Pumpkins are not just for Halloween

Pumpkins in a pumpkin patch in New York

Did you ever see the Charlie Brown show where they were talking of “the Great Pumpkin” and the pumpkin patch? Memories of childhood reflected by many the importance of one orange colored vegetable – the pumpkin. It is a plant that trails over the ground and produces many pumpkins.

Pumpkin festivals have kept this plant from being forgotten. Small-town pumpkin festivals keep the interest in this solid vegetable. The history of the pumpkin is a long one. However, it was never eaten by the Pilgrims’ famous 1621 feast. Instead, people have gotten a creative imagination.  They thought it was eaten then, and continued this dream. When in reality it was never present.

Volumes of pumpkins grown remind us how the pumpkin industry has grown. From 71,700 tons of pumpkin grown in the United States in 1949, to over 1 million tons in 2007, shows just how fascinated with pumpkins are Americans. Of course, if you enjoy celebrating Halloween, you no doubt have at least one carved pumpkin sitting outside on your doorstep, with either a candle burning inside or a flashlight left on. This shows very nicely the artistic abilities of the pumpkin carver.

Roadside stands of every shape and size of pumpkins adorn rural areas of the United States. Wholesale markets offer the buyer cheaper options than upscale grocery stores that might sell white or gigantic orange pumpkins. Pick-your-own pumpkin farms attract many families from suburban areas. Although they might not be cheaper than in a city store, providing the family experience of choosing the right pumpkin with your family is still very much done. I remember going on hayrides with other daycare parents and children as an annual daycare field trip. We would go bumping along, sitting tightly together in a wagon being pulled behind a farm tractor. It was exciting for our toddlers!

Check it out!

Ott, Cindy. 2012.  Pumpkin – The Curious History of an American Icon.

         Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

November 5, 2014 – Monthly Culinary Book Club – Chicken

Welcome to my monthly culinary book club! We will be meeting on Wednesday, November 5, 2014, at noon in the book club room located in the Locust Street Atrium of Central Library – 1301 Olive Street, Saint Louis, MO 63103. From noon to 1 p.m. come and enjoy the company of other foodies. I look forward to seeing you join our group…… recipes will be exchanged…. cooking secrets….. spices…..

Cluck, Cluck, Cluck……. Chicken for Dinner

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Chicken is the most popular meat in America, where Americans buy about 83 pounds of chicken per person per year.  It is one of the most versatile ingredients you can find. A fresh chicken should have a plump breast and the skin should be creamy in color.  If you buy a frozen chicken remember to thaw it slowly. Thaw it slowly in the fridge. Do not let it sit out in room temperature, as it allows bacteria to multiply.

There are several types of chickens that you can buy in the store.  The most popular are roasters that are birds that are about six to twelve months old. They usually are  3 – 4 pounds and can feed nicely a family of four.   Boilers, the second most popular are about twelve months old. They weight between 4 – 6 pounds. To make these chickens tender, they require long, slow cooking, around 2 – 3 hours.

A more expensive bird is a corn-fed chicken. They usually weigh from 2 1/2 – 3 pounds. There are also spring chickens that you can buy. These birds are about three months old and weigh from 2 – 2 1/2 pounds. One will serve three to four people.

Another type of chicken are poussins. These are four to six weeks old and weigh 1 – 1 1/4 pounds. These only one person would be fed by a single bird.  Double poussins are eight to ten weeks old and weight 1 3/4 – 2 pounds. These birds are best roasted, grilled, or pot-roasted.

Roasting times are important to know when you are entertaining. How terrible it would be that you would serve a roast chicken dinner to find out there was blood on your chicken.

From: Fraser, Linda.  2010 .  Essential Chicken Cookbook. Anness Publishing Ltd.

ROASTING TIMES FOR POULTRY

Note:  Cooking times given here are for unstuffed birds. For stuffed birds, add 20 minutes to the total roasting time.

Poussin 1-1 1/2 pounds (1 -1 1/4 hrs at 350 degrees F.)

Chicken  2 1/2-3 pounds (1-1 1/4 hrs at 375 degrees F.)

Chicken 3 1/2-4 pounds (1 1/4 – 2 hrs at 375 degrees F.)

Chicken 4 1/2-5 pounds (1 1 /2-2 hrs at 375 degrees F.)

Chicken 5-6 pounds (1 3/4-2 1/2 hrs at 375 degrees F.)

Duck 3-5 pounds (1 3/4-2 1/2 hrs at 400 degrees F.)

Goose 8-10 pounds (2 1/3-3 hrs at 350 degrees F.)

Goose 10-12 pounds (3-3 1/2 hrs at 350 degrees F.)

Turkey (whole bird) 6-8 pounds (3-3 1/2 hrs at 325 degrees F.)

Turkey (whole bird) 8-12 pounds (3-4 hrs at 325 degrees F.)

Turkey (whole bird) 12-16 pounds (4-5 hrs at 325 degrees F.)

Turkey (whole breast) 4-6 pounds (1 1/2-2 1/4 hrs at 325 degrees F.)

Turkey (whole breast) 6-8 pounds (2 1/4-3 1/4 hrs at 325 degrees F.)

When you are getting ready to cook a chicken, there are several food safety tips to follow in order to stay healthy. Chicken can become contaminated by salmonella bacteria, which in turn can cause severe food poisoning.

First thing you need to do when buying a chicken, is to check the expiration date. Unless you will be defrosting a frozen chicken, place it directly into your freezer as soon as you return home.  If you are planning to cook it the same day, remove the packaging and place covered in a pan and keep refrigerated. Make sure you do not let the uncooked chicken drop any juices onto cooked food. This will contaminate your other foods and make them unacceptable for eating.

When preparing your raw chicken, use a non-wooden cutting board. This will help keep your food preparation area safe.  If any blood or raw chicken juices spill onto a cutting board, or another place, make sure you use a bleach to destroy any bacteria. It is always best to use a non-wooded cutting board if you can.

Finally, when you are roasting your chicken, use a meat thermometer to see that the flesh is thoroughly cooked. The temperature should reach at least 175 degrees F when cooked.  If your chicken juices do not run clear, but instead are bloody, return your bird to continue cooking.

If you are interested in patents, take a look at patent # 4,342,788 from the web site,

http://www.uspto.gov . This patent, approved on August 3, 1982, is for a method of cooking chicken parts. It is assigned to the Campbell Soup Company, Camden, NJ.

October 1 – Monthly Book Club

Drop by Central Library on Wednesday, October 1, 2014 to the Monthly Book Club Room, located in the Locust Street Atrium, between noon to 1 pm and enjoy an earthy discussion of pickling and preserves. Learn from experts how to make your own pickles and preserves. What can you use? How do you do it? Take home new recipes and techniques on the topic. Meet chefs, friends, and enjoy learning. If you have any questions, please call (314) 539-0390 or email sfraser@slpl.org.

Lobsters Ahoy!

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Lobsters are meant to be eaten for special occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries, or just because you enjoy lobsters. The best way I enjoy eating lobster is simply dropping them into a boiling pot of water, using chopsticks to hold them beneath the water for a few minutes until they turn red.  Let them cook for about twenty minutes. Then remove gently and use crackers to break open the claws and tail. Make sure you hold them over a sink or bowl so that the liquid inside does not pour down your clothes and all over your kitchen counter! This method has been scientifically proven to be a painless what for lobsters to die.

Another method to is to kill a lobster by inserting a sharp knife between the body and tail shells, cutting the spinal chord.  You may decide to place a heavy butcher knife along the lobster’s stomach, then hit it with a hammer or mallet.  If you choose to kill it this way, place on a flat baking tray, brushing melted butter over the meat. Add salt and pepper. Place the lobster shell side down on the baking tray so that the juices of the lobster remain in the lobster.  Broil for about 6 minutes, up to 15 minutes, depending upon the size of the lobster.  You will have tough and dry lobster meat if you overcook your lobster.

Either way of cooking your lobster, I always find that melted butter with lots of lemon juice, chopped garlic, salt, and pepper are a great addition to enjoying freshly cooked lobster! Just serve small new potatoes boiled, fresh artichokes, that also like to be dipped in the lemon/butter/garlic sauce, make a complete seaside meal.

Lobster Thermidor

(from: Marjorie Mosser”s “Good Maine Food: ancient and modern New England food & drink” cookbook)

Split cold boiled lobster lengthwise.  Remove meat and cut in small pieces. Make cream sauce as follows:  Melt 1 tablespoon of butter, add 1 tablepsoon flour and 3/4 cup light cream, stirring constantly until sauce reaches boiling point.  Boil 2 minutes, then add 1 teaspoon English mustard, 14 teaspoon salt, and dash of cayenne.  Add lobster meat and 1/2 cup chopped cooked mushrooms and mix well.  Fill empty shells with mixture, building it up above shell level.  Sprinkly with grated cheese and place on broiler to brown.

Lobster Croquettes

2 cups boiled lobster meat

1 cup Thick White Sauce

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

2 eggs

bread crumbs

Chop the lobster meat and add it to the white sauce with salt and mustard.  Heat in a double boiler.  Chill and shape into croquettes.  Dip into beaten eggs and then into bread crumbs.  Fry in deep hot fat, 390 degrees, and drain on brown paper.  Serve with a mushroom or tomato sauce.

Thin White Sauce

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

Melt butter, add flour, and blend.  Gradually add milk, stirring constantly until mixture thickens.  Add seasonings.

Mushroom Sauce

1/2 pound sliced mushrooms

1/4 cup butter

3 tablespoons flour

1 cup thin cream

Saute mushrooms in butter, add flour slowly. Brown slightly;  then add the cream and cook till thick.  Serve on lobster.

Tomato Sauce

Bring to a boil in a saucepan 1 cup canned tomatoes, 1 cup water, 2 whole cloves, 2 allspice berries, 2 peppercorns, 1 teaspoon chopped parsley, and 1 teaspoon mixed herbs.  Saute 1 tablespoon chopped onion in 1 tablespoon butter, and stir in 1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch;  then add to tomato mixture. Simmer 10 minutes.  Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and juice of 1 lemon.  Strain and serve.

Note that lobsters, that we call American or Maine lobsters, are Homarus americanus. They have large, powerful claws. These lobsters are what are sold in most fish markets across the United States. You can even have them ordered in the Mid West and shipped fresh from Maine. The smaller European lobsters, known as Homarus vulgaris, or Homaris gamarus, are found off the coast of Europe. They are smaller and not as plentiful as the American lobsters.

Mistakenly called lobsters, are a species of crustaceans that are clawless. They are found in the waters in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Africa, Australia, and even Scandinavia.  However, they belong to another family (Palinurus vulgaris). They are called rock or spiny lobsters.   In Europe, these lobsters are called langouste.

Interestingly, the Maine Lobster Promotional Council has trademarked the slogan “Maine lobster, the ultimate white meat”.

Now here’s an interesting lobster story from Rhode Island. (p. 21 Dojn, Brooke. Lobster!  55 Fresh & Simple Recipes for Everyday Eating.North Adams, MA:  Storey Publishing, 2012.)

LARRY, THE RHODE ISLAN’ MONSTAH LOBSTAH

“Our family was at dinner at the Wharf Tavern in Warren, Rhode Island, a couple of years ago.  The waiter announced that they had a special that night…an eighteen-pound lobster that could fee our entire table for $125.  After a great deal of family discussion, my husband, Keith, called the waiter over and told him we’d like to order the lobster… but we wanted it live!  We dubbed him (or her?) Larry the Lobster.  A couple of people at tables around us heard the conersation and chipped in to help us save Larry. We returned the next day with a cooler, packed Larry up, and drove 50 miles to the Mystic Aquarium, where we’d arranged to donate Larry and where he lives on happily in one of their large tanks.  The story about our lobster rescue mission ran in our local newspaper, and months later I met a woman who told me that her young son was so moved by Larry’s plight that he insisted on being taken to Mystic to meet Larry in person.”

Susan Maloney, Bristol, Rhode Island

Canning and Preserving for the Cold Winter Months

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Fall is here and the weather is getting cooler each day. It is that time of year where you want to start picking your last crops of vegetables and fruits. Autumn reminds me of digging the mason jars from the basement and starting to boil them to make sure they are clean. After going to a restaurant recently and drinking water out of a mason jar, I vividly was reminded how when living at home, the only use we had for mason jars was for pickling and preserving food. My how times have changed!

The first vegetable I remember pickling are those fat, over ripe cucumbers. We would let them ripen on purpose. As a little girl, I was over joyed when I finally was allowed to start picking these fat, yellow, over ripe cucumbers. I would use a wooden basket to place my chosen cucumbers.

Once I had my cucumbers picked, the next step was to peel off the skin and remove the seeds with a paring knife. I would also slice the cucumbers into long and narrow pieces.  The specific type of pickle that my mother would make is called, “selfgerken”.

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These peeled pickles were kept in brine a few months before eating. It was an old recipe my mother had that we used. Because they were salty, we often rinsed them off before serving. Still I remember them as being very delicious!

To can vegetables, as with fruit, always select perfect, completely ripe, sorted by size and degree of ripeness, so that you can handle similar pieces together.  Make sure you set out all your equipment first. That includes: boiling water bath canner, standard glass canning jars and lids, preserving kettle, teakettle, strainer, knives, measuring cups and spoons, wooden and slotted spoons, wide-mouth funnel, ladle, jar lifter or tongs, timers, hot pads, rubber spatula and wire cooling racks. Make sure your equipment and work surfaces are clean. A trick to keep the natural colours of your fruits  is to use a salt-vinegar solution to keep fruit from discolouring.

Once you have discovered how easy it is to make pickles with cucumbers, you can be adventurous and try pickling peppers, cauliflower, mushrooms, eggplant, artichokes, baby corn, okra, and mixed vegetables. Remember to date your canned goods. They make great homemade holiday gifts for family and friends.

Greek Festival Weekend…

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A traditional Labor Day festival in many cities throughout North America, is the annual Greek Festival. Greek foods that are often sold at these festivals include:  roast lamb, moussaka, dolmathes yalantzi, pitta, melitzanes yemistes,  trighona me spanaki, souzoukakia, and horiatiki.

Yogurt is frequently used in Greek cookery. It is usually made at home, though nowadays you can go to a grocery store and buy it ready made. I prefer to buy mine, and then to add thinly sliced cucumber, freshly chopped mint leaves and garlic, and a touch of salt. Mix these ingredients together and you have made tzatziki. It is a great compliment to a roast lamb shank dinner.

Another Greek specialty is taramasalata. I first made this recipe when I lived in Montreal and had a girlfriend from Athens. It is a very simple to make. First take 3 slices of white bread. Remove their crusts and soak them in water. Finely chop half a small onion. Take about 3 oz (100 g) of smooked cod’s roe, or tarama, and 7 fl oz (225 ml) extra virgin olive oil. Do not forget to add the juice of 1 lemon. First put the soaked bread, onion and lemon juice into a blender and process into a smooth paste. Next you add the fish roe and process a bit further. Finally, with the blender still turned on, add slowly your olive oil. Once mixture is fully blended, put into a covered container and place inside your fridge until chilled. I enjoy taramasalata spread on toasted garlic bread. MMmmmmm yummy!