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pumpkin granola

We have a big and growing stack of pumpkins on the verandah.  A big stack.  This is just the start of the main pumpkin harvesting season and already I am looking for places to store them, feeding them to the chooks and to the redclaw in the front dam, and sending every visitor off with a 10 kg behemoth.

pumpkin stack

And using every pumpkin recipe in the repertoire – pumpkin pasta, pumpkin salad, pumpkin dip, pumpkin balls, pumpkin curry, pumpkin pie, pumpkin scones, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pizza, pumpkin soup, pumpkin cake, pumpkin patties.

So, you can see why my quest was to see just how much pumpkin I could include in a pumpkin granola and have it still crunchy and granola-ish.  The recipes I see have just half a cup or so of pumpkin puree.  Hmfff.  And also maple syrup, which is lovely but so far out of my 100 mile (160 km) zone that I don’t buy it for home.

This recipe uses treacle, which is just as healthy and much more local, and 1½ cups of pumpkin puree.  Which makes no dent at all in the pile but at least makes me feel like I’m trying.

The Recipe:

There are lots of substitutions possible, so this is the basic recipe and you can adjust to your own style.

Blend together:

  • 1½ cups of pumpkin puree – cooked pumpkin blended to smooth.
  • 3 big dessertspoons of treacle
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch cloves
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • Pinch salt

Stir through 1 cup of pecans, and/or your choice of nuts and seeds. I added a handful of pepitas and macadamias.

Stir through 2½ cups of plain rolled oats, and/or your choice of rolled or puffed grains.  I used plain rolled oats, but I would have used rolled barley and triticale if I had any on the shelf.

Oil two large baking dishes really well and spread the mixture out as best you can without pressing down.

Bake in a moderate oven for around 20 minutes, then take out and break up clumps as best you can with a fork.

Bake for another 20 minutes or so and break up and stir again.

Mine took just under an hour to get to a nice roasty-ness.  It will crispen up as it cools.

If you want to add dried fruit, best to add it after it comes out of the oven as it burns too easily when roasted.

It’s great with fruit and yoghurt for breakfast or dessert, or just as is as a snack.

Store in an airtight jar and it will last for ages if you can manage to avoid raiding the jar all the time.  Dare you.

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honey roasted figs and pecans with feta salad

The riff of sweet, caramelised figs, salty white cheese, peppery leaves, and nut crunch is a classic one.  And like most classics, for very good reason. This salad was so good it’s been repeated regularly this year since the figs started coming on.  It’s a starring role salad – a dinner party first course, or a totally indulgent lunch, or a plate to take to a party.  If you are in Australia, figs are now in season, and only for a little while.

The Recipe:

Turn the oven on to medium hot to heat up.

Quarter the figs, spread them out on a baking tray and drizzle them with equal quantities of balsamic vinegar and honey.  I used a tablespoon of each with six large figs cut into quarters for this platter salad I took to a party.

For the pecans, in a small saucepan, melt together a teaspoon of honey, a teaspoon of butter, juice of half an orange, a scant teaspoon of garam masala, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of chili powder. Toss the pecans in this mix and spread them out on another baking tray. (I thought about using macadamias first, but the first of ours are only just coming on now, and I still have some of last year’s pecans needing using.)

Put both trays into a medium hot oven and roast for about 20 minutes until the figs are soft and caramelised and the pecans are roasted and their marinade reduced to just a coating.

You should be left in the  fig pan with a couple of tablespoons of juice.  If it is already reduced to a syrup, then you can just cool the lot.  If it is not syrupy yet, pour it into a small saucepan and reduce. If it has turned to sticky toffee, take the figs out and add a little water to dissolve.

Arrange a bed of rocket on a serving tray. Cover with a good sprinkle of cucumber quarters, then a layer of crumbled feta, then the figs and pecans, then a light sprinkle of mint and/or basil leaves.

Drizzle the fig juice over and serve.

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pecan crust pie

My friend Joe is gluten intolerant, and not very dairy tolerant either which makes making dessert for him a pain in the ass but I love him so here is my best, Joe friendly dessert recipe! It uses pecans for the crust and we still have some from last year’s harvest needing to be used up, and we also have some very early pumpkins.  Otherwise the ingredients are all things you are likely to have in the pantry.

The Recipe:

In a food processor, blend together

  • 2 cups pecans
  • 2 big dessertspoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind
  • 1 egg

Blend till it binds together. I like it a bit textured, not smooth, but if you make it too textured the crust has trouble holding together.  If you look at the picture, the edge of the crust is starting to crack, which means I didn’t blend this one quite enough. Don’t try to reduce the amount of sugar – it turns toffee-ish and helps the crust hold together. It’s not overly sweet anyhow, but if you want less sugar, reduce it from the filling.

Oil a pie dish with a bland tasting oil and press the nut crust mix into it.  Decoratively pinch the edge.

Wide out the food processor and blend together:

  • 1 ½ cups cooked pumpkin
  • 2 dessertspoons brown sugar
  • a little vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch nutmeg
  • pinch allspice
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind

Blend until smooth, then pour into the shell.

Bake in a medium oven for around 45 minutes till the centre is just set and the crust is golden.

It’s good just as it is, but for dairy tolerant people, it’s lovely with  greek yoghurt and strawberries, or glorious warm with  icecream.

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pumpkin pecan polenta balls

These are good.  Really good.  Better than they look.  They have the sweetness of pumpkin with a moist cake-y polenta centre.  They’re good hot but specially good cold, which makes them ideal for lunches or for nibbles.  They’re super fast and easy to put together, and these days we have the wood stove going so a hot oven just going to waste unless I find something to put in it.

Pumpkins are my glut crop at the moment.  They’re not exactly a glut – my brush turkeys take care of that – but when you cut just one pumpkin, it becomes a glut.  There’s never enough room in the fridge so it’s a race to use all of it before it goes off.

The Recipe:

This is a bit of a make it up as you go recipe.  The quantities aren’t very exact, because it depends on what kind of pumpkin you are using, and how much of it.

  • You need an oiled baking tray of pumpkin, cut into bite sized pieces.
  • Over the top of the pumpkin, scatter a couple of good handfuls of pecans.  I can’t see why it wouldn’t work just as well with any other kind of nut, but pecans is what I usually have in glut at the same time as pumpkins, so I’ve always used pecans. 
  • Scatter a diced onion and a couple of cloves of roughly chopped garlic over too.  

Bake until the pumpkin is soft. In a medium-hot oven, this will only take 15 minutes or so.

Tip the lot into a food processor. Add

  • an egg,
  • a good pinch of salt,
  • and a couple of big dessertspoons of polenta.

 Pulse the mix.  You are aiming to chop rather than puree it, aiming for a texture like a stiffish cake mix. If your pumpkin is very dry, you will use less polenta, if it is moist you will use more.  

pumpkin pecan polenta balls mix

Mix polenta and sesame seeds 50-50 on a plate.

Drop dessertspoons full of the mixture onto the plate and roll them in in the polenta sesame mix to coat.  Make into nice balls a bit smaller than a golf ball, about two-bite size.  Place them on an oiled baking tray.

Bake for around 40 minutes in a medium oven, till lightly browned.

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spiced pecans with orange

It has taken me a few weeks to face pecan shelling after my TEDx pecan shelling marathon.  I spent most of a weekend hand shelling pecans for my contribution to the the crowd farmed TEDx catering.  It was so very worth it to be part of something so exciting and inspiring, but what with being OCD about keeping every tiny bit of  shell out, by the end of it I was totally over smashing pecans.

My pecans appeared at afternoon tea time in nougat, which was spectacular and worth all the cracking, but rather too sweet for me.  I’m not a sweet tooth – give me a spicy chili salty sweet and sour balance any day.  So I’ve been waiting to get back into a mood for smashing enough pecans to make these. Pecans are my glut crop, still, and though they will last in shell for a few months, fresh nuts do need to be eaten in season.

Beware – these are extremely addictive.  Put a bowl of them within reach while you are watching a movie or reading or chatting with friends, and you keep swearing this will be the last handful all the way till they’re all gone.  Which is not all a bad thing.  We generally don’t eat enough nuts.  There’s some very good science that a handful of nuts a day is very good for you.  OK, so it’s impossible to limit these to a handful, but if you could, it would make them the ultimate guilt free indulgence.

The Recipe:

Turn the oven on to heat up.  I use my Rayburn wood fired oven, so I’m not very exact with temperatures, but it doesn’t need to be exact – you want a medium oven.

In a small pot, melt together:

  • 2 teaspoons finely grated orange rind (grate the rind before you squeeze the orange, and it’s much easier)
  • ¾ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons of butter
  • 3 big teaspoons of honey (or you could substitute brown sugar)
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Cook for a minute or two to get it a bit syrupy, then add 3 cups of pecans.

Stir to combine well, then tip the spice coated pecans out onto an oven tray and spread them out evenly.

Bake for around 40 minutes.  Watch them very carefully at the end.  They go from undercooked to overcooked in minutes.  Tasting is your best indication of when they are ready.  The flavour changes and they get crisp and roasty and caramelised.

Cool on the tray, stirring occasionally to stop them clumping.

They will keep for quite a while in an airtight jar.  I dare you.

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pecan tree

We have a magnificent, 20 year old pecan tree on the eastern side of our house, shading the verandah that runs along that side.  It is deciduous, and so in winter it loses all its leaves and the verandah is bathed in light, a glorious spot to sit and eat breakfast in the sun, or for a Sunday brunch party.  It’s quite late to leaf up again in Spring but just as the sun is getting belligerent in October it bursts into leaf.  For all the summer the verandah is cool and shady and you can sit and watch the myriad of birds that use it.

From New Year on, you can see the nuts developing.  But you have to be patient.  You have to wait until the husk opens and the nut is ready to fall of its own accord.  Early picked nuts never ripen. As we have discovered.

By about the beginning of March, the cockatoos start considering the nuts ripe enough for them and flocks arrive every day.  We bang pots and throw things and generally swear at them and if we are lucky, manage to scare them off enough to allow some nuts to ripen.  By early April, the brush turkeys start considering the nuts ripe enough and the tree is full of big black birds along with the big white ones. Finally, by mid April the husks start opening. We lay tarps under the tree and shake branches with a bamboo pole to get the nuts to drop.  Any that are not collected straight away are gone – brush turkeys, bush rats, even ducks love them.

Finally, by late April, we are harvesting pecans, after all this more than I can be bothered cracking.  I’ve spent most of last weekend cracking pecans for TEDx , and there’s a big basket waiting for me to get some enthusiasm for cracking again.  I’m thinking pesto and pilaff and fruit and nut bread and seedy biscuits and chocolate beetroot brownies and a spiced pecans recipe that I’ll post if I get around to making it.  Anyone have any favourite pecan recipes?

pecans

 

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The kids are back at school after the holidays, so it is time to get back into lunch box baking. This is the ninth in my Muesli Bar Challenge series.

For those of you who are new to the site, the Challenge is about my bet that it is possible to make lunch box treats that fit the Witches Kitchen definition of healthy and ethical,  and that my school age reviewers prefer to the overpackaged junk food marketed as suitable for kids’ lunch boxes.  They also have to be be able to compete with supermarket muesli bars in terms of quick and easy, and in terms of cost.

The reviewers come from four different, very normal families and range from kindergarden to high school ages.

This week’s Challenger uses pecans and apple (both in season) and a secret ingredient – beetroot.  Beets are a super food, rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre, and a specially rich source of folic acid, which is important for whole range of  functions. Chocolate is also a good source of anti-oxidants and actually good for you in a healthy recipe!

The Recipe

I used a 23cm round cake pan for this recipe, but it would probably slice up more neatly in a square pan.  Grease and line the pan with greaseproof paper.  Turn the oven on to heat up.

Sift together 1 cup of wholemeal self-raising flour, half a cup of cocoa powder, and one teaspoon of baking powder.

Mix in half a cup of dark brown sugar, half a cup of chopped pecans, and a quarter of a cup of choc chips.

Add a cup of grated raw beetroot and one large granny smith apple also grated.

In another bowl, blend together three eggs, half a cup (150 ml) mild flavoured oil, (I like to use grapeseed oil), and a teaspoon of vanilla.  Add to the other bowl and stir together to combine.

Turn out into the paper-lined cake pan and bake for 30 minutes or so in a moderate oven, till a skewer comes out clean.

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This is an adaption of a classic recipe that is usually a bit too sweet and gooey to be suitable for lunchboxes. It is a moist, spicy cake, based on very healthy whole fruit, (pineapple and bananas) and nuts. I’ve made it a more suitable for lunch boxes by reducing the sugar and changing the frosting into a much more healthy filling. It’s a bit sweeter than my usual for the Muesli Bar Challenge, but it works out at only a teaspoon or so of sugar per slice, so it is still within the rules.

Pineapples and bananas are both in season, (but getting towards the end of it). I’ve used pecans as the nuts in the recipe, just because they’re also in season and our tree is so loaded (and close to the house) that the white cockatoos have left all the lower branches un-stripped.

Nuts in general are in season though. There are an amazing lot of public trees around with nuts just dropping unharvested, or you could look out for them at farmers markets. They are a good source of protein, Vitamin E, and minerals. Pecans are are also loaded with antioxidants.

The Recipe

Start with the filling because it needs to sit for a while.

Put a strainer over a bowl and line it with a piece of cheesecloth or one of those kitchen wipes like blue cheesecloth (a clean one of course.)

Put into it 4 desertspoons of low fat plain yoghurt and 4 desertspoons of low fat cottage cheese. Let it sit like that while you make the cake. It will drain out about 8 desertspoonfuls of almost clear liquid, and still leave 8 spoonfuls of thickened yoghurt-cheese.  (If you have enough presence of mind to do so, it is even better left like this in the fridge overnight),

To make the cake:

Blend together 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 4 desertspoons of brown sugar, and 1/3 cup mild flavoured vegetable oil (I like grape-seed or canola, or substitute melted butter and leave out the salt below). Mash 2 large ripe bananas and ¾ cup chopped fresh pineapple and stir them in. Or alternatively add them to the food processor and just pulse briefly to chop them in but not blend them. Stir in half a cup of chopped pecans.

Sift together 1½ cups wholemeal plain flour, 1 scant teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon bicarb soda and ½ teaspoon salt. Add to the wet mix and stir just enough to combine.

Butter a small baking tray (or two 20cm  shallow round cake pans) and line with greaseproof paper. Spread the mixture evenly in it. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the cake springs back and a skewer comes out clean.

Cool in the pan. If you used a baking tray, cut the cake in half and turn it out.

Back to the Filling

Now go back to the filling. Gently squeeze the cloth to get out the last of the liquid. Blend the yoghurt-cottage cheese mix with 2 desertspoons of icing sugar and one large banana, till the mix is very smooth. You need the icing sugar not just to sweeten, but also to make the mixture thicken a bit. Stir in another half a cup of chopped pecans.

Spread the filling over one half of the cake and sandwich with the other half. Keep the cake cool and it will be even better the next day.  Makes about 9 to 12 slices.

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