Sunday, September 30, 2012

Happy Fall

There are a lot of choices for the "first day of fall."  There's the autumnal equinox, which, of course, is the only right answer; there's the day after labor day, which, in my opinion, is pushing the matter; there's the day when all the TV shows come back on; and then there's today.  What is today you might ask?  Well, it is the full harvest moon (that might have been yesterday...), but more importantly it is the first day that I want to curl up on the couch with a brandied, spiced apple cider.

I love fall.

I'm pretty sure that you can go back over each change of the season and find a post where I said "I love X.  X is my favorite season."  So I won't say that anymore.  All of the seasons are good.  All of the seasons have their good sides.  Even winter in Wisconsin can be glorious.  I love snow.  I enjoy sweaters.  I own about 20 more winter coats than is necessary for any human being, so I must enjoy that...  Even the terrible Wisconsin winter has it's benefits.

I think that one of the things that makes Fall in Wisconsin so special (and spring for the same reason) is that it's so short.  It's pretty hard to get sick of something that's less than a month long.  Summer is awesome and amazing and I love being warm all the time, until the fifth or sixth 90 plus degree night, and then I'm basically done with that shit.

Fall brings into play some of my favorite foods.  Stews, and braises, and pumpkin.  It's a good time.

It's not quite time to take the gardens down yet, but we're almost there.  I've got a nice crop of spinach and kale coming up in the back porch container garden.  I'm hoping that, when it gets even cooler, I can move those containers into the greenhouse I've got going on the back porch.  Maybe with the help of a light bulb I can grow my own spinach through most of the winter.  It's worth a try at least.

I've got four nice sized pumpkins out in the garden, hardening off on the vine, and two that I already picked.  I think I've picked (and pretty much eaten) all of the spaghetti squash.  I've got no way to know how many acorn squash are twisted among the green tomatoes.  I thought I planted butternut squash too, but I'm not finding any so I guess I didn't.  I'll have to pick some up at the farmer's market.

If you were around this time last year, I gave a bit of an ode to pumpkin.  I enjoy squash much more than I ever did as a child.  It's so versatile - there's really nothing you can't do with it.

I don't know if I can explain it, but I feel like there's also something that's just really appealing about squash.  It resonates with my inner food hoarder, I guess.  Here's a food that preserves itself - no canning required.  And then there's the fact that one seed can get you 25 acorn squash that will last all winter.  And on top of that, it tastes good.  But maybe even better, it doesn't taste like much, which means you can do whatever you want with it.  Creamy, mild, butternut squash soup?  Done.  Pie?  Of course.  Fiery hot spice to work out a head cold?  Why not!

This year, the pumpkin festivities started out with a pumpkin chicken curry, which unfortunately I do not have a picture for because I made it for the belly dancers at Tribal Union last weekend.  I'm not great at remembering to photograph when I'm hurrying to serve a large group (and getting changed into costume, stretching, applying large quantities of eyeliner, etc).  Plus, since we were mostly all eating it out of to-go containers, I probably wouldn't have gotten a great shot anyway.

But please don't let the lack of a photograph dissuade you.  This was a lightly curried dish with just a little bit of spice, balanced with the sweet of the pumpkin and the bitter of the kale.  The chicken is totally optional, and actually since you cook it ahead of time, you have the option of keeping it separate and letting people chose if they want to add it in.  I cooked it separately so I could use bone-in chicken breasts and thighs without the risk of bones in my curry.  Using the bone-in chicken as opposed to boneless helps the meat stay moist, and also it costs less which is a good thing when you're shelling out for the high quality meat.

If you want to make this vegetarian, just skip the chicken part, and replace the chicken stock with veggie stock.
My name is Miss Kitty, and I approve of this pumpkin.

Pumpkin Curry with Chicken and Kale
Serves 10-12

For the chicken:
  • 4 bone in chicken thighs
  • 2 bone in chicken breasts
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt, pepper, and garlic powder 
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 star anise
  • 4 allspice berries
For the curry
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Thai bird chilies, sliced in half lengthwise, seeds removed if you're a wimp
  • 1 tbsp brown mustard seeds
  • 2 tbsp of your favorite curry powder (I prefer the hot Madras curry powder from the Spice Hut)
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
  • 8-10 cups cubed pumpkin
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 6-8 cups kale, stems and veins removed, and torn into large pieces
  • Brown rice for serving (optional)
Season chicken generously with salt, pepper, and olive oil.

In a heavy skillet over medium high heat, warm the oil.  Once hot, add the chicken and brown in batches.  Transfer to a slow cooker, add apple cider and spices, and cook on low for about 8 hours or until the chicken is falling off the bone.  Allow the chicken to cool and then shred.  This step can be done up to a few days in advance.

In a large skillet over low heat, combine olive oil and onion.  Sweat the onion (it shouldn't get brown or sizzle - just release water) until it is softened, about 20 minutes.  Increase the heat to medium high and add the garlic, chilies, mustard, curry, and ginger.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Saute until spices are fragrant - about three minutes.  Add the pumpkin, toss to combine, and transfer the whole mixture to a large slow cooker.  Add chicken stock and apple cider and cook on low for 8 hours, or until pumpkin is soft and the whole dance studio smells like delicious curry.  About 30 minutes before serving, stir in kale.  Serve over brown rice, if desired.


  1. This smelled awesome at Tribal Union! I think I'm going to have to try this one. When I get home, that is. :)

  2. That is a most beautiful kitty. The pumpkin curry sounds pretty good too.