My little inspiration pumpkin keeps on inspiring me.
Long after the Halloween festivities, it still sits on my kitchen table emanating a holiday-like aura, showing no signs of atrophy or deterioration. It’s so stalwart and not to mention cute.
It’s often the way things work for me – something simple, something innocuous, something as ordinary as a Jack Be Little Pumpkin ignites a spark of creativity, and off I go. This spontaneity has served me well as a journalist and it has been a great asset as a food blogger.
With thoughts of pumpkins dancing in my head, my heart craved a warm and hearty dish to stoke the holiday-like aura that filled my kitchen. It certainly had nothing to do with the weather. Here in Los Angeles the temperatures continue to fluctuate between hot and moderate with sunny skies, while other parts of the country are experiencing a real winter.
But it’s really the season we are in that has touched off these feelings. This time of year takes me back to my childhood when my Mom, an Alabama transplant to the Golden State, would instinctively concoct and prepare an endless variety of soups and stews she believed would keep us sturdy and strong over the holiday season and winter months. From the modest ingredients in her kitchen, the soups and stews contained anything from dried beans, white rice, fresh root vegetables, canned tomatoes, stew beef, ground meat, pork neck bones, organ meats and whatever dried spices were in her panty.
I know, for some this list of ingredients causes furrowed brows and wrinkled noses. But it didn’t for me or my siblings. Whether she prepared white lima bean soup with a smoked ham hock, beef stew with lots of root vegetables or pork neck bones and rice, we didn’t protest. The love and care with which she prepared and served this peasant-like food transcended any such thought. And the cornbread – baked or hot-water – was always ridiculously good. Not only did we feel full, we felt sturdy and more than ready to combat the winter cold and flu season.
As homage to my mother (who still by the way still stirs a pot or two in her kitchen during the winter months) along with the inspiration of my stalwart Jack Be Little Pumpkin, I took to the kitchen and concocted a little “somethin somethin” from a few ingredients I had in my kitchen, just like my mom used to do.
I call it “Solstice Chili” to observe the change in the season, and the change in me. It’s hearty and satisfying. The cannellini beans update the classic chili bean recipe. Adding chicken is a tasty alternative to ground meat. And the pumpkin puree gives it a lovely depth and richness.
Since I didn’t wait to waste that lovely puree (because the chili recipe only uses half the can) I stirred the unused portion into my mom’s cornbread recipe which features the addition of the most wonderful favoring she’s used for years – vanilla butter and nut favoring. I get it from Ralphs Market or Krogers.
The cornbread recipe is also ridiculously good. You won’t believe it. And after you taste it, you will keep a can of pumpkin puree in your pantry, always.
Enjoy these hearty and heart-inspired recipes. As you ease into this holiday season, surround yourself with family, good friends and great food.
½ chopped red bell pepper (approximately ¾ cup)
½ chopped white or yellow onion (approximately 1 cup)
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 yellow pepper seeded and chopped
3 pounds cooked, chopped chicken meat (I used boneless organic chicken thigh meat that I pan seared in grape seed oil until almost done then chopped. You can use cooked chicken breasts or rotisserie chicken too.)
3-15 ounce cans of drained cannellini beans or 4 cups cooked white beans (White Northern beans)
½ of 15 ounce can pumpkin puree (organic pumpkin from Trader Joes is my favorite)
3 cups low sodium chicken stock
3 teaspoons ground cumin
1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
½ teaspoon white pepper ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
3 tablespoons oil (grapeseed, canola, olive, rice bran, corn)
Place skillet on stove top, set heat at medium and add oil. When oil is heated, add red bell pepper, onion, garlic and yellow pepper. Sauté for at least 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until lightly caramelized. Remove from heat and empty into a Dutch oven pot. Add remaining ingredients to the Dutch oven pot and stir well. Bring to a gentle boil. Turn down heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro and white cheddar or Monterey jack cheese if you like. And don’t forget the pumpkin cornbread. See recipe below.
Solstice Pumpkin Cornbread
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup yellow corn meal
⅓ cup white sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup pumpkin puree
⅓ cup oil (grapeseed, canola, olive, rice bran, corn)
⅓ cup milk (I like evaporated milk, it’s what Mom uses)
½ teaspoon vanilla butter and nut favoring (substitute vanilla or almond extract if that’s what you have)
Preheat oven to 375° degrees Fahrenheit.
You will need two bowls for this recipe. In one bowl combine all the dry ingredients (including spices and salt), and mix well with a spoon or wire whisk. Set aside.
In the second bowl, add eggs and beat well. Add pumpkin puree, oil, milk and favoring/extract. Mix well to incorporate the ingredients.
Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Mix until there are no dry spots (the batter will still be somewhat lumpy). Don’t over mix. Pour the batter into a greased, 9-inch square baking dish (I use Baker’s Joy baking spray with flour). Bake at 375° degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted.