How To Throw A Pumpkin Carving Party

photoThis is the perfect weekend to have a pumpkin carving party — once you cut into them, a pumpkin will last just about a week before they start collapsing. If you carve yours this weekend, you will still have lively jack o’lanterns on Halloween.

Have people bring their own pumpkins or arrange for a delivery of a bunch.  When picking your pumpkins, choose ones that are smooth, firm, and fairly symmetrical. Consider having a few extra pumpkins on hand for any carving mishaps or mistakes.

If you have outdoor space and the weather cooperates, consider having your pumpkin carving party outdoors, where it doesn’t matter as much how messy things get. If you are have the party inside consider laying down a tarp, newspaper, or craft paper on the floor around the area where you will be carving to catch any errant pulp, seeds, or skins.

Have plenty of tools on hand — knives, melon ballers, jewelry making tools, linoleum cutters, mini saws, carpentry tools, sculpting or pottery tools or even cookie cutters can be used to create textures, shapes and patterns.

Print out some templates or get some stencils to get people started.

You don’t have to only carve pumpkins — paint, markers, or chalk is also an option. These are especially good options if you are planning to use your pumpkins through the fall as table decor.  Gild pumpkins with gold, silver, or bronze paint. Paint them with blackboard paint and the draw a face on with chalk. Or you can write a menu on the pumpkin for a dinner party.

And speaking of dinner, here are some recipe ideas of what to serve your guests during the party:

Our simple and delicious Pumpkin Coconut Soup

Padrón peppers

My Green Pea Hummus

Some creatively topped popcorn

Bulgur Pomegranate Mint Salad

Pomegranate Pistachio Guacamole

 

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How To Pick The Perfect Pumpkin

IMG_0908We are now firmly in the midst of pumpkin season.  When you hear the word pumpkin, you probably think of something large, round, orange and ripe for carving. In reality, the word pumpkin can be applied to any hard-shelled winter squash of any shape, size, or hue. They are part of the gourd family, along with honeydew, cantaloupe, watermelon, zucchini and cucumber. Also, botanically they are a fruit, not vegetable — from the family genus Cucubita, which grow on vines and are classified as berries. Very big berries.

Pumpkins of any size are hue can make for great eating — pies of course, but also soups and stews, curries, and can be baked, steamed, grilled or sautéed. Of course this time of year, they can also be carved or painted to make some awesome jack o’lanterns.

When purchasing your pumpkin, look for gourds that are hard. If you can scratch the skin easily with your fingernail, it’s too young. Also skip any specimens with bruises, cracks, or other damage. Choose pumpkins that feel heavy for their size.

Remember that for culinary uses, bigger is not better — smaller varieties are bred for cooking, not carving. You can store uncut pumpkins at room temperature for about a month. If you keep it refrigerated the shelf life can be up to 4 months. You can also steam pumpkin when it is in season and freeze for future use.

If you a buying your pumpkin for decoration and/or carving, larger and orange is often better. (Though pure white pumpkins could be cool for a ghostly jack o’lantern as well.)

Make sure your pumpkin is firm all over. Gently touch and examine it before buying — even if it looks perfect from the outside, any soft spots can indicate that it’s already decaying on the inside. That could be fairly disastrous come carving time. Gently tap your potential pumpkin as well — a pumpkin that sounds hollow will make for easier carving.

Pay attention to shape as well. Uniformly round or oval pumpkins will give you the best canvas for your carving — but bumps, lumps, or texture are not a problem, and could add cool detail to your design.  And a flattish bottom will obviously be a bonus.

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Wedding Wednesday: Signature Cocktails for Weddings

A fun new wedding trend that we have been noticing, is having signature cocktails for your reception.  At the most practical level,  it is a great way to keep your wedding budget manageable — instead of an open bar, you can simply offer wine, beer and a signature cocktail.

But a special cocktail can also add a personalized touch to a wedding. Is there a drink that you and your betrothed drank on your first date or while on a special vacation? Having that as a specialty cocktail at your wedding can celebrate those special memories and your history as a couple. If there is a particular fruit, wine, spirit or even beer associated with your hometown or region, those could be used to create a unique cocktail that ties in your heritage to your celebration. Or choose a drink that complements the menu at your reception, or even matches your color scheme — cocktails can come in every color! Some couples have two special drinks — one for the bride and the other for the groom. Are you planning a specialty cocktail for your wedding? Let us know. And try this refreshing strawberry- rosé-spritzer which is light and refreshing, and easy to make in big batches — perfect for weddings, showers or just an evening of entertaining at home.

1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 750-ml bottle rosé wine
2 cups seltzer
1/3 cup Campari
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Combine the strawberries and the wine in a large container or jug. Cover and chill for 3 hours let the fruit infuse the wine. After 3 hours, strain the mixture into a  pitcher, reserving some of the strawberries for garnish. Stir in the seltzer, Campari, and lemon juice. To serve, pour into ice-filled glasses, you can garnish with a lemon slice or twist and a few of the reserved strawberries.

 

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On The Road To Mississippi

file0001723502873This week I’m traveling to Mississippi for a few Meet The Artist events. I took my first trip to Mississippi  in 1998 or ’99  and fell fairly immediately in love with the people and way of life there. I love the traditions, the manners, the incredibly beautiful homes, and especially the meals! Of course the food, but also the way that a table is still set. All of those beautiful plates and serving pieces, both new and family heirlooms that are not kept locked away for special occasions, but are used for everyday. I love the way that people in the South live and decorate. They understand the real meaning of luxury so well…. that it’s not about showing off but that nice things allow you to better enrich and enjoy everyday life and they love to share it with family and friends daily. I’m looking forward to my visits this week!

On Wednesday October 22nd, I’ll be at Sassafras in Vicksburg, MS from 11am to 3pm, and on Thursday October 23rd, I’ll be at the Everyday Gourmet in Jackson, MS from 4pm-7pm. Hope to see you there!

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Spicy Roasted Cauliflower

IMG_2988Cauliflower is a vegetable that you see in stores year round, but it is a cool weather crop and is truly at it’s  tastiest in the Fall.  It’s a great vegetable to have at hand for quick dinners— the florets are filled with vitamins C and B6 — and it doesn’t wilt or or go bad in the crisper as quickly as other vegetables. It’s also very versatile. You can boil, steam, or mash it. It loves being buttered or coated in cheese. But one of our favorite — and healthiest — ways to prepare it is to simply roast it. When cauliflower is roasted it takes on a deep, creamy, caramelized flavor, without a lot of added fat. It also doesn’t take very long — just a half hour, unattended, in the oven and you have a delicious vegetable treat. This spicy roasted cauliflower is great as a side dish, as a base for a simple grilled fish or meat, or you can mix it into some whole wheat pasta for a healthful, and delicious dinner.

  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon ancho chile powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  •  Freshly ground black pepper

Heat your oven to 425°F. In a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, spices, salt and pepper. Place the cauliflower in a large bowl, and pour the olive oil mixture over the top and mix to coat. Spread the florets on a baking sheet and place in the oven. Let cook for about 30 minutes — when it’s done the edges will be crispy and golden.

 

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