voted for me for the Eugene Weekly’s Best Blog award.  I came in second!  The EW! Blog came in first and a ‘zine with which I was unfamiliar, Urinal Gum, came in third.  I like the idea of being between EW! and a urinal.  That might make me the urinal cake.

I also wanted to put the shout out (again) to Best Restaurant, Belly, and Best New Restaurant, Off the Waffle.  I did the write-ups for these guys, and I’m so pleased that they won, because I really do feel that they represent the best our little town has to offer in yumyums.

One more delight I feel I should share is in the Best of the Ballots category:

BEST WAY TO IMPROVE EUGENE

Fix the fucking bike lanes before somebody gets killed. Also, a Lebanese deli would be rather sweet.

Now, there’s a man/woman after my own heart.  My husband bikes to school, and I worry about him more, now that the rain is here and leaves are piling up in the bike lanes.  By the way, I’ve been hearing good things about the falafel at Mommy’s Pastrami and Falafel.  Not a Lebanese deli, but it might take the edge off.

 

something old, something new

DSCF4784This is short notice, but anyone interested in historic Oregon cuisine should check out the Oregon State University’s historical recipes showcase event tomorrow, Wednesday, October 28.  The tasting will feature desserts and other recipes from the archival collection of cook books…treats like trifles, fools and syllabubs.  The event will take place in the East Willamette Room on the third floor of the OSU Valley Library, from noon – 1 pm.

Slightly less short notice…my Master Food Preservers “Gifts in a Jar” evening course, the last one offered in the Market to Pantry series, is full.  We decided to open up an afternoon class that same day.  Both classes are on Thursday, November 19, and there are spots open only in the 1-4 p.m. class.

I’ll be featuring preservation recipes that fit in a standard canning jar, and will make great holiday gifts.  The syllabus is still being developed, but I’ll most likely be demonstrating a sugar plum jam or syrup from plums generously donated by King Estate, layered baking mixes, flavored vinegars, and a wonderfully easy almond brittle.

If you’re interested in taking the afternoon class, please give the MFP hotline a call at 541-682-4246.  Classes are held at the Extension Service Bldg. at the Fairgrounds on W. 13th., and cost $15 a person.  Samples, recipes, and goodies to take home will be provided.  We’ll also have pre-packaged gifts available: premium almonds (generously donated by the Hindrichs family from their Northern California orchard share) and amazing local Ennis hazelnuts, canned goods prepared by certified Master Food Preservers, and commercial grade clear-gel starch thickener for pie fillings and such.  All proceeds to go help keep the OSU Extension Master Food Preservation program alive.

humble beagle, top dog

IMG_0934

We’ve dined at Humble Beagle (next to Humble Bagel in Sundance Market’s plaza) a few times, and we’ve been pleased each time.  Although I still pledge my first love to Belly, Humble Beagle is another fine example of what Eugene can and should do in restaurants.  Humble Beagle is a cozy, weeknight, family place.  They serve burgers, pizzas and rustic dishes like macaroni and cheese, but where they differ from the dozens of other places in town serving these things is that they aren’t afraid to try utterly new variations.  One of the pizzas, for example, is a delicious Lebanese variation with ground lamb, minted labneh cheese, spinach and onions ($11).  Another, the Newport, includes smoked fish, pesto, capers and provolone.

Of the many things to like about Humble Beagle — the cute young couple running the place, the warm paint on the walls, ethical purchasing and seasonal produce — the flavor profile tops my list.  Ari, one of the owners, brings Israeli tastes to the table, and we see an appetizer of smoked fish and oysters, eggplant all over the place, and a hummus just slightly more bitter with tahini than we’re used to eating in these parts.  And it’s fantastic.  Anni, the daughter of the Humble Bagel owners, is connected in the bakery world, so we are treated to fabulous fresh breads — and a wide variety, too.  Even the desserts are house-made. (We sampled a vegan spiced chocolate pudding.  It was a bit grainy, but the spiciness and cocoa flavors were strong and assertive.  Don’t eschew the whipped cream.)

Look at these entrées.  No Steak Diane here:

  • Grilled skirt steak and fries with walnut salsa verde ($16)
  • Braised beans with honey and dill, served with ciabatta ($10)
  • Grilled fish of the day with bay leaves and smoked paprika, served with couscous and sauteed greens ($15)

Yum yum, yes?

Pictured above is a brimming bowl of seafood stew ($15), a tomato-fennel broth with white fish, bay shrimp, scallops and clams, served with garlic bread and a big glob of suspiciously white aioli (with sour cream?) that adds a jolt of flavor to the mild fish.  In the background is the vegetarian souk sandwich ($9), house baked pita bread filled with a gingery eggplant sauce and hummus atop hard boiled eggs and potato slices.  The mixed green salad is dressed simply with a red wine vinaigrette, but get this, it has garlic breadcrumbs — tiny, tiny breadcrumbs — mixed in with the leaves, so the dressing lingers just a bit longer.

Burger and Brew Wednesdays ($9) and Pizza and Pint Sundays ($9) are two nights worth checking out.  So are Everything Else is Excellent Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.  The restaurant is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.  Go.  You’ll like it.  The restaurant has a blog instead of a webpage (linked in the first paragraph here), so you can see the full fall menu there and some thoughts on the opening of the restaurant.

having my way with winter squash

IMG_0902

As we tumble into fall, all eyes turn to those fleshy orange squashes that we associate with holiday cooking.  Although I must say that I recently devoured a maple cream puree made with the grey squash above, I prefer winter squash dishes that don’t add extra sugar.  The marshmallow yam Thanksgiving casserole?  *shudder*

Sure, a little sugar heightens flavor, and a sweetener like maple syrup (especially the stronger tasting Grade B) can add nuances to the monochromatic flesh of squash.  So can smoky fats and meaty nuts.  When making roasted squash, I opt for olive oil and spices like coriander, cumin, and black pepper instead of the baking spices, or a Japanese flavor profile of soy sauce, mirin or sake, and sesame.  I like roasting because it creates different textures on the top and bottom of the squash pieces.

Pumpkin soup made with white miso is fantastic.  For Thanksgiving, I’ll sometimes make small cups of my kabocha squash and bacon soup.  The ultra-rich, smooth, dense texture of the kabocha makes particularly good soup.  Or add a little bourbon, and olive oil infused with rosemary and thyme, the ingredients of the world’s first perfume, Queen of Hungary water.  A couple of weeks ago, I made a lighter soup from sweet meat squash (the grey squash I’ve already mentioned) with fresh cream, zucchini shreds, and corn, flavored with the nutty Egyptian spice mix dukkha.

IMG_0873

It’s all good, as my students say.  To turn squash into a soup, you can either simmer chunks in water or chicken stock until tender, then smash up right in the same pot, or take the easy route and roast the squash in larger pieces (halves or quarters, depending on the size) with the skin on.  Brush the pieces with a little vegetable oil, then roast at 375 degrees.  When tender, let the squash cool until you’re able to scoop the flesh from the skin.  Much easier to manage than hacking off the uncooked skin, plus you get a flavor boost from the roasting.

When turning the roasted squash into soup, add a few cups of rich milk or chicken stock, and your spices of choice.  I won’t even complain if you add a little maple syrup and tiny pieces of bacon.  Or, if you cook up your bacon and then let it caramelize in some maple syrup, *then* add it.  No, I sure won’t.

super deluxe choucroute extravaganza

We shared a wonderful, rustic fall meal at Marché last night: Alsatian choucroute garnie.  It’s not really a meal for the light of heart.  Basically, it’s a giant mound of wine-braised sauerkraut topped with smoked and cured chunks of unctuous pork, several kinds of sausages and potatoes, served with mustard.

I have to thank Marché for this special menu.  I wish they’d do more of these simple, humble family-style dinners.  The price was outstanding for the quality of the meal, and the food was quite good.  The restaurant offers monthly French regional dinners, also a good value, but this was a beast of altogether different proportions.

choucroute060954-1

I don’t know how restaurant-heavy food blogs manage such gorgeous photos of the dishes that are served to hungry foodies.  I could only manage this:

IMG_0925

And I think I have a perfectly good reason, too.  Let me explain:

IMG_0926

You see, I was dining with The Fastest Fork in the West.  By the time I finished taking these two pictures, he had demolished the boudin noir, Strausbourg, and knackworst-y frankfurter sausages, a pork knuckle, most of the pork (not rabbit, as the menu says) rillette, the quick-pickled vegetables, duck fat potatoes, duck confit, three kinds of mustard (dijon, a particularly wonderful grape must, and plum), and that entire bottle of Sweet Cheeks 2006 Dry Riesling.  I was lucky to escape with a piece of frankfurter, a chunk of pork belly, and my life.

Do other foodies have these problems, these dangers, these Odyssean trials?  I wonder.

end of the harvest, end of the line

IMG_0853

I think I’m officially out of steam.  I put up two kinds of sauerkraut and more sour dill pickles last week, made chicken stock and ajvar (red pepper and eggplant spread) and went a little crazy with the dehydrator: dried bags of (commercial) green beans and corn/peas/carrots mix for soup, prunes, tomatoes, frozen sour cherries, and winter squash chunks.  The end of last week felled me with the worst cold I’ve ever had, and I stopped mid-pickle, mid-zucchini bread, mid-winter squash experimentations.

IMG_0879

My thoughts turned away from food and inward, dwelling on being sick.  I could teach a class on identity and sickness next term, I thought.  I researched it.  I slept.  My ears, head, and throat ached, but I didn’t feel like getting up for medicine.  Oddly, my sense of smell sharpened, and nausea came and went in waves.  I coughed and sneezed and slept and used up a trash can with kleenex.

IMG_0867

But I’m feeling better now, still weak and exhausted, but better.  I pulled out the summer squash and cucumbers, and pondered the green tomatoes.  Each year I make green tomato dill pickles, something I like best of all my pickles.  I don’t think I’m going to do it this year, though. [ETA: I did two pint jars.  That’s it.  Finis.]  We have jars and jars of dill relish that will last us through the year.  I composted the shredded zucchini today, along with the last of the cucumbers.  I’m going to pull the tomatillos tomorrow and harvest the rest of the dried beans.  And I’m going to stay in bed as long as possible in the morning and read.  Because I’m done.

IMG_0854

For now. :)