Archive for October, 2010

Roasting Pumpkins

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

A couple of weeks ago a friend told me he had a Japanese friend who wanted to know  if the decorative pumpkins sold in grocery stores could be prepared to eat. The small pumpkins (about the size of a cantaloupe) are usually sugar pumpkins (aka pie pumpkins), and are the best type for eating.  Each fall I usually get a few organic sugar pumpkins from a neighboring organic farmer.  I roast them and then freeze for later use (pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin risotto, pumpkin cookies… stuff like that). Pumpkins sold for carving are edible, but don’t taste as nice as sugar pumpkin.  I don’t know if I’m imagining it or not, but it always seems that I get the best flavor from smaller pumpkins, so I try choose the really small ones…. a little larger than a softball, but no larger than one of those mini basketballs.  Additionally, the smaller size is so much easier to handle.

I’m sure you can find a bazillion different instructions online for roasting pumpkin. This is just my way of doing it.   One quick tip: a good sharp 8 or 9 inch chef’s knife makes quick work of the job. Just be sure to take your time and be safe.

First, remove the stem end.

Next, flip it so it’s standing on the flat, cut end (safety precaution) and slice it in half.

Scoop out seeds and pulp.

I usually just roast the halves, but this time I wanted some chunks for pumpkin risotto, so I roasted some both ways. I cut a couple of the halves into wedges, peeled with a vegetable peeler, and diced.

Place pumpkin halves on a foil lined baking sheet, cut side down, and roast in a 400°F oven.  If you place them cut side up, water will collect in the hollow, keeping the sugars from caramelizing. Caramelization is what you want, and where all that nice roasty pumpkin flavor comes from.

** Bunny Trail Alert ** I learned something from my oldest teenage son a couple of years ago. Did you know there are lock tabs on the ends of aluminum foil boxes?  I didn’t, and they’re absolutely genius. They keep the roll of foil from coming out of the box when you’re trying to tear a piece off.

I removed the diced pumpkin from the oven after about 15 minutes, and then shoved the halves back in for a total roasting time of about 30 minutes.  Roasting time may vary depending on the size and thickness of the pumpkins. Roast until fork tender and slightly browned. My skins bubbled up a bit, and there was a beautiful clear, thick orange liquid on the baking sheet.  Be sure to use the juice, as it’s packed with flavor.

Scoop the roasted flesh from the skins to use in your favorite recipes.  You can also freeze for later use. In my next couple of blog posts, I’ll give you my recipes for Pumpkin Risotto and Autumn Ham Soup with Pumpkin & Barley.

Bird In My Barn

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

There’s a homing pigeon living in my barn that I’ve had since she was just a little older than a fledgling. For years, my dad and I thought it might be fun to raise a few, and eventually fly them back and forth between our two places, which are about a 30 minute car ride apart.  Well, it didn’t work out the way we thought it would.  We didn’t realize the investment we would need to make, and that the return would be a few years in coming. When released, a homing pigeon will return to the place that it was hatched and raised. To be able to do what we wanted required purchasing mated pairs of birds, allowing them to raise young, and then training those young over a period of time. About a year into it, my dad and I both came to the realization that it wasn’t something we wanted to continue with. So, back to my bird. Apparently, she was young enough when I brought her home that she imprinted on my place, and decided she wanted to stay with me.

She’s the funniest thing. When my family is outdoors working in the yard, or working in the barn, she will fly down from the rafters of the hayloft and follow us around like a puppy dog. We’ve never given her a name…. we just call her Bird. Today, we got a little bit of rain. Well, maybe just a cloud burst.  Since the beginning of August, we’ve had very little rain and I’ve noticed that the birds, in general, get pretty excited about the little bit of water and come out to play. Bird is no exception, and she came out of the barn to enjoy the shower we got this afternoon.  I looked out my kitchen window to see her standing in the middle of the yard, flexing her wings to catch as much water on her feathers as possible. I wasn’t able to grab my camera fast enough for that particular image, but she humored me long enough to pose for a couple of shots.

Updated to add: After posting the link to this blog post on my Facebook wall,  I discovered I had a friend who raises homing pigeons. Her comments prompted some conversation that I thought I would share here.   My friend wanted to know if we had ever held Bird.  I told her that originally, we had the birds in an outdoor, walk-in 10×5 fly cage. It was situated outside of one of our barns, and had a sliding door that accessed a large indoor fly cage. While she was young we handled her occasionally. Since Bird took up residence in the hayloft, we’ve never felt the need to handle her. I love to watch her fly. It’s like watching pure joy. She also comes out to help me garden some times. It would probably be pretty funny for someone to observe, because I talk to her.

Crab Cakes & Arugula Fennel Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

Last weekend I got a day that was testosterone free! My husband was away on a job site and took our youngest son with him to work.  My oldest son went to Illinois for some college related computer nerd conference. When the boys are away I get to eat what I want, and there’s no one around to complain.

I had some arugula and baby Florence fennel in my garden that needed to be used up before I start getting hard killing frosts, so I settled on a salad using the two.  The flavor of arugula benefits from citrus, and I had lemon that needed to be used up.  I’ve had a container of pasteurized crab meat in my refrigerator just awaiting an opportunity, so the decision to make crab cakes was easy.  This recipe is sized to serve 2 people (about 4 cakes), so I ate it for both lunch and dinner.

I’ve sampled quite a few crab cakes over the years.  To be honest, a good crab cake is rather hard to come by when you live in the Midwest. In my neck of the woods, the only way to get truly fresh seafood is to buy a live lobster and cook it yourself.  Outside of boiling Mr. Lobster myself, “fresh seafood” and “Indiana” is an oxymoron. Most of the seafood available to me is either frozen or shipped in, and is at least a week old and ready to expire.  Now that I think of it, this recipe would probably be really good with lobster.  But, I digress.

This recipe features the crab, so good quality meat is essential.  Because I don’t have access to fresh crab, pasteurized crab from the refrigerator section of the seafood department is the next best option. If you have access to fresh crab, and are inclined to steam and pick it, I encourage you to do so. Whatever you do, DON’T use the tinned stuff from the tuna fish aisle! Ick! Also, you want the meat to be a little chunky, and not shredded to bits.  The crab meat is the star, and a little chunkiness provides nice texture.

Arugula Fennel Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
Baby arugula, rinsed and dried
Fennel, very thinly sliced
Red onion, thinly sliced
1 part fresh lemon juice
3 to 4  parts good extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper, to taste
Honey, to taste

This is a very simple recipe. Toss the arugula, fennel, and onion in whatever proportions you find pleasing. Whisk the  lemon juice and olive oil together. Season with salt and pepper. Add honey to balance the acidity of the lemon juice. A lot of personal preference comes into play, and making a vinaigrette you like requires tasting. Drizzle vinaigrette over salad just before serving. It’s also perfect with the crab cakes.

Crab Cakes
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg
1 tablespoon sour cream
1-2 tablespoons fresh snipped herbs (parsley, chives, chervil, tarragon … whatever you have available)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Dash Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Pinch or two cayenne pepper
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces crab meat
3/4 cup Panko style bread crumbs
1/4 cup Panko crumbs for breading
Mild flavored oil for cooking

I’m a huge fan of Panko crumbs. Nothing results in a nice light, crispy coating better than using Panko crumbs.

In a bowl, whisk the butter, egg, sour cream, herbs, lemon juice, and seasonings together. Gently mix in the crab meat and 3/4 cup bread crumbs. Place mixture in the refrigerator and allow it to sit for 10 or 15 minutes. This will give the bread crumbs time to absorb some of the moisture, and the mixture will bind a little better. The mixture is primarily crab meat, and barley enough binding ingredients to help hold it together.  For this reason, you will need to handle the patties gently.  Form the mixture into patties and then pat each side in the remaining 1/4 cup of Panko crumbs. Heat skillet over medium-high and cook crab cakes, about 4 to 5 minutes per side, remembering to handle gently so they don’t fall apart.

Bacon Cauliflower Cheddar Soup

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

Sometimes,  I simply don’t understand my guys!  I’ve been cursed with a couple of picky eaters … and a few food allergies to boot. My husband and oldest son are all about meat and potatoes, and it’s difficult to get them to eat their veggies.  My husband is allergic to celery, raspberries, cantaloupe, grapefruit, and lemon among other things.  My oldest son is allergic to a bunch of fruits and some veggies. My youngest son’s food preferences seem to change on an almost daily basis.  One day a meal I fix will be his favorite, and the next day he’s chiding me for forgetting that he doesn’t like it.

Will someone explain to me why both my sons like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, sour kraut, Reuben Sandwiches, and spinach? I’m so confused!  Fixing a meal that the entire household agrees upon can be a bit of a challenge, so now you understand one of the reasons I spend so much time experimenting in my kitchen. This soup recipe is the result of some of my tinkering when the boys were small.  Sometimes I serve it with BLT sandwiches, but most of the time they just want it with the bacon added directly to the soup. My youngest tells me the soup is awesome, but adding bacon makes is double awesome. Whatever!  I’m just glad they like it.

A little tip on cooking milk based recipes … to prevent scorching, a large double boiler comes in very handy.  I have a commercial grade 1 1/2 gallon stainless steel double boiler that has been worth every single penny I paid for it. If you don’t have a large double boiler, be sure to keep your temperature low and stir frequently.

Bacon Cauliflower Cheddar Soup
1 head cauliflower, cooked, drained, and trimmed to bite sized pieces
6 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup flour
5 1/2 cups milk
12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (or more to suit your preference)
Salt to taste
Bacon, cooked and crumbled

Make a standard white roux by melting the butter in your pot, adding the flour, and cooking for approximately 3 minutes so you won’t taste raw flour. Next, add the milk to the roux and stir with a whisk until thoroughly blended.  Seriously… use a whisk, not a spoon. You’ll end up with a smooth, lump free sauce every time.  Slowly heat the milk mixture until it thickens.

In a regular pot you would need to stir constantly to keep your mixture smooth, and to prevent scorching. The beauty of using a double boiler is that you can actually walk away from the pot for a minute or two.  I’m able to work on other kitchen tasks while waiting for my milk to thicken, stopping to stir every couple of minutes.

Once the milk has thickened, add shredded cheddar cheese and stir until it has completely melted into the thickened milk.  Stir in cauliflower pieces. Add cayenne and salt to taste.

Ladle soup into bowls and serve topped with crumbled bacon.

Sweet Potato Waffles

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

The growing season in my neck of the woods is winding down, and any day a hard killing frost could bring it to a screeching halt.  I’ve started stashing some vegetables for winter keeping.  Three bushels of potatoes in the well pit, a bushel of red onions and several butternut squash in a cool dry corner of my basement. Also stored in the basement are sweet potatoes kept in flat wooden crates lined with newspaper.  I don’t grow my own potatoes and onions.  These particular crops don’t grow well in my heavy clay soil, so I get them from Kindy’s, an organic farmer a couple of miles down the road from my house. It’s nuts that the soil is sandy just 2 miles from my place. Why couldn’t I be so lucky?

The guys in my household seem to think deep orange veggies should always be served with lots of butter and sugar.  I”m constantly trying to find new ways to fix sweet potatoes and squash that don’t involve so much butter and sugar, but somehow it always comes back to the same old thing. My sweet potato waffle recipe is no exception, but at least the sugar is in the form of maple syrup my husband makes each spring.  I would like to take this opportunity to shamelessly plug my hubby’s maple syrup. He still has one half gallon and some quarts left to sell, and would really like to get it off his hands before we head into winter. Seriously, you NEED some real maple syrup for your Sunday morning waffles, so head over to Bart’s Maple Syrup and buy some now!

And now back to your regularly scheduled programming. Because of the inclusion of mashed sweet potato, these waffles have a more dense texture than a typical light, airy waffle. Also, I’ve never been able to get them crispy, but it may be due to the fact my waffle iron about 20 years old and needs to be replaced. I did a little bit of research, and discovered Belgian waffle irons are supposed to do a better job of producing crisp waffles than traditional style waffle irons. After reading both professional and consumer reviews, the Presto 3510 FlipSide Belgian Waffle Maker looks like it would be my best bet for a reasonable price.

Sweet Potato Waffles
1 cup sweet potato, cooked and mashed
1 cup milk
3 eggs, separated
3 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon and nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt

Beat sweet potato, milk, and egg yolks together.

In another bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, spices, and salt.

Next, mix the sweet potato mixture into the flour mixture.

In yet another bowl (sorry,  this is a 3 bowl recipe, but they clean up easily), beat egg whites until stiff.

Gently fold egg whites into sweet potato batter.

Proceed to prepare waffles according to the manufacturer’s directions for your waffle iron.

I had a request from a friend for sweet potato pancakes because she did not own a waffle iron.  Here are a few tips for converting this recipe for pancakes. First, don’t bother separating your eggs, and mix them whole with the sweet potatoes and milk.  Secondly, you may want to consider reducing the sweet potato by 1/4 to 1/2 cup, and/or increasing the milk by 1/4 cup. You may need to tinker with it depending on how thick or thin you like your pancake batter. Sweet potatoes produce a dense textured pancake, so if you want a lighter textured cake you will need to reduce the potato.  Lastly, for pancakes you can reduce the butter and sugar by half. Waffles use a little more butter and sugar to develop crispness.

Musings about Art, Artists, and the Common Man

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

This may bore the heck out of a lot of you, but it stems from conversations I’ve been having with my brother in law, Bret Bailey. I should warn you this is probably going to wander all over the place, and may seem a bit disjointed. That’s what happens when I try to organize my thoughts into something cohesive.

First, I’d like to establish that I’ve had a lot of exposure to people who fit the traditional idea of what constitutes an artist. I don’t consider myself an artist in the traditional sense, but I do consider myself creative. I studied music and piano in college, as well as dabbling in a few art classes.  I have a green thumb, and I’m not shabby in the kitchen. I realize these things may not be considered art, but they do require tapping into creativity. I’m a little hedonistic and love things that appeal to my senses…. taste, sound, shapes, colors, balance, tactile pleasure, etc.

Let me tell you a little about some of the artists in my life. Also, there is something unique about most of them…. they have managed to feed their families pursuing careers in art. Let me assure you, this is a rather difficult accomplishment in the art world. We’ve all heard the term “starving artist”.

Bret, my husband’s identical twin,  is an artist and an art educator. He is very dedicated to helping people explore art, and experience their own creativity.  He was awarded  the Outstanding Art Educator of the Year Award in 2009.  He is a certified Teacher Mentor for Indiana, has an after-school art club,  serves as District 2 representative for AEAI, and is a member of the Lakeland Art Association. This picture is a self portrait he did when he was much younger. I think it makes him look creepy, and I tell him so quite often since he uses it as his Facebook profile picture.

My grandpa, Paul Hubartt, is an artist. He was an illustrator, advertiser, Fluegel cachet artist, and water colorist. My grandpa was trained old school and did a lot of things current day artists don’t seem to pursue much. He was always great at calligraphy and the almost lost art of illumination. When he retired he took up wood carving. What’s really amazing is that he’s in his 90’s and still has a steady hand. Almost all of his peers, friends and family have died, and he’s still able to paint and carve! I should also mention that my grandpa is an author (so is my dad). My grandpa was diagnosed with bone cancer a few weeks ago, and is undergoing chemo. Facing his mortality, he has begun relating a lot of stories about his life. Oh the things I’m learning about Grandpa! The picture below is one I took of my grandpa earlier this summer.

My brother is an artist.  His name is Paul Hubartt too…. named after our grandpa.  He is a pipe carver living in England, and his work is in demand. Outside of pipe carving I’ve seen him experiment with other mediums, and I bet he could easily change direction if he got bored with pipe carving.   Study in Self Reliance is a 7 page article published about my brother as the cover story for the spring 2010 issue of Pipes and Tobacco magazine.  I’m so very proud of my brother.  He has another hidden talent. He can write! I love reading anything he has written. He’s able to bring pictures and ideas alive in my mind, and his writing always leaves me with such an indescribable feeling. Here is what’s really funny about my brother … he doesn’t think of himself as an artist, and he won’t admit he has a talent for writing. I’m still trying to decide if it’s false humility, or if he’s really that oblivious to his own talents. The picture below is my brother with my nephew. I have other pictures  I’d love to show you, but I’m quite sure he’s going to kill me for writing about him, as it is.

I also have two cousins (brothers) who are artists. Our common grandpa is the one I just told you about. Daniel and Andy are new school.

Daniel VonSeggen is a free lance artist, with a degree in Commercial Art and Advertising design as well as Nanotechnology. Nothing like being an over achiever, huh Cuz? Daniel has a collection of his work available for public viewing on his website at  I’m pretty sure you’ll forgive me for ripping this picture from Facebook and putting it out there for the world to see.  I love this one because it’s you all grown up, but looking like the little kid that’s forever stuck in my mind.

Andy VonSeggen is an illustrator working for Play, Learn, Think & Feel. Andy describes his specialties as typography, conceptual sketching & brainstorming, pen & ink, digital shop drawings, specification writing, bicycle mechanics & shooting the breeze.  Yeah, I ripped off this picture too.  What are you going to do, disown me? Both of my cousins share my love of good beer, and are avid homebrewers. We grew up in different parts of the country, so there is still a lot I’m learning about these guys.  I heard through the family grapevine that they’re also musicians.

OK, so after all that carrying on about the artists in my family, you get this little teeny tiny rant.  The conversation I had last night with Bret was a rant about how some artists become so esoteric, that the common man can’t relate to them or their art. It drives me flippin’ nuts! I don’t think art is an exclusive club. Isn’t art supposed to be about expression, perception … conveying concepts, ideas, beliefs, what an artist thinks about the world, the human condition, beauty, evil, God? Isn’t art about all of us, taking on innumerable forms, using a world of mediums? Yes, I understand there  is a quality to art that may make it difficult to understand from time to time. But seriously, if an artist goes so far out that he/she completely alienates “normal” people, what’s the point? It’s no wonder some artists starve.

Yes, I know this is a powder keg. I’m probably going to receive a few nasty emails.  I’m OK with receiving nasty email. After all, it is a form of expression. If I can understand it or relate to it, then the author achieved some level of artistry.

An Unfortunate Ending

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

My busy season in the shop is well underway, leaving me very little time for experiments in the kitchen.  In desperate need of some therapy, I decided to spend a little time in my fall garden the other evening. I love fall gardening, and I’m always a little amazed that most gardeners don’t take advantage of this time to extend their growing season. There are quite a few vegetables that thrive on the cooler temperatures leading into winter.

Here in northern Indiana spring jumped to hot summer temperatures so quickly that my snow peas did not do well.  However, a late summer planting resulted in beautiful peas that were ready to pick this week.  The variety is Oregon Sugar Pod II. I just love the way the vines end in these little twisty curls!

Another veggie I love to plant for fall harvesting, and also for overwintering, is spinach.  Unfortunately, I have nothing to show because my neighbor’s roaming German Shepherd dug it up ….. twice! I replanted after she dug it up the first time, and within a couple of days she came back and dug up the seed bed.

I tried a new vegetable this year, and I’ve learned a lot.  I sowed Florence Fennel seed directly in the garden early this spring, but the bulbs didn’t develop very well.  After some reading I discovered it might perform better if planted early to late summer so the bulbs could form and mature in cooler weather. I went ahead and planted some seed about mid summer, but the plants are still small.  Next year I’ll try planting earlier.  I use fennel in place of celery when I cook, but it’s rather expensive in the markets in my area. I have two reasons for using fennel. First, I think celery is an evil, vile tasting thing.  Secondly, my husband is allergic to celery.

When most plants are turning brown and beginning to to die, I have a couple of herbs that provide beautiful,  vibrant splashes of color in the garden.


Pineapple Sage.

My basil had a wonderful year. It’s has been lush and prolific, thriving in the sweltering heat this summer.  I’ve frozen boatloads of pesto, and have been sending it home with friends and family by the bushel.  Really, I’m not kidding…. literal bushels! Because it’s threatening to go to seed, and harboring hope that I might find one more chance to make another batch of pesto, I decided to cut it back one last time.  Look who I found guarding my basil! Isn’t he beautiful?

With no one to take the basil off my hands, it had to go on the compost pile.  Thus the title of this blog post ….. “An Unfortunate Ending”.