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Chicken Pumpkin Stew, Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, and Double Chocolate Pudding

Pumpkins are here! We picked up a bunch of them at my in-laws and I have been searching all week for the most perfect recipes because I am determined to use all but one to eat. The pumpkins really turned orange early this year and it is funny to drive along a variety of country roads and find lawns adorned with an assortment of them and a little table with a coffee can for donations for pumpkins and of course squash and baseball bat zucchinis. Even the pumpkin patches are ready for picking. I am almost wondering if there will even be any left for Thanksgiving or Halloween, but luckily Canadian Thanksgiving comes earlier than American turkey Day, October 11!

Now cooking with a real pumpkin is practically unheard of today since there are so many varieties that come in a can. But since I have a personal mission to only purchase canned veggies when absolutely necessary, I am going to make the following recipe with a real, live, orange jack-o-lantern that most people think are only for carving. So today’s quest was to make pumpkin stew inside the pumpkin and put all of the ingredients into the pumpkin and roast it in the oven. I prepared my ingredients: chicken breast, onion, garlic, red pepper, chicken broth, water, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt/ pepper. I cut the top off of the pumpkin and scooped out all of the seeds and set them aside. I then filled the pumpkin with all of my ingredients, put the top back on and set in a shallow roasting pan in case of spillage or worse case scenario…explosion! I put it into a 400°F oven for at least an hour. It wasn’t long before my house smelled like a holiday! I loved the idea of this stew because it meant no pot to clean. Now would it work? After about 45 minutes I pulled it out and checked on it. The broth inside was still cold and the chicken was still pink. I put it back in and thought maybe my pumpkin was much bigger than it was supposed to be for this mission. After another half hour, I checked on it and the whole top had caved into the stew and the broth was simmering and the chicken was almost cooked. The part had me a concerned was that the pumpkin itself was very soft and very brown. So since I didn’t want my house to burn down today from a pumpkin explosion, I decided to take the pumpkin out of the oven and transfer the insides to a pot and simmer it for a bit longer to make sure the chicken was cooked through.

I then proceeded to cut the pumpkin and chopped some of the inside to add to the stew. I even puréed about a cup of it and added that to the stew to make it thicker. I simmered it for about another 20 minutes before garnishing it with freshly chopped green onions and basil leaves. I was a little disappointed that the idea of the stew in the pumpkin didn’t work out for me, but I was happy that I played it safe because I was in no mood to clean up a huge mess!

Meanwhile while the soup was simmering, I rinsed and dried the seeds that I previously scooped out and tossed them with some olive oil and Old Bay seasoning and lined them on a cookie sheet. I roasted them for about 5 minutes or until they were golden brown. I love roasted pumpkin seeds! They are such a good snack or a substitute for croutons on a salad and are packed with so much goodness too.

Pumpkins all around are so good for you. They have a variety of health benefits including rich in beta carotene, anti-oxidants, zinc, fiber, and the list goes on. I am trying to convince Rob of all of these things as our stew is simmering and he is thinking of what he is going to make for his back up dinner in case he doesn’t like it. We haven’t even eaten our first pumpkin dish of the season and I am rattling off plans for the other orange beauties on our porch! I tasted the stew and I was impressed. The broth was very flavorful and the vegetables added a wonderful flavor. We enjoyed the stew with a side of whole wheat bread toasted with pesto. It made for a very lovely meal.

To top off dinner, I made a classic favorite, chocolate pudding and added a twist of dark chocolate to make it interesting. Now to many, pudding means a box of Jell-O brand powder in which one adds milk or water, stirs and voila, something edible is formed. But today I am talking about homemade, completely from scratch, pudding that it so easy and absolutely delicious. It takes 30 seconds longer to make than any kind from a box, so that is enough reason to convert right now! I made the pudding before I began my stew so it had ample time to chill and set. I topped it off with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprig of mint. Anything made with chocolate has a special place in my heart. Hope you enjoy as well!

Pumpkin Pot Stew
Recipe Modified From: Project Fidgety Fingers
Serves: 4-6

Small pumpkin
1-2 chicken breasts, diced
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Chicken Broth
White Wine
Green Onions, for garnish

1. Cut lid off of pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Put to the side.
2. Mix the chicken, onions, garlic, pepper, and spices together. Add to the pumpkin.
3. Add a splash of white wine. Fill two thirds of the pumpkin with chicken broth and the last third with water. Put the lid back on the pumpkin. Put the pumpkin into a shallow roasting pan in case of spillage.
4. Cook on 400°F for an hour or more depending on the size of your pumpkin.
5. Note: If your pumpkin is too big like mine was…cook until the pumpkin shell gets browned and very soft. Remove from the oven and pour into a large soup pot. Scoop out some of the pumpkin and add cubes of the pumpkin to the stew. Cook until chicken is cooked through.
6. Garnish with chopped green onions. Serve with frsh bread, over pasta, or mixed with rice.

Old Bay Pumpkin Seeds
Recipe From: Gretchen Brown

Pumpkin seeds
Old Bay seasoning or your favorite spice blend
Olive Oil

1. After scooping the seeds out of the pumpkin, rinse them to remove the pulp. Lay them flat on a few sheets of paper towel to dry them.
2. Put them in a bowl. Drizzle a little olive oil on them and toss to coat. Add Old Bay seasoning to your liking.
3. Roast, in the oven with the stew, for about 5 minutes or until golden brown.

Double Chocolate Pudding
Recipe From:
Serves: 4-6
3 cups of milk (3.25%)  (I used 1% and the pudding tasted great!)
5tbsp cocoa
4 tbsp corn starch
2 tbsp sugar
pinch of salt
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup dark chocolate chunks (75%)

1. Put the cocoa, corn starch, sugar and salt in a pot. Add the milk, heat on medium-high heat and whisk to combine everything together.
2.Cook until it is thick (enough to cover the back of a spoon) whisking once in a while. Once you have the desired consistency, remove from the heat, add the butter, vanilla and dark chocolate and whisk well into the pudding.
3.Pour into small bowls and chill for a few hours before serving. Garnish with whipped cream and fresh mint sprig.


End of Summer Bounty: Canned Bruschetta, Herb Infused Vinegars, and Pesto

The air has turned cool and the leaves are starting to turn beautiful shades of red, orange, and yellow. I am totally in love with this weather and cannot think of a better time of year than the fall. There is just something magical about it. All spring and summer you have watched things grow from seed and produce the most bountiful crops and now it is time for them to slow down and take a rest. But of course not without producing a few more fall goodies from the garden. Don’t get me wrong the things harvested from the garden all spring and summer are delicious and fun to cook with, but there is something about picking a bright orange pumpkin cutting it open and making fresh pumpkin puree, or stewing a bushel of apples all day to make applesauce that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. There are just so many things that can be done with the fall harvest.

So now that I have gone on about fall and all of the things to come in the next few weeks, let’s talk about what is happening now in the garden. Our tomatoes are dwindling down, now let’s get this straight…these plants don’t really understand dwindle very well. We went to go pick yesterday and got the impression that there were just a few red tomatoes left on the vine… wrong…wrong..wrong. We came home with over 30 huge red ones in our box and there were still several dozen hanging out on the vine. Since we were harvesting tomatoes, we took a gander at what else was available. All of the new potatoes were harvested and ready to be eaten. Now let me tell you something about these potatoes, Wendy and I planted about 1 1/2 dozen seed potatoes in the spring and the harvest this year provided us with over 100 pounds of red skinned beauties!! Some of them were the size of my face. And to think that we planted another whole row to be used as late picks that haven’t even been touched yet! Amazing! Onto the zucchini, we took home another baseball bat and browsed at the collection my in-laws have of about 20 more bats left to try and pawn off. The pumpkins were all harvested because a beetle got into the patch and was starting to eat them all, so they harvested the good ones and took out the patch. They were able to save about 30 plus good ones. I scooped up 5 of them and my mind started spinning of ideas for these babies…pies, muffins, cakes, stews, roasted seeds, and the list goes on. The acorn squash was ready so we got a few of those. Bugs got into the onions as well, so they were all harvested and drying in the sun before they would be stored in the cold room for the winter. The pepper plants were slowing down as well and all of the red beauties were ready to be picked. We went over to the garden to pick up a few tomatoes and ended up with 30 tomatoes, 5 pumpkins, 3 acorn squash, red onions, yellow onions, leeks, red peppers, potatoes, zucchini, beets, basil, mint, and carrots! Now, where to start with all of this goodness.

Since the tomatoes spoil the fastest, I will begin with them. I keep saying to myself I have done enough canning for the season, and then I find another super recipe that I really want to try. This time it was for canned bruschetta. I think the taste of bruschetta is so refreshing on a slice of toasted bread that I couldn’t imagine going all winter and spring without it, because we are trying really hard to only eat things in season. So I thought let’s can it.

Lately we have really gotten into this whole canning thing and found that the biggest expense is the jars. We like to give some of our canned goods away as gifts, so that means the jar needs to be replaced… no big deal. The jars are on sale all of the time. Now the other day we were at one of our favorite thrift stores and found a whole box of practically brand new canning jars. We were able to get 15 jars for $3.00 and some of them were vintage beauties. We also found some really cool corked blue glass bottles for our herb infused vinegars which are also great to give for gifts.

The bruschetta recipe was pretty straightforward…chop veggies until your arm is just about ready to fall off, put them in a jar, and cover them with hot herb infused brine. So simple! Rob and I set up quite the system to make the whole process of chopping tomatoes a little quicker because I did choose to take on this project in between shifts at work. I changed a few things about the recipe. I added a chopped onion to the tomato mixture to give more flavor and I also didn’t peel the tomatoes before chopping. All in all, this recipe went smoothly. The only things I would do differently is add the herbs directly to each jar instead of into the vinegar brine because they did not distribute evenly in each jar. During the hot water bath, we heard a strange sound, so we opened the pot and didn’t notice anything wrong, so we closed the pot. Later we found out that one of our jars cracked so it had to be tossed. Out of the nearly 60 plus jars that we have canned this summer, that is the first one that has cracked or not sealed properly!

The beauty about canning is that you can enjoy the summer’s harvest all winter long and not feel guilty about eating fruits or veggies because they were processed in your own kitchen when they were in season. After growing so many neat things and supporting local farmers all summer, it doesn’t even make sense to purchase items grown in labs or in other countries just because you want a tomato for example in January. This is just ludicrous. Ok enough of my opinions and onto the recipes. In addition to the canned bruschetta recipe, I have included a recipe for Herb Infused Vinegars. This one is really simple to do and makes a lovely gift. The idea came from a woman who I met while we were WWOOFing on Amherst Island about a month ago. The herbs were also from her garden. I have also included a simple pesto recipe using walnuts instead of pine nuts. It is excellent tossed with pasta, sundried tomatoes, and chicken. Enjoy!

Bruschetta in a Jar
Recipe From: Ball Canning
Makes about 7 (8 oz) half pints

You will need:
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp dried basil
2 Tbsp dried oregano
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
9 cups chopped cored peeled plum tomatoes (about 4 lb or 12 medium)
7 (8 oz) half pint glass preserving jars with lids and bands


1.) PREPARE boiling water canner. Heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside.

2.) COMBINE garlic, wine, wine vinegar, water, sugar, basil, oregano and balsamic vinegar. Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 5 minutes or until garlic is heated through. Remove from heat.

3.) PACK tomatoes into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Ladle hot vinegar mixture over tomatoes leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rim. Center hot lid on jar. Apply band and adjust until fit is fingertip tight.

4.) PROCESS filled jars in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Remove jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex up and down when center is pressed.

Herb Infused Vinegar

Large bunch of herbs
White wine or white vinegar
Mustard seeds
Chili Peppers

1. Get a large jar and stuff it with washed and dried fresh herbs. Choose one herb or a combination of your favorite herbs. Tarragon, Thyme, and Mint work well.

2. Cover the herbs with your choice of vinegar. Note.. if using white wine vinegar, your finished product will have a brownish tint to it.

3. Set the jar in a dark, cool place for 5-6 weeks undisturbed.

4. Place herbs from large jar into smaller fancy bottles. Cover with vinegar. Add peppercorns, mustard seeds, coriander, dill seeds, etc to the bottle to adjust the flavor. The possibilities are endless.

Two combinations that I tried:
French tarragon, black peppercorns, mustard seeds, and white vinegar
Habanero chili peppers, peppercorns, fresh basil, white vinegar

Basil Walnut Pesto
Created by: Gretchen Brown
Makes: 1 cup

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup walnuts
Salt/ pepper
1/2 cup parmesan cheese

1. Pulse the walnuts a few times in food processor. Add basil and continue to pulse. Add olive oil in a steady stream and continue to pulse. Add cheese to blend. Add salt and pepper if needed.

2. Toss with hot pasta, grilled chicken, and sundried tomatoes for a fast dinner. Can also be used as a base for a pizza instead of a tomato sauce.


Farmer's Cheese, Caesar Salsa, Italian Sausage Pizza

I signed into my blog to post something that I made today and realized that I never posted my last post which was quite a personal feat. A while back, I read the Omnivore’s Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and became inspired to make my own cheese from home. I even went so far as applying for a job as a cheese maker’s assistant when I returned to Canada, but due to the commute and the lack of public transportation I couldn’t figure out a way to get to work without purchasing my own car. This was not in the budget at the time. So anyway, I continued to research the cheese making process. During our WWOOFing experience on Amherst Island back in July, we met a man named Armando who was completely blind and has been making cheese at home for about a year. We tasted him Asiago cheese and it was not too bad for being made at home. I wanted to begin with something a little simpler than an aged cheese so I opted for a version of Farmer’s Cheese otherwise known as Ricotta.

Everyone knows that cheese begins with milk, so I bought a milk bag of whole milk from Reid’s Dairy. I already know that next time I will attempt to get milk directly from a farm to try this recipe instead of milk that has been treated for consumers. I added my milk to a large stainless steel pot and put in my salt and waited for it to boil. The whole time I was thinking this will sure be a lot of salted milk to drink if this cheese doesn’t work! I mean who drinks whole milk anymore. The boil started and I turned off the heat and added some lemon juice. I waited like the recipe said and nothing happened so I added more lemon juice. I thought why not. The milk concoction started to curdle, so I poured it through some cheesecloth that lined another stainless steel pot. The curds rested in the cheesecloth while the whey drained through. After about an hour all of the liquid had drained through. I looked at the amount of curd that was left and the amount of whey in the bowl underneath and I was disappointed. There was enough cheese to spread on about one bagel…bummer. I didn’t give up though. I continued to research and learned that if the whey is still white, then the whole process can be done again because there are still cheese particles in the whey. If the whey was yellow then the process is finished. So I began again. Luckily I did because the second time around yielded a lot more curd!

After all of the whey drained through the second time, it was yellow so I knew I had extracted all of the curd. Before I dumped the bowl of whey, I researched if there were any recipes that used it because I have seen whey in so many things before. Whey is very nutritious because it is protein rich. So I put the whey in a container and saved it in the fridge. I would later use it instead of water to make pizza crust, and replace the milk in muffins and pancakes with whey.

All in all the cheese turned out delicious. I served it a few different ways. We served it with crackers and used it as a spread and topped it with a horseradish tomato salsa. The next day we made pizza with Italian sausage, fresh basil, red onions and our fresh cheese. We even spread it on bagels with fresh tomato and cucumber slices. When I make this cheese again, I will increase the salt because it was slightly on the bland side and I will also try to add some fresh herbs into the finished curd. I think it would also make a perfect substitution for ricotta in lasagna. Definitely a culinary feat well accomplished!

Farmer's Cheese
Recipe From:
Servings: 1 pound?
1 gallon whole milk
1 pinch salt
1 large lemon, juiced
1. Pour the milk into a large pot, and stir in a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent the milk from scorching on the bottom of the pot.

2. When the milk begins to boil (small bubbles will first appear at the edges), turn off the heat. Stir lemon juice into the milk, and the milk will curdle. You may need to wait 5 or 10 minutes.

3. Line a sieve or colander with a cheesecloth.

4. Pour the milk through the cloth to catch the curds. What is left in the cheesecloth is the Farmer's Cheese. The liquid is the whey. Some people keep the whey and drink it, but I throw it away. Gather the cloth around the cheese, and squeeze out as much of the whey as you can. Wrap in plastic, or place in an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator.

Caesar Salsa

Recipe Created by: Gretchen Brown
Yields: A lot

2 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
8 cups chopped tomatoes (about 11 large ones)
1 green pepper, chopped
1 rib of celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup horseradish
2 TBS salt
1-2 TBS Worchestshire sauce
1 TBS dill weed
1 tsp dill seed
1 TBS mustard seed
1 1/2 tsp black pepper

1. Bring sugar and vinegar to a boil. Remove from the heat. Cool completely.
2. In a large bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Add vinegar mixture and mix well. Spoon into storage containers. All 1/2 inch of headspace. This will keep in the fridge for a about a week. It also freezes well. After defrosting, drain some of the excess liquid before serving.

Italian Sausage Pizza with Fresh Basil, Cherry Tomatoes, and Farmer’s Cheese
Recipe Created by: Gretchen Brown
Yields: 1 pizza

1 recipe of quick pizza dough (see past blog posting)
1 cup of chipotle pepper pizza sauce
1 cooked Italian sausage cut into rounds
Handful of basil chopped
Handful of cherry tomatoes, halfed
1/4 red onion, sliced
Mozzarella cheese
Farmer’s Cheese

1. Prepare pizza crust and spread with sauce.
2. Put a handful of mozzarella on the sauce before adding any toppings. Arrange all toppings except for the basil and sausage.
3. Add the rest of the mozzarella and scoop the farmer’s cheese into blobs. Add the sausage. Cook for 10-15 minutes at 450°F. Sprinkle with fresh basil when finished.