Casserole is a magic word.
It’s also a word with an excellent genealogy. Its immediate roots are from the French language and a word for sauce pan, which seems reasonable enough, especially when you consider that we use the word for both the cooking vessel and the food within it.
But if you trace further you’ll find that the word relates to the Latin word for bowl, and the ancient Greek “kyathion” which is like a pet name for the “dipper for the wine bowl.” So, if you ponder it, the word casserole both begins and ends with sharing.
Casserole has a long tradition of spreading the wealth – for those of us who grew up in the rural South, a church social often meant long tables laden with oblong and deep serving vessels full of tuna bake, hamburger pie, scalloped potatoes with ham, and any number of dishes full of creamy chicken concoctions or green beans dressed with fried onions and cream of mushroom soup.
For me, those are the bright memories of an otherwise difficult relationship with the little fundamentalist church that dominated so many of my greener days. But for every recollection of that experience that troubles me, there’s also the image of my Mamaw Ethel and every other good cook who would fill the tables of a church supper with food. Mamaw and her cohorts always brought extra to those gatherings – even if their own pantries were thin, it was essential that the church supper was a feast. Never a matter of pride, they believed in having more than enough to share.
And if you were a visitor caught unawares by the feast, or perhaps a poorer member who couldn’t contribute much or anything to the table, then those sweet ladies would practically manhandle you to the front of line. For them, the only sin on that day was if anyone went away hungry, and the only message to preach was to share and share alike.
And sharing, as you may know, is a particularly potent form of magic: it has the power to create friends and banish loneliness; it warms the heart and comforts the sad; and for traditions and thinkers as diverse as Lao Tzu and St. Francis, sharing is the key to happiness as well as the root of goodness.
It may seem a little too much to expect from the humble casserole. Cynics may see only that casseroles are convenient, easy ways to feed a crowd. But as far as I can tell, if you’re even thinking about feeding a crowd, then you’re on the track.
Even so, casseroles don’t have to be open and dump a can conveniences or concoctions of dubious merit – and they shouldn’t be. As you can see below in Mahasti’s recipe, a well-considered casserole not only shares lots of food, it shares lots of flavor. In this case, the excellent taste of Chile Rellenos is deconstructed into layers that are simple to assemble without sacrificing the savory joy of the original dish.
Perhaps you’ll tune into WBIR tomorrow morning for Weekend Today – Mahasti will be live showing you how easy it is to make magic and share the love.
Tomato Head’s Chile Rellenos Casserole
3 Poblano Peppers
Rinse Peppers and place on a cookie sheet under the broiler. Turn peppers until charred on all side.
Remove the peppers from the oven, place in a covered container and allow to cool. When peppers are cool enough to handle, with gloved hands, peel and de-seed peppers. Dice Peppers and set aside.
After Broiling, Turn your oven to 425 degrees.
½ cup Masa Harina
¾ cups Whole MIlk
Mix Masa Harina into milk and set aside.
¼ cup Vegetable Oil
1 cup Onion, Diced
1 lb ground Pork or Beef
½ jar Frontera Ancho Adobo
1- 28 oz can Fire Roasted Diced Tomato (puree ½ of the can in the blender – leave the other half diced)
2 tsp ground Cumin
2 tsp Salt
½ – 1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
½ tsp paprika
2 tsp Sugar
½ cup Cilantro, chopped
2 cups Shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until fragrant. Add ground meat, sautéing to break up lumps until meat is cooked through. Add Adobo, and sauté until meat is coated with sauce. Add remaining ingredients, as well as chopped poblanos and cook on low for 10 minutes.
Pour meat mixture into an 8×11 baking dish and top with 2 cups of shredded cheese.
2 egg whites
1 tsp salt
½ tsp Cracked Black Pepper
In a stand mixer with a whip attachment or with a hand mixer, beat egg whites until stiff peaks. Gently fold Masa mixture, salt and pepper into egg whites.
Pour egg mixture over cheese layer and gently spread out to cover entire surface of baking dish. Place the casserole in oven and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool on wire rack for 10 – 15 minutes. Serve with sour cream, chopped onion, chopped cilantro, sliced jalapenos, corn tortillas and or corn chips.
Serves 4-6 people.
The World is Not Enough.
It’s a 007 title, yes, but I daresay that there are times in non-cinematic life when we’ve all had just about as much of the world as we can stand. But in seeking solutions, perhaps even escapes or mere moments of diversion from life as we know it, there are trying times when the unreal landscapes of fantasy and the whimsy of imaginative fiction offer a balm to the substantial and weighty affairs of the world.
For February, Tomato Head’s Market Square walls will double as portals from this world to some other less contentious ones that live in the vibrant imagination of Carson Whittaker.
For Whittaker, a Chattanooga native and graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, art, and the worlds that she creates and visits therein, offers a refreshing path through the often mundane aspect of adult life. Like most young artists, she balances a job with her personal passion; but unlike the fabled tortured artist, Whittaker says she doesn’t sweat the daily grind: “I do my regular stuff during the day; and it can get a little bit boring, a little bit routine, so I’m always looking for a splash of imagination, some color, to help me have fun with it. It’s just the way I live my life, I don’t try to be too philosophical with it – I think it’s important to be light hearted.”
Whittaker’s personality and work both evince this joie de vivre. A brief glance at her piece, “Delilah stops to play in a field of passion flowers and falls in love… with herself” communicates that joy along with a serious sense of play in a landscape of trees that might be honeycombs and where a pink serpentine beast finds inner fulfillment. And, Whittaker is all about sharing that vibe.
“Whimsy, fun, and playfulness – I like to carry that into my work. It’s like an escape from reality.
It puts me into a creative space where I can use my imagination and do whatever I want and fill this imaginary world and get really playful and fun. It just goes with my flow.”
Her attachment to whimsy has a serious side, though not in a particular issues oriented way. She admits, “I’ve tried to get more serious and focus on more serious issues in my art but I get stuck, it gets too heavy and I get frustrated trying to get my point across. I always find the path of least resistance is to make it fun and light, then it all comes to me.” But, through efforts to keep a sense of joy and play, she hopes that her work “can stop someone in their daily routine they look at this imaginary crazy animal and it brings some new life back into that person. Maybe it stops their routine, and they look at this wild fantasy and, maybe, it brings more color and fun to life.”
Her exhibit at Tomato Head will include a lot of color and fun. This show’s pieces, Whittaker says, “are from a series called ‘Alt World’. The series comes from an ongoing daydream I have of an alternate reality where I rule my Queendom as the Bird Queen. Each print is a window into what Alt World looks like. In this land of enchantment you can see many fascinating landscapes and discover the wonderful characters that live there. I use screen printing and watercolors to bring the pieces to life.
My newest paintings depict a beer garden where different types of folks are
drinking beer and socializing. I’m interested in how people interact with one another in social settings like bars and restaurants. I like to emphasize the quirky, individuality of each character. I use lots of color to do that. I hope these pieces inspire people to laugh, play and have fun with life.”
Whittaker’s work has a considerable narrative, and, she says, many of her paintings are created “within the parameters of that story. So in this one imaginary world where this one adventurer goes to discover different landscapes in this world he’s in, looking for a greater truth.”
You can look for that truth or just enjoy being swept away by the fantastical at the downtown Knoxville Tomato Head from February 6th thru March 5th, 2017. Her work will then be displayed at the West Knoxville Tomato Head from March 7th thru April 3rd, 2017.
I’m ashamed, sometimes, to admit the truth of my personal history with the enchilada. There are two chapters in that story, neither is particularly impressive for culinary authenticity, and I’m not sure which came first: One chapter is set in a Taco Bell; the other, in Velveeta.
If you’re an eater of a certain age who dabbled in fast food in the errant days of youth, you may recall an entrée called the Enchirito. I remember it because I ate it. A lot. Served in an oval cardboard bowl, it was a corn tortilla folded around beans, ground beef, a sprinkle of onion, then smothered in red sauce, and capped with dollop of sour cream and a sliced black olive. And it was heaven. I’m not sure what it was about this particular assemblage that set my little taste buds a-tingle, but I craved it. And it was a treat, too, because this was back in the day when Taco Bell was a pricey proposition – long before the dollar menu was a twinkle in some CEO’s eye.
The second chapter happened at home when Mom and Aunt Ellner discovered large flour tortillas that they could stuff
with ground beef and fat slabs of processed cheese. You could roll those babies up early in the day and just leave them to hang out and chill until the extended family finally made it to the party. A quick dollop of sauce and a few minutes in a hot oven, and insto-presto, there was a delicious and exotic feast for everyone. And ooey, gooey sorta cheesy they were – which is to say, delightful, and, therefore, a big hit at family hoedowns.
But my family wasn’t unique in that regard; enchiladas have long been popular in the average American home. In fact, the first printed mention of an enchilada in the states showed up in a church cookbook from the Heartland itself. The “Centennial Buckeye Cookbook” was first published in 1876 by the good ladies of the First Congregational Church of Marysville, Ohio to help raise money for a parsonage.
And that recipe (contributed by the honorable Anson Safford, Governer of Arizona) like Aunt Ellner’s recipe, and Taco Bell’s too, was true to the concept of the enchilada as formulated by the Aztecs. An authentic enchilada isn’t difficult to achieve as the essential element is that there is a tortilla in a chile sauce.
Sadly, Aunt Ellner got the tortilla wrong – authenticity demands corn – but we’ll cut her some slack ‘cause we like her and her cooking, too. Besides, I imagine that you can use whatever tortilla suits you without upsetting anybody – especially after the first bite. And it’s unlikely that the ole Aztecs loaded up their tortilla with bright yellow, melty cheese, but I dunno -I never asked them.
What remains really right and important about the enchilada is that it’s easy to assemble ahead of time, it’s delicious and, if you’re a sharing kind of person, it’s pretty impressive, if simple party fare, too.
That’s especially true of the Tomato Head’s super simple and mighty tasty version. If you’re up early – you can catch Mahasti making the treat live on WBIR’s weekend today – if not well, we’ll put a link right here so you can check whenever you’re ready to cook.
Tomato Head’s Chicken Enchilada
For the Chicken:
1 lb Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast
1/3 cup Oil
½ large Onion, largely diced
8 cups of Water
1 Tbl Salt
To Assemble the Enchiladas:
2 -8 oz packages Frontera Enchilada Sauce
8 – Corn or small Flour Tortillas
½ lb Shredded Monterey Jack Cheese
Heat the oil, in a medium pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add chicken breast, water and salt. Increase heat to high, when water starts to boil, reduce heat to low and allow chicken to simmer for 20 minutes until done.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Remove the chicken from the broth; let the chicken cool until it is cool enough to handle. Shred the chicken by pulling it apart. Set aside.
Pour 1/3 of the packet of enchilada sauce into the bottom of an 8 X 11 baking dish. Arrange 3 or 4 corn tortillas on your work surface. Place approximately ¼ – 1/3 cup chicken on each tortilla followed by ¼ cup of shredded cheese. Roll the tortillas up to form cylinders. Place the tortillas seam side down. Repeat the process until all the tortillas have been filled and place in the baking dish.
Pour the remaining sauce over the rolled tortillas, making sure they are covered entirely. Sprinkle any remaining cheese on top of the sauce. Bake the enchiladas for 20 minutes – or until the cheese melts and the sauce is starting to bubble.
Remove the dish from the oven. Serve with Sour Cream, cilantro and chopped onion.
Whenever I talk about kale, my vocabulary becomes very healthy as I launch into a diatribe about this nearly ever-green superfood. But even as I do, I can see a weariness creep across the faces of the people I’m talking to; sometimes, that look is accompanied by a slight rolling of the eyes, or a little exhalation of breath, almost a deflation, as if to say, “Not again.”
I’m not a kale evangelist, perhaps an enthusiast, yes, but not an evangelist. I’m certainly not a bore (please, God, don’t let THAT be true). And I’m certain that I don’t wear the subject out, so I can hardly be blamed for the fact that this nutrient dense member of the Brassica species suffers from overexposure.
Kale fatigue is not my fault.
But that doesn’t change the fact that kale is awfully good for you and that it’s available and seasonal when green, leafy vegetables usually fly south for the season. So we should talk about it even if our friends roll their eyes. Kale fatigue be damned.
But I’m convinced that this weariness has less to do with conversation than with an urge to get too much, too fast. No food will change your life after a single serving – well, that’s not entirely true: once, a cupcake made me believe in Paradise. But in terms of health and well-being, it takes more than one big bowl of leafy greens to cure what ails ya. Furthermore, kale’s a tough cookie – it’s at its most nutritious when it’s raw, and, believe you me, raw kale is no fun to eat.
It reminds me of my cousin Bruce. Bruce loves pecan pie, and I’m pretty sure that he’d love spiced pecans and pecan cinnamon rolls, too. But Bruce won’t touch any of those things – it’s torturous to watch him agonize over pecan pie at Thanksgiving – his mouth practically waters! But once upon a time, Bruce got a bite of that pithy bit of fiber that separates the two halves of pecan meat. I’m sure Mamaw didn’t mean to leave in the pie, but that brief moment of unwelcome bitterness, coming, as it did, in the midst of sugary heaven, put Cousin Bruce off pecans and all nuts for the last 35 years.
I feel certain that that’s what’s happened to many a potential kale lover. We know that if you gently massage the kale leaf and remove the rib, then the little bite of Brassica becomes much nicer to nibble and exponentially more delectable for the digestion. But like Bruce and his nuts, even a single bite of tense, unrubbed kale or a chew of wayward, fibrous kale rib can put you off the vegetable for a very long time.
That’s why it may be better to cook the kale a little. Sure, you diminish some of the vitamin concentration in a single serving, but, over your lifetime (unlike the sad but safe exclusion of pecan pie in Bruce’s life) I’m betting that you’re better off having kale in your diet.
This recipe is a great example of how to use kale without risking kale fatigue. Combining the gently cooked and seasoned leafy greens with earthy and sweet, roasted root vegetables makes an incredibly delicious – perhaps even sneaky- way to get good food on the plate and in the body. Plus the crunch and light sweetness of fennel bulb adds and irresistible texture and perkiness that gives the whole salad a lift that is seasonal and guaranteed to fight off a whole list of kale fatigue symptoms – especially the dreaded rolling of the eyes.
Tomato Head’s Warm Kale and Root Vegetable Salad
1 cup carrots, peeled and sliced into 1 inch pieces
1.5 cups beets, diced into 1 inch pieces
2 cups potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1 inch pieces
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Toss each vegetable separately with 1 Tbl Oil, ¼ tsp Salt and ¼ tsp Black Pepper. Place vegetables on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper in separate clumps. Bake Carrots for 20 minutes until soft, Beets for 30 minutes until soft and Potatoes for 40 minutes until soft, removing each vegetable from the oven as they cook and setting them aside.
½ cup Fennel Bulb
6 cups Kale
Cut the green stems off the Fennel, rinse the bulb, and cut in half. Remove the core then thinly slice the fennel with a knife or a mandoline slicer and set aside.
Wash Kale and cut into 1 inch strips.
To assemble the salad:
½ cup balsamic vinegar reduced to ¼ cup
¼ cup olive oil
½ tsp salt
1 Tbl Balsamic Vinegar
Place ½ cup balsamic vinegar in a large skillet over medium heat and reduce down to ¼ cup. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the remaining ingredients and whisk well. Add the kale to the hot skillet, allowing the Kale to wilt a little.
Place Kale in a large bowl, and add the roasted vegetables, and Fennel. (if your skillet is large enough you can add the vegetables directly to the skillet). Toss everything together until all the vegetables are coated with dressing and serve.
Serves 2-4 people.
As far as I can tell, there are still people who don’t quite know what to do with a turnip. Turnip greens have a more certain presence for Southern eaters, but the bulbous root itself doesn’t seem to command a great deal of attention. And when it does find its way into the average pot, I’m not sure that it gets treated with much respect. In my own experience, diced turnips sometimes appeared at a covered dish church supper, soggy, unattractive and untouched on a long table –left alone there as diners chose the more attractive company of mashed potatoes, mac-n-cheese, even steamed-to-death broccoli, and iceberg lettuce, limp and drowning in value brand ranch.
The turnip did get a recent moment in the spotlight with First Lady, Michelle Obama in a six second Vine appearance, which prompted some news outlets, including the LA Times, to offer up a few recipes including a classic one for glazed turnips. But even with Mrs. Obama’s hip turnip moment set to the sounds of DJ Snake and Lil John, there are few kids in our neck of the woods who wake up thinking that they’d love to dive into a steaming bowl of creamed turnips.
Even in literature, the turnip doesn’t get much love. There’s a Russian fairy tale about a giant turnip with a lovely moral about the value of teamwork. And the Brothers Grimm have a giant turnip tale in their collection, too (albeit one with a mighty weird ending), but neither of these tales made it into any of my story books.
But turnips are worth considering. They belong to the same family that includes broccoli,
cauliflower and kale, usually they’re affordable, they’re always rich in vitamin C, B6, folate and other good things, too. They are great storage vegetables and have been a welcome part of the winter diet when good food planning (and planting) meant the difference in life and death on the Tundra.
The root can be woody, sharp and bitter if it’s grown in too warm a climate or gets too big, but smaller bulbs are sweet, earthy, and reminiscent of radish. They make a nice addition to mashed potatoes or a mixed vegetable roast, and are a classic combination with braised duck.
Tomato Head’s Turnip and Fennel Soup
1 small onion, diced
1/3 cup oil
4 garlic cloves, diced
2 large turnips about 6 cups, peeled and diced
Green stalks and fronds from 1 fennel bulb, about 2 cups, rinsed and chopped
5 cups water
2 tsp salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
Peel and dice onion and garlic. Remove ends from turnips – peel, then dice turnips. Cut the stalks off the fennel bulb right above the bulb, where the bulb starts to turn green, rinse and slice the stalks.
Heat oil in a medium to large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté for 2-3 minute until onions are translucent. Add fennel stalks and fronds, turnips, and water. Increase heat to high; bring mixture to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer soup uncovered for 20 – 30 minutes or until turnips are easily pierced with a fork. Remove from heat and add salt, pepper, and lemon juice. With an immersion blender, blend soup until smooth. Serve immediately or cool and reheat when needed.
If using a traditional stand blender – allow soup to cool before blending. Hot liquids will splatter, with the potential to burn when blended.
Reheat to serve.
November brings the return of the work of Denise Stewart-Sanabria to the walls of Tomato Head. In summer of last year, Denise exhibited a collection of Vanitas – still-life paintings that treat domestic imagery in symbolic terms, often as images of death and change. Denise’s exhibit included many large format and food centric compositions that posed some challenging questions about food. This artist’s work is thoughtful and thought provoking.
That’s equally true of her current exhibit which primarily focuses on Stewart-Sanabria’s Contemporary Mythology
Altars but also includes some small scale plywood people drawings – a small version of a form that she also creates in life-like proportion.
From a purely visual point of view, the altars, of which there are 2 types, are a fascinating collection of materials. According to the artist, “The large ones are wood drawings on hand built altar frames with other media ranging from objects embedded in resin to gold leaf. The smaller ones are cut paper drawings in hand built wood altars with mixed media and added bling.”
But the collection of materials in these compositions isn’t the result of a shopping spree at a craft store. She says that, “I collect stuff wherever I am. Detritus. Most of it procured legally.” The variety of the components bring a lovely textural variation to the work as well as adding a sense of depth – visually and otherwise.
For the artist, this series of work is rooted in observations about our culture, and, perhaps, our value systems, too. These altars, she says, “are all figurative, and focus on either contemporary culture or how the past effects contemporary culture.”
At times, as in her previous exhibit, the work may incite challenging self-reflection. These altars, though they may feature some variant of Classical imagery, also touch contemporary life – not always comfortably. Denise wonders: “Would contemporary temples to Aphrodite be beauty salons? Would modern versions of ancient water gods visit Tennessee tourist waterfall sites? Is Dionysus worshipped during exhibit openings where wine seems to be an equal draw with the art?”
Denise Stewart-Sanabria exhibits her work regularly in Knoxville and Nashville as well as all around the country from Chicago Heights’ Union Street Gallery to the Florida State Museum of Fine Arts in Tallahassee. You can find it at the Market Square Tomato Head in downtown Knoxville now through December 4th. She will then exhibit at the West Knoxville Gallery Tomato Head from December 5th, 2016 through January 2nd, 2017.
It’s about that time, you know, when the Great Pumpkin descends and showers candy and other goodies upon cute little ghouls, goblins, superheroes, a handful of witches and miniaturized versions of the walking dead. And there are larger folks, sometimes also dressed in strange attire roaming about, too, herding the little bands of the costumed from treat to treat. A few of these Halloween shepherds are happy to snag whatever funky candy that the kids won’t eat, and yet, sad but true, some of us aged ghouls are a little too sweet already.
It’s not that I wouldn’t like to make a diet of Skittles and chocolate bars, but most colorfully wrapped candy leaves much to be desired for my appetite. Of course, if you’ve got a fat cupcake or hefty wedge of peanut butter pie, that works, but, truth be told, the older I get, the more I crave the warm and savory when little spirits are indulging in a sugar rush.
So, when Mahasti was planning her visit to WBIR this morning, I was thrilled that we would be learning about a savory seasonal something that’s super suitable for sharing with big hobgoblins who might knock on your door looking for a less sugary Halloween treat: Pumpkin Soup.
For those of you who have reached your Pumpkin Spice threshold for the year, please don’t give up on us yet – this pumpkin spice will re-fire your engines and heat your endorphins into full steam. Tomato Head’s Roasted Pumpkin and Poblano Pepper Soup features a heart and head warming blend of spices with a calming and comforting dollop of heavy cream to create a treat that will revive and refresh even the most dead-on-her-feet zombie.
Mahasti’s recipe includes both Poblano and habanero pepper along with a touch of ginger. Poblanos, of course, are only mildly spicy but have a rich and warming, almost earthy flavor that’s a fantastic match to pumpkin’s also slightly earthy but buttery and mildly sweet flavor. Habanero lends some heat but, better yet, it contributes a bright personality that, with the ginger, gives an extra tingle to each mouthful of this potage.
It’s a creamy comfort that gets a fun crunch from the addition of toasted pumpkin seeds, which, IMHO, is one of the great under-sung heroes in the pantheon of snacks.
What’s particularly nice about most creamy pumpkin soup is that it’s great warm, at room temperature and cool, too – so despite the warm Halloween that we’re expecting, this soup can easily match your mood and the forecast, too. And because it’s pureed to a silky smooth texture, it’s easy to serve a dollop in a cup for a quick snack or an on the go goody for shepherds of the fast moving and ambitious trick or treaters – after all, Halloween comes but once a year and when the Great Pumpkin finally arrives – best grab it while the getting’s good.
You can see how easy this recipe is to put together by checking out Mahasti’s appearance on WBIR’s Weekend Today at this link: http://www.wbir.com/life/food/soups/tomato-head-pumpkin-and-poblano-soup/344125793
¼ cup oil
1 cup onion, diced
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled, chopped
¼ Habanero pepper
1 medium size Poblano pepper, roasted, seeded and peeled
2 cups Roasted Pumpkin
1/3 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1 tsp salt
2.5 cups water
1 cup heavy cream
In a medium pot, over medium heat, sauté the onion in oil until translucent. Add ginger, habanero, peeled poblano, roasted pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, salt, and water. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and cook for 10- 15 minutes until ginger is soft. Puree the soup with an immersion blender **. Add the heavy cream and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Serve topped with toasted pumpkin seeds.
** Do not blend hot soup in a traditional blender; allow soup to cool and then puree the mixture. Return the mixture to the pot and bring to a boil, then add heavy cream and simmer for 5 – 10 minutes longer.
Despite my inclination to poke a little fun at the growing pumpkin spice craze, it’s actually one of the coolest food and beverage trends to come along in a great while. In fact, anything we do to give pumpkin a lift is really a kind of All-American celebration, because the great orange squash is one of those great All-American foodstuffs that predates Amerigo Vespucci (America’s namesake) by about 5000 years.
When I was knee-high to a gourd, we read about Native agriculture in the form of the 3-Sisters, corns, beans, and squash, which were cultivated together because of their symbiotic relationship: corn gives the beans a natural pole to grow on; squash has wide foliage that help product corn’s shallow root system; and beans add nitrogen to the soil which helps everybody grow.
Squash, and pumpkin in particular, have deep roots in this continent – in fact, it may have surfaced right here, close to home, in the land that provides us with a lot of culinary inspiration: Mexico.
Archeologists opine that the Oaxaca Highlands (which, roughly speaking, is on the Pacific side of Mexico opposite Veracruz) were among the first places where pumpkin was cultivated – some 7500 years ago. The squash was grown for food, of course, but also for medicine, for storage (you can make nifty bowls from pumpkin hulls!), perhaps even for use of its fibrous strands for making mats. Of course we still prefer eating pumpkin to any other use – though Jack-O-Lanterns are awfully nifty, too.
Recently, as you all know, folk have also taken a lot of interest in drinking pumpkin – or at least the flavor of pumpkin or just the spices that often go with it (we vociferated about that in a previous blog post). Despite the quibbles we’ve already expressed about the craze, we remain committed to the idea of giving pumpkin its due. And since we owe this wonderful cucurbit to our friends to the south, this week Mahasti showed us all how to celebrate both pumpkin itself and its ancient home all at the same time.
Mexico, of course, is the font of innumerable good things to eat and drink, but when autumn hits the air, we’re pretty sure that champurrado is the best thing from our neighbor since corn tortillas.
Champurrado is a thick, rich drink, originally made with chocolate – it’s like hot chocolate, but thicker, richer and much more fortifying. It’s almost breakfast itself because it starts with masa harina – dried corn meal – that’s cooked with a little water and combined with chocolate.
Mahasti’s current version, though, doesn’t use chocolate – instead, she uses fresh roasted pumpkin (and plenty of pumpkin spice, too!) blended with milk.
The flavor and texture of this drink are luxurious, and, fair warning, may make your favorite latte seem a little wimpy in comparison. And it’s very easy to make at home – plus, if you’ve never roasted a pumpkin in your own kitchen, this is the perfect chance to get some practice in for pie making season and add a great fall drink to your repertoire, too. You may even throw in a little food history and heritage to your smaller helpers.
We have the recipe here below, but you can watch it happen the way Mahasti does it (with a couple fun tips, too) on WBIR by following this link:
Tomato Head’s Pumpkin Spice Champurrado
1 Tbl Masa Harina
1.25 cup cold water
pinch of salt
1 cup milk
½ cup fresh pumpkin, cooked and peeled
1.5 Tbl sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp Clove
1/8 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp ginger
Cut pumpkin in half, remove seeds and place cut side down in a baking dish with 1 inch of water. Bake oven in a 400 degree oven for approximately 20 minutes or until you can insert a fork into the pumpkin easily. Remove from oven, flip the pumpkins over. When the pumpkins are cool, scoop out the flesh and discard the skin. Store extra pumpkin your refrigerator for another use.
In a medium sauce pan whisk together the Masa Harina with cold water and pinch of salt. Heat the mixture over medium heat stirring occasionally for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a blender, blend the fresh pumpkin with the milk. Add the milk mixture and the remaining ingredients to the pot, whisking constantly until milk heats up and mixture thickens and foams a little.
Words, as anyone who has said bumfuzzle aloud can tell you, are funny. How they came to be and where they came from can be amusing when not just strange.
Consider dessert – as, of course, we hope you often do- that word comes from a French word, dessevir, meaning to remove what has been served or, easier on the tongue, to clear away the table. In fact in the third person desservir takes on a familiar form: il dessert (or he clears away). Which isn’t particularly funny if you haven’t finished your dessert before he clears it away. Sacre bleu! What a tragedy that would be.
Other folks say that the meaning of desservir is more akin to “un-serve”. Which, in dessert parlance, is the worst thought ever. Who would have a heart black enough to un-serve dessert?
Of course, no one we know, especially not the French, would un-serve dessert or take post prandial candy from babies of any age, but as we celebrate National Dessert Day it seems worthwhile to linger over our coffee and consider the vagaries surrounding the sweet spot of the meal.
I grew up in a home with lots of sweets, but not many desserts. That is to say that we rarely had a final course to the meal; cookies and milk might come later, but they were never served at the table. It was a rare and special occasion when Mom would have something sweet that we would eat together after dinner. Usually it arrived in a footed, faceted dessert cup which I have forever since associated with chocolate pudding (my favorite treat from back in the day). It was an indulgence that never got old because it never came too often – so you couldn’t get used to it or take it for granted. It was mother’s whim and a delight.
That’s why, perhaps, to this day dessert remains a completely separate experience from grabbing a quick bite of cookie. The very idea is a comfort – just think of clearing the table for a last sweet moment of communion over a bit of food that you can enjoy in small bites thus facilitating the especially fine conversation that comes from the good mood of the well fed.
Because it is more than nourishment, and follows essential eating, dessert contributes to the feeling that life is good. Whenever I feel discontent or worried about the budget or the Jones’ new car, I remind myself that in the grand scheme of things I’m a rich man. I have food daily and dessert often.
Dessert’s pretty special at The Tomato Head – it’s made with the same care and careful selection of ingredients as everything we serve. And, thanks to the delectable work of Flour Head Bakery, our dessert case is almost an embarrassment of riches, and one that’s accessible, too. What good is a wealth of sweet stuff unless you can share it? We take pains to make sure that our vegan and gluten free options are as appetizing to the eye and as scrumptious to the tongue as every other treat we serve. And, as a general rule, we’d never un-serve dessert – we’re just good like that.
Happy National Dessert Day! Be sweet to someone you love – or even someone you don’t: a little sugar goes a long way…