Pumpkins are one of my favorite endeavors. My best friend from elementary thru high school’s parents had a harvest party the last sunday before halloween, every year where neighbors, friends, and family all got together to carve pumpkins and have a tasty meal afterward. And every year, Clare and I would hold a “contest” for the pumpkins where we would award such prizes as Prilosec note pads, Viagra pens, and other random prescription drug highlighters, really classy stuff.
Through the years, even though Clare and I never “won” any prizes, I still was very competitive, and always felt secure in not winning because I actually had the best pumpkins.
So now, even though I’m not making it to the DeLongs’ harvest parties, I still love to carve a bunch of pumpkins and do fairly artistic or ridiculous things with them.
I am aware that my pictures look like crap. I couldn’t be bothered to pull out a tripod. Did you know I picked out the DSLR that I’m collecting cash for for my birthday next weekend? True story. I’ll probably order it on Monday. Pi, get it? Pumpkin Pi!? I thought of that all by myself! Not exactly a very artful representation, but it does the trick.
This is the enormous hubbard squash that was featured in my very exciting campfire post. Kim was right, it totally wasn’t ripe. It smelled of cucumber melon lotion though. It was very pleasant to smell, but would have been awful to eat. It made a nice creepy monster though.
And last but not least, I decided to do some sucking up at work, and carved our company logo into a big guy. It should get me some brownie points.
This was dinner on sunday night. It was as much food as it sounds like. Neither Craig nor myself could finish it, which is a shame, because it was GOOD. On Saturday I decided that I wanted onion soup. Mostly because my future sister-in-law Amanda was making some last week when we were talking to Dan and Amanda on skype, and I had 11ty onions in the pantry because I bought one of those stupid enormous bags of them from costco. When will I ever learn?! The last time I made onion soup, I used canned (or boxed?) beef broth, and it was terrible. Really. It was super salty, no depth of flavor, just… ugh. It makes me a little queasy thinking about it. So I headed to my now not-so-local butcher shop (realistically only 15 minutes away, but still) for some beef bones and walked out with about 4 pounds of joints (the good stuff!) and a couple steaks. Have I ever told you how amazing this butcher shop’s steaks are? They’re delicious, and cheap! Win-win!
I came home and set to roasting the bones in the over for a bit to color them up, then transferring them to a huge stock pot to simmer with some rosemary, thyme, garlic, and a few bay leaves. I let them go from 3pm on saturday til about 8:30 on sunday morning. The house smelled delicious, the broth was all I imagined homemade beef broth should be and more. It was rich, flavorful, and deeply colored. I strained and transferred it to a container that fit in the fridge to chill so I could skim of a hardened layer of fat. A great hint for first time stock makers, don’t salt it! Salt the dish that it goes into and you don’t have to worry about something being overly salty due to your broth. It lets you control the seasoning in the dish instead of just being along for the ride. I also downloaded like 20 episodes of The French Chef, and watched Julia prepare French Onion Soup while I sliced my onions up. After watching her lecture on how a sharp knife is the chef’s most important tool (and deciding to give my wustof a thorough going-over), I proceeded to slice open my pinky while sliding onions off the blade into my bowl. Oh well. Then I just caramelized the onions in butter for about an hour, deglazed the pan with a cup or so of red wine, and added my broth, then let it simmer for about an hour. The wine was necessary in this recipe, the acidity helped to cut the richness of the stock. We also had leftover garlic mashed potatoes, and I figured I’d doll everything up with a parmesan cracker, because they’re delicious and EASY to make.
I pulled the beef broth out of the fridge last night to package up the leftovers to freeze, and it was one solid mass. I effectively made a half gallon of cow flavored jello. MMMM.
Yeah. I know that this meal makes all sorts of sense to you. If you knew Craig, you’d know that these are some of his favorite foods, along with stinky cheese and cheesecakes. So that’s what I made for his birthday dinner. It was pretty awesome to be honest with you. Don’t pretend that your mouth isn’t watering.
Ok, I’m only one and a half weeks behind on my photos. A couple weeks ago was our last week of nice (dry) weather prior to months and months of rain and overcast days. Since we had not yet made use of my totally awesome fire pit, I invited Craig’s parents over for S’mores. It was pretty awesome.
You can’t see the graham crackers, marshmallows, or chocolate in the photos. That’s because I already put them away. And we only had 2 camping chairs. Joe stood up because the smoke was following him, and I sat on the gravel. We probably need to address that by next summer. By the way, do you like how the deck looks now that it’s all fancy and stained?
While we were outside, I picked one of my squashes, a blue hubbard, though apparently blue means green. It’s really enormous. I’ve been feeling pretty smug about it for about a week, until my Dad and Kim came over and she told me she doesn’t think it’s ripe. I guess I’ll carve it for halloween. What a waste. I can’t seem to help myself. I was going to make the hugest squash soup with that sucker.
Oh, also, check out this dahlia. It’s awesome! Purple and white and nice like that. Unfortunately, the flower was directly attached to a 1″ thick stem. I kinda popped it off and set it on a glass full of water for a few days. I know, you’re impressed with my thorough ingenuity.
So Craig’s brother Dan was back in town for about a week in late September. Their aunt Diane was also in town visiting, so we decided to do an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner. Thanksgiving with Craig’s family always involved lots of friends, who are basically family, so it’s a fun time.
We had all the greatest Thanksgiving foods, Craig’s dad Joe makes the best stuffing in existence. It’s like the ultimate comfort food. YUM! I also acted as his sous chef, so I could steal his secret recipe. Best decision of my life.
It may not be a fun pretentious gourmet type of food, but oh man, this beats the pants off of wild rice stuffing any day of the week. om nom nom
I made a green bean casserole which was delicious. Of course I used canned soup, but mixed it up a bit, I added fresh (sautéed) mushrooms, and used some cream of chicken soup also, but whatever, still tasty and totally classic/cliché green bean casserole.
Craig’s aunt Diane told him that he has to learn to carve a turkey, so here Joe is, showing him how it’s done.
Here’s part of the spread, btw, these are mashed potatoes made with rosemary butter. They were delicious. I made them, of course! 😉
An Italian Thanksgiving wouldn’t be complete without lasagna, right?
Post dinner conversation/resting.
I love fresh ravioli. I love it so much, but it’s a love/hate relationship with it. Every time I make it, I’m reminded why I don’t do it very often, it’s time consuming, and by the time I get down to sealing the little suckers, I’m usually too drunk or too exasperated to care whether each one seals properly. That’s my problem with ravioli.
That’s what happened the night before I took these photos. My friend Mellisa came to visit, and we ended up getting pretty far into a couple bottles of wine, all the while trying to prepare the elaborate meal that I had so thoughtfully planned out for us. I finished the ravioli shortly before deciding (at around 10:30) that there was no way we’d finish preparing dinner in time and we’d better head to Wendy’s for some junior bacon cheeseburgers(thanks for being such a wonderful chauffeur Craig!). I awoke to find a sheet pan covered in overstuffed and partially sealed ravioli coated in dog hair haphazardly thrown into the freezer.. At some point I dropped them and instead of putting them in the garbage decided that it made sense to put them into the freezer anyway. Who knows.
After such a troubling discovery the following morning, I decided to try again. We used equal parts ricotta (ri-got if you’re a New Jersey Italian), cream cheese, crab, and 1/2 a part of grated asiago cheese for the filling. I made a couple eggs of pasta, got it kneaded to a mostly even consistency, then let it rest for about 20 minutes while I worked on another element of the dinner that got put on hold. After letting the pasta rest, I ran it through my machine to the #6 roller, which on my machine, is the thinnest it will go, translucent. I placed SMALL blobs of filling on one side of the dough, rubbed the exposed dough with a wet finger, and folded it over. It’s important to put less filling into your ravioli than you think you should, or else they’ll end up like corpses in the everglades, all split open with their guts spread out around them in the water. Aren’t you hungry?
After you fold the understuffed ravioli over, make a point of trying to squeeze every last bit of air out prior to squishing down around them. The way that I judge a ravioli-maker’s skill is by whether they have air in them. Not that I have lots of chances to judge people’s ravioli-making skills, but you know, on the internet. Once your air is out, go ahead and cut them with your ravioli cutter. What, you don’t have one? How do you make your raviolis the right size? Anyway, after you’ve sealed them, and cut them, seal them again by squishing the two halves together with your fingers.
Cooking them is a cinch, bring a big pot of water to a boil, salt the heck out of it, and carefully slip a few at a time in. Give them a few seconds, when they start floating to the top, they’re done. Pull them out with a slotted spoon or something sufficiently unspikey so they don’t become perforated and end up like corpses. I put mine on a plate with a small pool of Diane’s Pomodoro sauce because a) I had just made some, b) it’s delicious, and c) Craig will actually eat it. The cream cheese was just what these ravioli needed. It made them so creamy and smooth and wonderful, and contrasted nicely with the acidity of the tomato sauce. The crab wasn’t really a forward flavor and next time I’d probably omit it entirely, no point in going to the added expense.
I may actually get ejected from the family by posting this pomodoro recipe. Craig’s Aunt Diane is a cooking goddess. She cooks the most amazing foods, and has a half-Sicilian heritage to back it up. She also owned and ran the Sugarfoot restaurant in Jackson, WY before selling it to move on. She manages to make a trip up to Seattle each autumn, and each time, brings me a new culinary gadget that I never knew I wanted but now can’t get along without, or something that I’ve been desperately needing (thinking about wistfully but never bothering to buy). Such is the way that I acquired my chinois (shin-wah), marble rolling pin, and Cake Bible. She is constantly passing on great advice and giving me wonderful compliments on my cooking. Martha Stewart stopped at Diane’s restaurant to buy some bread to feature in an episode of Living.
The recipe is super simple, and that’s what makes it so special. You get 2 cans of whole San Marzano tomatoes, empty them out into a mesh strainer and go through them, separating the flesh from seeds. You want all of the flesh and liquid in the bowl below and the seeds in the strainer. This is very time consuming. An effective alternative is crushed tomatoes (so long as there aren’t seeds in them) and it’s way cheaper, but not Diane’s original recipe. You want the big fat cans, not normal sized ones.
Peel and roughly chop/slice 2 Walla Walla or yellow onions, and unwrap 2 sticks of butter. Yes, half a pound. Put them all into a heavy bottomed pot and put it on medium-low heat to simmer for a LONG time. It depends on your stove, the boil, and what position the moon is in how long it takes. Between 30 minutes and 2 hours is a good estimate. You’re done once the butter is separated, the only way to describe it is… well, you’ll just know.
Once you’re “at that point,” transfer the mixture to a blender and avoid burning yourself. Blend it thoroughly in batches. Combine it in a bowl and you’re good to go. Your mixture should be a rich reddish orange and pretty smooth. This is traditionally served with thin spaghetti (not angel hair or normal thickness) with little salt, pepper, and cheese if any.