Tag Archives: pumpkin

pumpkin chili with venison (the venison diaries, part IV)

Two winters ago, I wrote a series of blog posts all featuring ground venison, since I’d been given 6 pounds of it from my dad. According to my first post in the series, my plan was to write a different recipe for each of the 6 packages, but somehow I fell off after three. I can’t recall what I did with the other 3 pounds,  but I’m guessing it’s pretty likely there was at least one batch of chili in there.

Chili is probably the most common dish made with ground venison- I suspect some people turn to it because the powerful seasonings can mask the venison’s taste, but that hasn’t been a problem for us since my dad’s deer always taste great with no “off” or gamey flavors. We just make it because it’s easy and we tend to have most of the ingredients on hand. However, I never really considered my usual chili (which consists primarily of chopping onions and garlic and opening a bunch of cans) to be worthy of writing down a recipe.

Folks, this batch is a different story. I did rely on a couple canned ingredients, and this is still squarely in the camp of weeknight fare (even with the experimentation factor and my own slow-pokiness, it only took me an hour and a half from start to finish) but the flavors are richer, deeper and, dare I say, more sophisticated than your run-of-the-mill chili. Marvin may have to make good on his mention of taking up hunting himself in order to keep us stocked with sufficient quantities of venison, because rather than quell my cravings, this just made me hungry for more.

When my venison supply was replenished a couple weeks ago, I knew that this was the first dish I wanted to try. My dad’s wife Amy had told me about a pumpkin chili she had recently made for a cook-off (it took second place out of 20- not too shabby!) and I was intrigued. Amy hadn’t used a recipe, but she told me what ingredients she used and I tweaked it to my tastes. For example, her version used chili powder, pumpkin pie spice and a little brown sugar, and included lots of beans, corn and tomatoes. I omitted the sugar, added toasted and soaked guajillo chiles instead of chili powder, and used cumin, allspice and cinnamon for a vaguely Middle Eastern feel. In fact, I can easily see substituting lamb for the venison in this recipe (or grass-fed beef if you’re not a fan of lamb). I also left out the corn and cut back on the beans and tomatoes, wanting the pumpkin, chiles and meat to be the primary flavors.

For garnish, I stole Amy’s idea of reserving a little pumpkin to mix with sour cream, and added cilantro and scallions to brighten things up. Chopped jalapenos would be nice too if you wanted a little more kick. One authoritarian note, though- although I am generally very flexible with my recipes, I have to strongly advise against any temptations to use shredded cheese as a garnish- the flavors wouldn’t work with the cinnamon and allspice. I guarantee you won’t miss it, though.

Pumpkin Chili with Venison
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Prep time: 30 minutes active, 30 minutes inactive

Serves: 8

5-7 dried guajillo chiles (see note)
2 cups boiling water
2 Tbs olive oil or neutral vegetable oil
1 large or 2 small white onions, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb ground venison, lamb, grass-fed beef, or a combination
1 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1 large (29-oz) can 100% pumpkin puree (check to make sure it has no sugar or other spices added)
1 small (14-oz) can whole peeled tomatoes with their juice
1 roasted red bell pepper, peeled, seeded and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 small (15-oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained

optional but recommended garnishes:
sour cream
chopped scallions
chopped cilantro

Note: 5 guajillo chiles will yield a chili that is “warm” but not spicy-hot; feel free to add more, but I wouldn’t go too hot because you’ll overpower the other spices. You could also substitute dried ancho chiles if guajillos are not to be found.


1. Heat a cast iron or other heavy skillet over medium heat. Toast the chiles in the dry skillet, turning frequently and taking care not to burn them. Remove the seeds and roughly tear the chiles into pieces; place in a blender. Pour over the 2 cups boiling water and replace the lid; allow to soak while you prep the vegetables.

2. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy, lidded pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until they soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook a minute more.

3. Increase the heat slightly and add the meat, salt, and all of the spices except the cocoa. Cook until the meat is browned- this will vary depending on your choice of meat; venison is very wet so it takes longer, but keep going until the liquid has evaporated. Meanwhile, process the chiles and water for 30 seconds in the blender.

4. Add the tomatoes, crushing them with your hands as you add them to the pot, and all but 1/3 cup of the pumpkin puree; add the cocoa powder and stir to incorporate. Strain the chile water into the pot with a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth, pressing to extract all the liquid (guajillo skins are very tough; if you use ancho chiles you don’t need to strain them). Add more water to reach your desired consistency, allowing for some evaporation (I added about a cup).

5. Cover and reduce heat to a very low simmer; cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a splash of water if it looks too thick. About halfway through, add the black beans (canned beans often verge on overcooked, so I prefer to add them toward the end).

6. Taste the chili for salt and adjust as needed. Whisk the reserved pumpkin puree with a cup or so of sour cream. Serve the chili garnished with pumpkin sour cream, a generous sprinkling of cilantro and a few scallion slices.

pumpkin-pecan and turkish delight cannoli (daring bakers)

I actually made my Daring Bakers challenge early this month, woot! Marvin informed me that we were going to a dinner party a couple weeks ago and volunteered me to bring a dessert, so I figured it was as good an excuse as any to roll up my sleeves and get frying.

I was a little skeptical about frying anything in my tiny kitchen without the aid of a deep fryer, but it turned out pretty much ok. I used my Le Creuset Dutch oven, which was deep enough to avoid any splattering.  The only collateral damage was a lingering fast-food grease smell that permeated the house for several days after!  I used pasta tubes for the cannoli forms, which was a little challenging but not impossible.

The cannoli were not difficult to make, but they were time-consuming.  Thankfully I had a pasta rolling machine, which greatly helped in rolling the dough to the proper thickness- I can’t imagine if I’d had to roll it out by hand, yikes.  The dough actually behaved very similarly to pasta dough and the machine worked very well at getting it to a workable consistency.  I hit a little bit of a speed bump when I went to make the dough- it was Sunday morning, I didn’t have any wine in the house, and you can’t buy alcohol until noon.  I didn’t have time to wait, so I poked around the pantry until I came across some Chinese cooking wine.  I sniffed it… it smelled close enough to Marsala, so into the dough it went.

For filling my cannoli, I bought ricotta but also bought some whipping cream which I whipped and folded into the ricotta.  It wasn’t traditional, of course, but it gave a wonderful light texture to the filling.  I divided my filling into two bowls and flavored one batch with about ¼ cup pumpkin butter from Trader Joe’s.  The other half of the filling was inspired by Turkish flavors; I used sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, and a little orange flower water.  The pumpkin-filled cannoli got pecans on the ends, and the “Turkish delight” cannoli got pistachios and apricots.

I doubt that cannoli would be something I’d attempt again at home, not just because of the frying but because they ended up being a little on the expensive side after you factor in the whole bottle of oil I had to use, and the manicotti shells I bought to use as molds.  But it was a fun experience, and after the last challenge, it was nice to make something I had success with on the first try!  (For recipe, please visit our hostess Lisa Michele’s blog at the link below.)

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

pumpkin-pecan puff pastry bites with orange glaze

Halloween Supper @ Jeff & Megan's

Halloween supper @ Jeff & Megan's

I have to admit that my Halloween spirit was at a low this year.  I think it had something to do with the fact that my good friend Katie, whom I have celebrated Halloween with the last several years and who is really into dressing up and having a good costume, moved away earlier this year.  I truly wish I was one of those crafty people who can’t wait for the chance to get out the sewing machine or hit the thrift store in pursuit of a great costume, but I tend to be more of the lazy last-minute type who is frantically digging in my closet at 6pm Halloween night.

Seeing as how I didn’t get dressed up, I figured the least I could do was try to get creative with some Halloween-themed food.  We were invited to a casual dinner of Turkey Chili at our friends Jeff & Megan’s house, so I decided to bring a dessert.  I have to mention that even with a 7-month-old baby, these two manage to pull off hosting a great party with delicious food and make it seem effortless.  Makes me feel that I need to work on my time management skills!  (By the way, the chili, which was excellent, was made from the Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites cookbook; they just added ground turkey to the veg recipe.)

Being short on time, I needed to find something that would be relatively simple.  I was flipping through an old copy of Martha Stewart Living and found a recipe where she had taken layers of puff pastry, filled it with cheese and mustard, and used pumpkin-shaped cookie cutters to cut out each pastry.  Since I was enlisted to bring a dessert item, I adapted the recipe to be sweet rather than savory.  Everything I used was store-bought, so it was more of an assembly than actual baking.  The finished product wasn’t as pretty as something Martha would have made, but considering that I was winging it I thought it was not so bad.  I got many compliments from the other party guests, so I guess taste won out over good looks.  I know Halloween is over, but this idea could be adapted to any holiday really,  just by changing the shape of the cookie cutter and/ or the filling. I definitely want to toy around with it some more and will update if I hit upon a superior method. 


Pumpkin-Pecan Puff Pastry Bites with Orange Glaze

1 package store-bought puff pastry (see note)
1 jar pumpkin butter or pumpkin pie filling (about 6 or 7 oz)
1/2 cup toasted pecan pieces
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbs butter
1 tbs natural orange flavor
red+yellow (or orange) food coloring 
flour, for dusting

The finished product

The finished product

Preheat oven to 375.  Defrost puff pastry if necessary (it will thaw quickly at room temp; don’t let it get too warm).  On a clean countertop or piece of parchment paper, sprinkle a light dusting of flour.  Lay one of your squares of pastry on the flour.  Spread the pumpkin butter on the pastry, leaving about an inch around the edges.  Sprinkle on the pecans.  Place the second piece of pastry on top.  Lightly dust a rolling pin and roll the two sheets out until they are about 30% larger than their original surface area (keep the size of your cookie cutter in mind and try to maximize the number of cutouts).  If at any point the pastry seems too sticky or hard to work with, put it in the fridge to chill for a few minutes.  When you’re done rolling out, put the pastry in the refrigerator while you make the glaze. 

Melt the butter in a small bowl; when it is melted, stir in the sugar, orange flavor, and a couple drops food coloring to make a nice pumpkiny orange color.  If the glaze seems too grainy, you can nuke it on LOW power for 10-20 seconds at a time; this should help melt the sugar.  Just be careful; melted sugar is extremely hot!  If you don’t want to bother making a glaze, you could just melt some apricot jam in the microwave with a little water and use that for the glaze.  Another glaze alternative would be to brush the tops with beaten egg white and sprinkle with orange sugar (just omit the butter from the glaze recipe).

Take a couple cookie sheets and line them with parchment paper (optional, but will make your cleanup a heck of a lot easier).  Use pumpkin-shaped cookie cutter to cut out as many shapes as possible.  Lay them on your cookie sheet.  If you like, you can take a sharp knife or razor blade and make little vertical slashes for the pumpkin ridges.  (I also cooked the scrap pieces; those are the cook’s treat!)  Bake for 15 minutes in the middle of the oven.  Take the pastries out and brush with the orange glaze; return to the oven for another 5 minutes.  (I put my glaze on when they were still cold, but I think they would have turned out a little better if I had waited; that way you don’t risk the sugar burning.)  Let cool for 5-10 minutes before eating.  (These are best eaten warm, and will get slightly soggy if you have to put them in a closed container.)   

Note:  I have encountered many recipes that call for store bought puff pastry, but I could never find any at the store that was not made with hydrogenated shortening.  Being one who avoids trans fat whenever possible, I was not willing to purchase a product with shortening.  I am therefore ECSTATIC to report that Trader Joe’s now carries a frozen puff pastry made with real butter!  At $5 a package, it’s not cheap, but unless you have a couple hours and some serious patience to devote to making your puff pastry from scratch, it’s definitely worthwhile.  I try to always have a package in the freezer- it’s a lifesaver when you need to make a last-minute dessert, quiche, appetizer or whatever.  In summer when fresh fruit was in season, I was constantly using it to make simple fruit tarts. One of these days I will tackle making my own puff pastry from scratch (just to prove that I can), but for now, this product is my new food BFF.  LOVE IT!