Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fall Harvest Meal - Lentil Soup and Pumpkin Pie

Happy Halloween!

When I first posted this entry I didn't have a picture. Makes me think of a George Carlin skit where he asks, "Did you make this? Did you get this from a recipe book? Is there a picture that goes with it?" And he's saying it with a not so happy look on his face. My husband always says that when I make something new and it doesn't come out looking so good, which unfortunately is quite often. So I tell him what our neighbor growing up, Mrs. Michelli, always said, "All good ingredients went into it so it's got to taste good!" I love that logic.

Well, this meal was a winner. Phew! My son, Kyle, and I made Garden Harvest Lentil Soup and Pumpkin/Cream Cheese Pie. The guys loved them both.

Garden Harvest Lentil Soup -
Saute: In a few tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 large onion - I used 2 small leeks and 2 shallots since they were still in the garden
1 large carrot - waiting until ground is cold the carrot will taste sweeter
2 large cloves garlic minced
Saute them for a few minutes until softened and the onions are golden.
Add a few sprigs of thyme, marjoram, celery leaf if you have it, parsley (about 1/2 tsp of dried if that's what you use)

Add 4 cups of broth ( I used vegetable)
A pint of tomatoes (or a can of tomatoes such as diced)
1 Cup of rinsed lentils

Simmer covered for about 45-60 minutes until lentils are tender. Add a good dash of white wine and Parmesan cheese about 10 minutes before done.

This is a basic recipe that I got (and changed a bit) from Moosewood years ago. It can be altered in many, many ways. Such as adding veggies such as zucchini, mushrooms, celery...etc.

Now for the Pumpkin Pie; it's really more like pumpkin pie/cheesecake.
(I think this comes from an old Cooking Light magazine)

Pumpkin-Walnut Pumpkin Pie
2 pie crusts
1 large egg lightly beaten
1 and 1/4 cups light brown sugar (next time I make this I'm going to try 1/2 brown sugar and 1/2 maple syrup)
1 Cup walnuts finely chopped and carefully toasted
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
3 TBSP butter, softened
2 Cups of cooked and pureed pumpkin (or 1- 16 oz can).
NOTE: To cook pumpkin I put a whole pumpkin in the oven and bake for 60 minutes at 450 degrees. When I take it out I cut it open and let it cool (I usually do this in the AM and just let it sit till I'm ready to work with it) Then scoop out the seeds and gooey stuff. Save seeds for later to make baked pumpkin seeds but rinsing in water and baking at about 250 till dried; then sprinkle with salt. Scoop out the pumpkin and puree in a food processor until silky smooth, like the canned pumpkin texture. Throw skin and gooey stuff that the seeds were stuck to into the compost.
1 8 oz package of softened cream cheese
2 large eggs
2 TBSP flour (I use white whole wheat flour)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp each of ground ginger, allspice, nutmeg
Homemade whipped cream

Roll out 1 pie crust and put in greased pie plate. And if you have a cookie cutter,
roll out the other pie crust and use cookie cutters such as leaves to make thin little shaped crusts to decorate the cake. (I know this is way Martha Stewardish but it did look really nice and was worth the extra effort). Put them on a cookie sheet and brush with the 1 beaten egg.
Bake 350 for about 10 minutes until golden brown. Let cool and put the leaves aside for later.

Combine 1/2 cup brown sugar, chopped toasted walnuts, butter, and vanilla; spread onto the cooked, cooled pie crust.

Beat pumpkin, cream cheese, 2 eggs, and remaining 3/4 cup of brown sugar at medium speed with electric mixer. Add flour, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg, beating until blended. Spoon pumpkin mixture over the walnut mixture.

Bake 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake 30 more minutes ( I baked for 35 more minutes) or until pie is set. Remove from oven and decorate edges of the pie with the leaves. Serve warm or cool with a dollop of whipped cream on top.

To make whipped cream I use either whipping cream or heavy cream. I add a generous tablespoon of sugar and a dash of vanilla and beat with electric mixer until whipped. It's way better than prepackaged whipped cream.

Hope you get to make and enjoy this delicious harvest dinner!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sage Fish

Sage Fish

This is a quick post. Before the killing frost comes I thought you might like to harvest a good batch of sage and try some elegantly simple sauted Italian Sage Fish. If you grow sage and eat fish this is a wonderful dish.

We've had a few frosts that have put an end to all my annuals and even many perennials. But the sage (and mint) keeps on giving! So I picked another big bunch of sage tonight to make some Sage Fish. A friend of mine who is also our state science specialist, Anita, told me about this dish. She and her husband had this when they were in Italy. To be honest I'm not even sure which area of Italy this dish comes from but I will find out. She said it is one of her family's favorites. Since I still had a ton of sage in the garden and I LOVE Italian food I thought I'd give it a try. Sage is not an herb that I normally use. I have found it to be strong and we use to use it only on poultry, which it is delicious on. But since I don't eat or cook meat (but do eat some fish) I was enticed by this recipe.

Here's how you cook it. Gather at least 35 good sized leaves of fresh garden sage. Rinse the sage leaves. Pour some extra virgin olive oil into a skillet. Gently rub the fish with a few sage leaves.
Use a mild white fish like Tilapia or Haddock. Turn on the skillet, generously line the skillet with lots of sage leaves, lay the fish on top, and top with another generous amount of sage leaves. Saute fish until starting to flake and then flip. I use a spatula to flip the fish. Cook until flaky. Only takes like 15 minutes or so. Serve with steamed veggies like green beans, squash, asparagus, whatever is available, local, and in season. I start the veggies when I put the fish on. This would also be good with rice or couscous. Tonight we had leeks with this and that added another lovely flavor. I just added leeks to the fish while it was sauteing. So it was garden leeks, sage, and fish. Serve with some wine or local brew and voila, a simple yet elegant meal. And fast too. I always know if the meal I cook is any good by the amount of initial conversation while we eat. My husband and son were silent as they savored this dish for the first time. A sure "thumbs up"! You can remove the leaves before eating if you just want a hint of sage flavor. Or if you want more of the flavor eat the leaves with the fish. We like it both ways.

Here's a tip on what to consider when purchasing fish.
According to Seafood WATCH Northeast Seafood Guide consumers in the Northeast should choose Tilapia that is US farmed as our best choice. When choosing between Tilapia and Haddock the next best choice is hook and line Haddock. To be honest I'm not sure how you know the Haddock you buy is hook and line. This Seafood Guide is available and designed to help consumers purchace fish that is abundant, well managed, and caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways. It also notes any mercury concerns. It lists the above Tilapia as the "Best Choice". And the above Haddock as a "Good Alternative". Good Alternatives are considered options but there are concerns with how they are caught or farmed - or with the health of their habitat due to human impacts. Some other "Best Choices" on the list are: farmed Arctic Char, US farmed Catfish, Pacific Halibut, Alaska wild Pollock and Salmon, farmed Rainbow Trout. I would think any of the above would taste fine in this dish also. Certainly worth experimenting with. For a copy of this guide, visit:

To download and print a small and portable reference card visit:
Here you can also view guides for other parts of the country.

Enjoy whatever you still have in your garden. Mine happens to include leeks and sage.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pumpkins, Pumpkins, Pumpkins Everywhere!

Pie Pumpkins Still on the Vine

October is definitely pumpkin month. The Boston Globe has had several articles about the shortage of pumpkins in the northeast due to all the wet weather we had this summer. I'm realizing that having a garden on land with a slight incline is a very good thing indeed. Much of my garden did fantastic this summer. And I can only assume it's due to the drainage of my slightly inclined garden. There was some fungal disease but not much more than normal. Except for my entire tomato crop which I lost. I had one harvest of tomatoes before the fungus hit but every one of those tomatoes went to a friend who moved a piano to our home for us. A small price to pay to get a piano for my son.

Like most people I love pumpkins and so always plant a lot of them. They do take up a ton of room but I feel they are worth it. I've tried planting them in with corn and beans (that 3 sisters approach to gardening) but stepping on/over pumpkin plants was really difficult when harvesting corn so I don't do that anymore. If you have a way to do that so it works for you please share!

I like to grow big "field" pumpkins for decorating and carving into Jack-o-Lanterns and small "pie" pumpkins for cooking. The small pie pumpkins are a much deeper orange than field pumpkins and have more sugar in them. Gosh knows we humans love sugar.

When cooking with pie pumpkins 1 1/2 cup of cooked pumpkin equals 1 can of pumpkin. That's a good tid bit to know if you want to cook with your homegrown and hopefully organic pumpkins. To cook pumpkin I put the whole pumpkin (minus the stem part) into the oven on a cake pan and bake at @ 400 F for a good half hour (until it starts to lose it's shape and knife slides in real easy). Then I cut open into 4ths and let it cool a bit. Once cooled scoop out the gooey stuff full of seeds. Pull out as much seeds as you can and put gooey stuff in compost. Rinse seeds in a colander, spread on cookie sheet and bake at low heat @ 200 F until crispy. Sprinkle with a little bit of salt (or not) and enjoy your homemade, nutritious treat.

While the seeds are baking remove the soft pumpkin "meat" and blend in a food processor, blender, or by hand so it's mushy like when you buy it in a can. Now your wonderful pumpkin is ready for soups, pies, cookies, breads...whatever you want to put it in. I will share a soup recipe here and if I get a chance I'll add a cookie one later. Pumpkin cookies will definitely be part of our math and snack at school the week of Halloween.

Spicy Pumpkin and Maine Shrimp Soup: (from Quick Simmering Soups)
Only takes 30 minutes start to finish! :)

2 medium onions (organic and from your garden or local farmers market if you can)
2 medium carrots (ditto) Note: Wait until after the soil has cooled before harvesting carrots; I believe it makes them sweeter. I harvested mine early October here in central Maine.
1 TBSP fresh snipped Cilantro
2 tsp fresh grated (or minced) giner root
2 Cloves garlic
1/2 tsp ground allspice
2 TBSP butter (I use extra virgin olive oil instead)
1 - 14 oz can veggie broth
1 1/2 cups cooked pumpkin (or 1 15 oz can pumpkin)
1 Cup milk
1 8oz package frozen Maine shrimp (or more)
Plain Low-fat yogurt or sour cream (optional)
Snipped fresh chives

In large saucepan cook sliced onions, carrots, cilantro, gingerroot, garlic, and allspice, covered in the olive oil or butter for 10-12 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor, add 1/2 cup of veggie broth. Cover and blend until nearly smooth.

In same saucepan combine pumpkin, milk, remaining broth. Stir in blended veggie mixture and shrimp. Heat throught. If desired, thread additional cooked shrimp on small skewers (not an easy task to do with small Maine shrimp).
Here's a note on shrimp and why I specified Maine shrimp. If you love shrimp like I do this is going to be tough to read but read it you must. Shrimp that comes from Asian areas such as Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam etc are do enormous environmental damage to those areas. Mangrove swamps are destroyed to farm raise these shrimp that feed so much of the world. Please read the package of where your shrimp comes from or ask the person behind the fish counter. Most of the shrimp available at grocery stores are from these areas. Avoid them at all costs. There are 2 options that I am aware of. 1st one is to support local food and buy shrimp from Maine:) 2nd choice is to look for shrimp from Louisiana which is harvested in a more sustainable way. But I have to be honest and say that I do wonder about food harvested from the mouth of the notoriously dirty Mississippi River. Anyone know about that?

Now top each serving of soup with a spoonful of yogurt, snipped chives, and optional skewered cooked shrimp.

Serve with warm hearty bread. I'm thinking some Maine's own Shipyard Pumpkin Ale might be good with this too!


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Closing Time

Maple Leaves Dancing in an Autumn Breeze

Yesterday I was having a cup of coffee looking at the sugar maple tree outside our kitchen window and I was instantly transported back in time almost 28 years ago. The leaves were just twittering (there's an old meaning for that word!) and I could see my now 28 year old daughter bundled up in her bouncy chair under the most amazing natural mobile, fall leaves blowing in the wind. Gosh that was a wonderful time. What I would do to go back to that time, even if just for a day. Sigh.

Ok, back to today. Today the garlic bed gets dug up, composted, and the garlic bulbs(cloves) put in. To do this I pull out all the plants from one of my beds. Then I put a 2" cover of compost on top of the bed. I use a pitch fork to dig the soil up and to dig the compost in. I then rake the bed and plant the garlic. When you get garlic from a seed supplier like Johnny's (I actually get mine from FEDCO in Waterville) it comes the same way you buy it in the grocery store, a bulb. You pull the bulb apart to seperate the cloves. You plant the cloves individually about 6" down in the soil and about a foot apart. Cover up with soil and voila the garlic is planted. I won't mulch the garlic bed with hay or straw until the soil begins to freeze hard. Otherwise mice will move in under the hay and do damage in the soft soil.

Finished Compost for Garlic - Wonderful Garden Gold!

Perennial flowers that still have seed heads attach and that self sow profusely will have seed heads all cut off today as well. Even though I actually began cutting the seed heads off the purple coneflowers yesterday. (Note: It's actually good to cut seed heads as they form throughout late summer). Seed heads of annuals such as sunflowers, dill, calendula, coriander, chervil I allow to stay so birds can eat them. While doing this I was suddenly bombed by several irritated gold finches. They were literally swarming me and yelling at me. It was wild. I stopped when I realized what I think they were so upset about and decided to leave the remaining seed heads for the birds to nibble on. But then I'll have a zillion coneflowers in the spring....ah such dilemmas! I will also begin to pull out dead plants and throw them into the compost pile. Tomatoes were pulled a while back and carted off to the dump due to them having that Late Blight fungus. So today I'll pull things like old lettace, basil, squash plants, annual flowers etc. So it'll be a long day but a beautiful day to do it.

Late Season Calendula

Plants such as parsley, leeks, chard will all be spared the yanking up of today since they are still producing. The parsley looks just beautiful. I may make a big harvest to dry. If I get to it.

Rhubarb Chard - As pretty as it is delicious

Well, off to the great outdoors I go. If I finish early enough I'll help Ger stack wood. We've got 3 chords to stack before next Sat. when we get another truck load. Now how's that for an optimistic and fairly delusional thought? Maybe I should just call now and make that massage appointment for tomorrow.

Garden clean up went well. Didn't stack any wood th
ough. I wound up just cleaning out dead plants and adding them to the compost pile. I was surprised by how many weeds there were. I also harvested the rest of my beets, carrots, and parsley. I put pumpkins out front around the mailbox and lamp post. Corn stalks will come down tomorrow and I'll add them to the lamp post. One last chore of the season is to clean those garden tools and get the soil off of them. If I was a good little gardener I would take the time to clean my garden tools. Yeah right.

Pie Pumpkins before harvest

As I reread this I realized that I should post something about pumpkins. This is the month of pumpkin celebreations after all! As Halloween approaches and I think about how to use pumpkins in my 4th grade classroom I also thought about how to use pumpkins at home. I think I'll start another "Pumpkin" post. So stay tuned for Pumpkins for fun, eating, and decorating.

Enjoy the fall weather! And if you're from northern New England be sure to take some time to peep some spectacular leaves!