Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Hethyr:  Remember the scene from E.T.: The Extraterrestrial where Elliott hides E.T. in his closet amongst his stuffed animals?  Well, when I came home from work today, I couldn't find Jon.  I looked everywhere, calling his name as I roamed the house.  Just when I was beginning to think he left me or something awful, I glanced into the corner of the kitchen...

Poor guy had gotten trapped under a monstrous pile of squash and pumpkins from our Grant Family Farms CSA!  I figured it was time to use some of those beauties before one of us had a fatal accident.

When I first gave into the Facebook phenomenon a couple of years ago, I reconnected with a friend from high school who is a freelance editor for Illinois Country Living Magazine.  She, like me, loves to cook and test recipes.  She shared one for Pumpkin-Chicken Chowder which sounded delicious.  I think I must have been in an Indian-food mood the night I planned on making it because my version turned out much different than hers, although I'm sure the original version was yummy as well.  My thanks to Catrina for the original recipe!

I took this chowder to a foodie friend of ours when he was sick and several other friends had taken him meals, too.  He mentioned to me when he was feeling better that this was the only dish he polished off completely.  I won't mention his name (although he knows who he is!) as to not offend his other friends.  ;)

My recipes tend to be very versatile in terms of using what you have on hand.  I am constantly substituting some ingredient for another as our CSA share contains whatever was ready-for-picking that day on the farm and that is anything but consistent.  I love the variety, though - it keeps me on my toes!  That being said, please feel free to make any substitutions you'd like based on what you have on hand.  I'll give you some substitution ideas along with the recipes and I'd love to see your comments on how you adapt it to suit your personal tastes or to suit what you have on hand.  I'm also including an easy recipe for Baked Pita Chips, which I adore.  You could easily buy bagged pita chips, but homemade is more fun and tastes a lot better!  They are fun to "dress-up" with any seasonings or dried herbs you can think of.

Curried Pumpkin-Chicken Chowder

Serves 4 to 6
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • 1 cup red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder (or to taste)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups cooked pumpkin *
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 pound cooked chicken, shredded or cubed
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • 1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
  • 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped for garnish
Heat oil in a soup pot over medium heat.  When oil is hot, add chopped onion, bell pepper and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes or until vegetables begin to soften.  Add curry powder and  cayenne and cook for another 2 minutes.  Stir in broth, pumpkin, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove from heat, allow to cool slightly and blend with a stick (or immersion) blender - one of my favorite kitchen tools - or in small batches in a blender or food processor until smooth.  Be careful - hot liquids can cause burns and a big mess.  

Return to soup pot, add cooked chicken, brown rice and corn.  Return to burner and simmer for an additional 5 to 10 minutes or until heated through.  Ladle into bowls, garnish with cilantro and serve.

* Notes:  If using canned pumpkin, be sure to get plain pumpkin - not the pie filling, which has spices.  I often cook large quantities of pumpkin at once, then purée and freeze it in 1/4-cup portions in muffin tins.  Then I store the "muffins" in freezer bags and just pull out the amount I need to thaw for the recipe I'm making.

This soup freezes beautifully, so if you end up with leftovers, freeze some for a busy night.  You'll have a wonderful, home-cooked meal without much work!

Baked Pita Chips

Serves 4
  • 4 pita bread rounds
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt
Preheat oven to 400°F.  Brush both sides of pita bread with olive oil, cut into wedges and place on baking sheets.  Season with kosher salt and bake for 5 minutes.  Flip pita wedges and cook for another 5 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.  Cool on cooling racks, then store in reusable containers or plastic bags.

Now for those substitution ideas I promised...

  • Use any cooked winter squash in place of the pumpkin
  • Use leeks in place of the onion (I often have leeks on hand at the same time pumpkin and winter squash are in season)
  • For a vegetarian version, substitute vegetable broth for chicken broth and cooked chickpeas for the shredded chicken
  • If you prefer, substitute white, basmati or wild rice for the brown rice
  • The pita chips are a great side for myriad dishes, so try seasoning them with curry powder, cumin and oregano or red pepper flakes to complement the main dish

Just to give you an idea of how often I make substitutions, I actually made a couple in this recipe as I was taking pictures for the post.  I substituted a huge banana squash and a Hubbard squash for the pumpkin and a green bell pepper that I had chopped and frozen this summer for the red bell pepper.  I also doubled the recipe to freeze some for Jon since he starts back to school tomorrow - it's easy to reheat in the microwave at school and he doesn't have to eat cafeteria food.  See how easy it can be?  The possibilities are endless, so get your creative juices flowing!

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Jon:  I'm better at eating than cooking.  However, I do have several very specific and very limited talents in the kitchen.  I consider myself a bit of a breakfast aficionado, so I frequently take charge when Hethyr and I are looking to indulge in a quality morning meal.  You might even say my breakfast-making abilities are egg-cellent (that is, if you aren't concerned with sounding like a corny "yolk"el).  I can also toast a killer grilled cheese or a quesadilla, and I pride myself on my ability to grill nearly anything.

I occasionally cook squash because 1)  I try to make dinner whenever possible to lighten Hethyr's cooking load, 2) it is a good, tasty, healthy meal, 3) we have four hundred squash in the house and 4) squash is very easy to prepare.  I usually simplify it by using the microwave.  The exact method differs depending on the type of squash, but basically you pierce it several times with a knife, microwave it for a while, let it cool a few minutes, cut it in half, remove the guts, then microwave it some more.  Pay special attention to the first instruction... pierce it several times with a knife.  Allow me to paint a picture of what can happen when you pierce it less than several times.

I believe it was a large butternut squash...  I'll name it Beefcake in homage to a dog we briefly shared time and space with in Costa Rica, because he looked very much like a four-legged butternut squash.  After piercing Beefcake (the squash) less than several times with a knife, I popped him in the microwave for ten minutes.  Slightly less than ten minutes later, with me in the living room and Hethyr in the kitchen...BOOM!  Bye, bye, Beefcake.  The thunderous explosion blew the microwave door open and ejected high-velocity squash guts out into the kitchen.  Fortunately for the immediate safety of my wife and the future stability of our marriage, Hethyr was not in the direct line of fire and therefore escaped unharmed.  Unfortunately, I have no good news to report about the condition of Beefcake.

In the end, the incident proved to be a harmless occurrence.  I must admit, however, I sometimes still skeptically watch the microwave out of the corner of my eye when it's running and  deliberately avoid walking too close to it.  Now I'm not suggesting that you live in fear of your microwave.  Just do me a favor and pierce the squash twenty times.  This advice may someday save both your squash and your wife.


  1. I LOVE this post! I'm laughing hysterically, but also dying to try the recipe. The taste of Pumpkin is sometimes a bit overpowering for me, so I'm thrilled with the idea of substituting. Duh! Why don't I think of such simple ideas myself???

  2. Thanks! We have had fun writing these so far... I think you'll love the next one, too! Coming in a couple of days - stay tuned! =)

  3. The photos of the baked squash look scrumptious! I love the dark brown parts where the sugars are crystallizing and burning just slightly... those don't ever make it into any of my recipes because I eat them as soon as the squash is cool enough to peel those layers away!! Great post and nice work on the substitutions. Good tips on the quick methods too, Jon. Although I'm quite disturbed with the image of the dog in my head...!!!

  4. LOL! Me, too, Jodie! I would never have likened Beefcake to a squash, but that's the way Jon's brain works, I guess! =) Hethyr