The Pumpkin Party

By Luci


I get pumped at pumpkin time. It’s the color and variety of pumpkins, the wonderful imagination that goes into pumpkin faces, and all the spooky customs of Halloween. To make the most of the season this is what I do:


Decorate house and garden with pumpkins that are as cute as I can make them





Visit the Pumpkin Garden at the New York Botanical Garden


Throw a PUMPKIN PARTY!


I usually have a dinner party in October because I love the changing of seasons, all the wonderful food that comes to market in the fall and the fun of everything associated with Halloween.


TABLE DECOR


A few years ago I came across very pretty napkin rings with a white pumpkin design. The following year I found a lovely white pumpkin plastic “vase” overflowing with imitation fall foliage and flowers, perfect for the centerpiece of the dining room table. This year, I found some quite fanciful small pumpkins, covered in a shimmery off white fabric with feathers on top. With such attractive decorative elements, what could be better than soup bowls that are real, small white pumpkins? They are simple to make. Just cut off and save the slice from the top, scoop out the insides and voila! The neatest soup bowl! To gild the lily, paint the stem gold or green. Set the table with the pumpkin bowls in place; when it’s time for the soup, discard the tops and fill the bowl. Perfect additions to the table.


I usually have a vase of flowers on the cocktail table. This year, it had to be a (real) white pumpkin.


DEVISING THE MENU

It’s a pumpkin party, so I’d better serve a lot of pumpkin - but not too much! Also, the dishes using pumpkin should not resemble each other. The results: an appetizer pairing pumpkin and sausage for some deep fall taste, a soup with a light taste to contrast with the appetizer, a side dish in the main course that used butternut squash which, to my senses, has a taste superior to that of pumpkin. Finally, the salad featured, not pumpkin, but roasted pumpkin seeds and a dressing with pumpkin seed oil. Enough pumpkin!! At least in the food. One appetizer was a cheese ball with pumpkin form.


I was lucky to have as guests two friends who are accomplished chefs. Catherine is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute and a superb cook although she does not now do it professionally. One of her specialties is potato. I’m not that all fond of potatoes but whenever I taste hers, they are a pleasure - always with full flavor that is often lacking in potato dishes. When she asked me what she could bring, guess what I requested? Because I had planned on short ribs for the main course, Catherine suggested mashed potatoes because short ribs always come with lots of delicious gravy. Sold! And they were delicious!!


The other guest, Dean Kropp, was a professional pastry chef who just finished a fascinating book entitled “The Culinary Olympics.” It just received a five star review. I’ve read parts of it and it is a winner. Dean makes a chocolate mousse that everyone agrees is the best chocolate mousse they’ve ever had. With full rich, rich taste and melt-in-the-mouth lusciousness it is simply superb. When Dean asked what he and Lisa might bring, what do you think I asked for? All guests agreed. Dean’s mousse lived up to expectations!


MENU FOR THE PUMPKIN PARTY


APPETIZERS

Pumpkin and Merguez Sausage Crostini

Quatro Formaggio Pumpkin

Shrimp Louis in Phyllo Pastry


SOUP

SE Asian Pumpkin Soup


ENTREE

Short Ribs of Beef

Catherine’s Marvelous Mashed Potatoes

Butternut Squash Gratin


SALAD

Roasted Tangerine, Pumpkin and Pomegranate Seeds, Baby Arugula, Pumpkin Oil Vinaigrette


DESSERT

Dean’s Divine Chocolate Mousse

Mixed Berries in Chambord



THE RECIPES (8 servings)


Pumpkin and Merguez Sausage Crostini


Many pumpkin appetizers feature a dip with bacon and cheese - either sour cream, cream cheese, cheddar, or parmesan. To tweak the idea, instead of a dip I made a spread for crostini using spicy Merguez sausage, obtained from D’Artagnan, mixed with pumpkin and caramelized onion. Simple and interesting.

Spread

8.5 ounces Merguez sausage

1 tablespoon white wine.

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1/4 cup chopped caramelized onions

Cayenne pepper to taste

Salt & pepper to taste


Crostini

Use a standard recipe.


Preparation

Cook sausage until well browned. Chop. Drain fat from skillet. Scrape up brown bits with 1 tablespoon white wine. Combine with other ingredients. Spread on crostini. Place under broiler until hot.


Quatro Formaggio Pumpkin


This is a favorite fall appetizer because it’s so cute and easy to make. People of Italian heritage abound on Staten Island where I live and quarto formaggio (4 cheeses) pasta and related dishes appear on many restaurant menus. This dish is my take on the idea of four cheeses,


Cheese Ball

2 ounces parmigiano reggiano

4 ounces gouda

4 ounces sharp cheddar

2 ounces goat

3 ounces Cheetos, ground fine

Preparation

Use the four cheeses above or whatever appeals to you. Shred the cheeses, mix together and form a ball. Purchase a bright orange crispy snack such as Cheetos. Process into fine crumbs. Roll the cheese ball into the crumbs and press so that the ball is evenly covered. Put a green pepper stem on top of the ball. You may also add a pumpkin face with olives, peppers or what-have-you, but it will be cute even when faceless.


Shrimp Louis in Phyllo Cups


A recipe for Crab Louis by Julia Reed (cooking.nytimes.com) served as model. I was unable to get crab; apparently, supply chain problems have increased its cost to such astronomic levels that my fish monger will no longer purchase it. I followed the recipe except for substituting shrimp for crab.

The shrimp

1 cup mayonnaise

¼ cup chili sauce

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

¼ cup chopped green bell pepper

¼ cup chopped scallions

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

¼ cup heavy cream, whipped

Salt and pepper to taste

Cayenne pepper to taste

3/4 pound cooked shrimp, chopped


24 small phyllo cups

Garnish: a small piece of green pepper cut in diamond shape


Preparation

  1. Combine all ingredients except the shrimp.

  2. Add the chopped shrimp and stir.

  3. Crisp the phyllo cups according to package instructions. Fill with shrimp mixture. Add garnish on top.


SE Asian Pumpkin Soup

To deviate a bit from the usual expectations for a pumpkin party, I made the soup with South East Asian flavorings. In that area, many types of squash are grown and referred to as pumpkin. They appear in curries with a variety of flavors. I developed the recipe from a cookbook published in Singapore and notes I took from Max Ehmer at his Rajah Empat (Four Kings) scuba-diving resort in Papua New Guinea where the food was an absolute delight, thanks to the devotion Max gave to his food as well as to diving.


Soup

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 large yellow onion

1 large shallot

2 large cloves garlic, grated

2 tablespoons ginger, grated

1-3 chili peppers (depending on taste for heat), preferably Asian

4 cups vegetable stock, preferably home-made or organic

3 3-inch stalks lemon grass or 3 tablespoons lemon juice

5 kaffir lime leaves or the zest and juice from 1 lime

1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree

Salt to taste

1 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut cream


Garnish

1 tablespoon caramelized shallot or chopped, unsweetened coconut


Preparation

  1. Heat oil to medium in large pot. Saute the onion, shallot, garlic, ginger and chili peppers for about 5 minutes.

  2. Add vegetable stock, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, pumpkin puree and salt. Bring to boil, and simmer for 20 minutes. Puree in blender or food processor.

  3. When cool, add coconut cream and gently warm. Do not boil. Garnish before serving.

Note: You may freeze or refrigerate after step 2. Bring to room temperature before adding the coconut cream.


Short Ribs of Beef


I chose short ribs for the entree because they are cool weather perfection with their warming, dense, full tastes. Plus, they are best when done 1-2 days ahead. More and more, I opt for dishes that I can prepare in advance, leaving me more rested at party time. I used a NY Times recipe (Garlic Braised Short Ribs With Red Wine by Alison Roman, nytimes.cooking.com) with a few tweaks. I substituted 1 cup of veal demi-glace from D’Artagnan in place of 1 cup of beef stock and eliminated the toppings.


The Ribs

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

5 pounds bone-in short ribs, at least 1 1/2 inches thick

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

2 large heads garlic, halved crosswise

1 medium onion (about 10 ounces), chopped

4 ribs celery (about 8 ounces,) chopped

2 medium carrots (about 6 ounces), chopped

6 sprigs thyme

3 tablespoons tomato paste

2 cups dry red wine (about half a bottle)

1 cup beef stock or bone broth (use beef bouillon dissolved in water if unavailable; chicken stock will work in a pinch), plus more as needed

1 cup veal demi-glace


Preparation

  1. Heat oven to 275 degrees. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season short ribs on all sides with salt and pepper. Working in batches, sear short ribs on all sides until deeply and evenly browned, 6 to 8 minutes per batch. Transfer browned short ribs to a large plate and continue with remaining ribs.

  2. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of remaining fat, leaving the good browned bits behind. Reduce heat to medium, and add garlic, cut side down and cook, undisturbed, until golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add onion, celery and carrots; season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat and continue to cook until vegetables are softened but not yet browned, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add tomato paste and stir to coat. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until tomato paste has started to caramelize a bit on the bottom and up the edges of the pot, about 2 to 3 minutes.

  3. Add red wine and, using a wooden spoon, scrape up any browned or caramelized bits. Let this simmer 2 to 3 minutes, just to take the edge off and reduce a bit. Stir in beef stock and veal demi-glace along with thyme. Using tongs, return short ribs to the pot, along with any juices that have accumulated, nestling them in there so that they are submerged (if they are just barely covered, nestle them bone side up so that all the meat is submerged, adding more beef stock or water as necessary to cover). Bring to a simmer, then cover and transfer to oven.

  4. Cook, undisturbed, until short ribs are meltingly tender and falling off the bone (you should be able to shred the meat with a fork), 3½ to 4 hours or more.

  5. Using tongs, remove the ribs from the pot, taking care (for presentation purposes, really) not to let the bone slip out and transfer them to a large plate. You may refrigerate at this point. (While you could serve the short ribs right out of this pot, the vegetables have all given up their flavor and texture and aren’t worth much now, so feel free to strain the sauce for easier eating.)

  6. Cool the sauce and then separate the fat from the sauce, season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate. Warm ribs and sauce before serving.

  7. When plating, cover the ribs with some sauce and serve the rest in a cruet. If you wish, use a spoon to make a depression in the mashed potatoes and fill it with the sauce.


Catherine’s Marvelous Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are standard food on American tables. To make them especially delicious, Catherine suggests the following:

  1. Use good potatoes; she favors russets.

  2. Save some of the water in which the potatoes were boiled to add as needed.

  3. Instead of milk, use half and half cream.

  4. Use lots of butter.

  5. Roasted garlic makes a nice addition.

  6. Take care to ensure potatoes are smooth, without any lumps.

Squash Gratin


How about a pumpkin relative rather than pumpkin once again? Butternut squash is a good choice for its sweet taste that combines so well with butter, herbs or spices. The recipe is from the Food Network (Squash Gratin, foodnetwork.com). I used a second butternut in place of the kabocha squash, added ground coriander and ground cardamom in place of the mace and used Swiss rather than Gruyere cheese, also doubling the amount of cheese (because cheese is GOOD).


The gratin

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

2 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tablespoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 cup grated Swiss cheese (about 4 ounces)


Preparation

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and thyme and cook, stirring, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, combine the butternut squash in a large microwave-safe bowl with 1 cup water. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave until the squash is just tender, about 5 minutes.

  3. Drain and add the squash to the skillet along with the garlic, coriander, cardamom, 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring, about 3 minutes. Add the broth and cook until it is mostly absorbed, about 5 more minutes. Stir in the heavy cream and cook until slightly thickened, 2 minutes.

  4. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in the microwave and toss with the breadcrumbs, parmesan and parsley; season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the squash, then top with the Swiss cheese. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

  5. How to break down butternut squash: Cut about 1 inch off the bottom end with a chef's knife. Scoop out the seeds. Hold the squash against your body and remove the skin with a vegetable peeler; chop.

Note: May be prepared a day ahead.


Salad: Roasted Tangerine, Pumpkin and Pomegranate Seeds, Baby Arugula, Pumpkin Oil Vinaigrette


The salad brings different parts of pumpkins, the seeds and their oil to the table. The orange fruit and white seeds on greens makes a pretty picture which is even better with the addition of red pomegranate seeds.


Ingredients

3 tangerines, peeled and divided into sections

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup roasted, salted pumpkin seeds

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

3 cups baby arugula

8 tablespoons pumpkin seed oil

4 tablespoons white wine vinegar

Salt and pepper


Preparation

  1. Heat oven to 450F.

  2. Toss tangerine sections with olive oil. Place on sheet pan and roast for 15-20 minutes, until tangerine sections show caramelized edges. Cool.

  3. Make vinaigrette. Combine pumpkin seed oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.

  4. Spread arugula over salad plate. Distribute pumpkin and pomegranate seeds over the arugula. Top with 3 tangerine sections.


Dean’s Divine Chocolate Mousse


View the recipe at www.thedeanofchefs.com


Ingredients

8 8-ounce bars bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine

2 cups half and half cream

1 quart heavy cream, whipped


Preparation

  1. Place chocolate in large bowl.

  2. Bring half and half cream to a boil. Pour 1 3/4 cup over the chopped chocolate. Wait until chocolate melts, about 2-3 minutes. Stir until smooth.

  3. Fold 3/4 melted chocolate into the whipped cream. Continue until all chocolate is folded into the cream. Spoon mousse into serving container.

  4. Pour remainder of half and half into the rest of the melted chocolate. Mix well. Pour over mousse.

  5. Refrigerate until serving.


Mixed Berries with Chambord

A fitting companion to a luscious chocolate mousse is a light but elegant dessert of raspberries and blackberries in an appropriate liqueur. Chambord, sensuous tasting and made from black raspberries, was perfect.


Preparation

  1. Mix the berries (small or medium amount - your choice) with the liqueur about 1 hour before serving.

  2. Serve in small bowls or glasses.


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