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It takes creativity to use whole pumpkin

Ann Mitzkus-Chen gets ready cut cap off her pumpkmake an interesting roasted pumpkcasserole.  |  Judy Buchenot

Ann Mitzkus-Chen gets ready to cut the cap off her pumpkin to make an interesting roasted pumpkin casserole. | Judy Buchenot

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The Food Swap

What: Food Swap, a time for home cooks to trade homemade food, drinks and garden products. Breads, home-canned goods, jellies and all other items are welcome. All items must be homemade, homegrown or foraged.

When: 7 to 9 p.m. Nov. 14

Where: McDonald Farm, Clow House, 10S404 Knoch Knolls Road, Naperville

Who: Event is hosted by Homegrown Naperville, a group of friends who are passionate about growing and sharing real food. The swap is open to all who wish to participate

Web: Learn more about the food swap concept at foodswapnetwork.com. RSVP to participate by emailing foodswap@homegrownnaperville.org.

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Ann Mitzkus-Chen took on a personal challenge last summer to waste no food. She purchased a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share through the Green Earth Institute, which meant that every other week she received close to a bushel of produce grown by local farmers.

“I decided to try to eat everything in the box,” the Naperville resident says.

And when she says everything, she means everything, including the leafy green tops to beets and radishes.

“My goal was to eat everything, including the greens as well as the roots,” she says.

Needless to say, Mitzkus-Chen, 39, came up with some creative with ways to enjoy the produce.

“I pureed the green spinach, collard greens and beet tops to make a soup,” she says.

She found that, if she added caramelized onions to the greens, it gave the soup more substance.

“I thickened the soup with rice or oatmeal, and it was very creamy.”

She also found that radish tops were tasty when sautéed in a little olive oil and garlic. Carrot tops were the only item that she ended up tossing out.

“They were just too stringy to use,” she sighs.

One of the benefits of her challenge was tasting new foods.

“It pushed me to try new things I might never have tried, like kale,” she says. “I found that kale is very good when stir fried with a little olive oil, garlic and salt.”

She didn’t think she would care for the Brussels sprouts but found that when they were roasted, the exterior caramelized — making them very flavorful.

Cultural influence

Mitzkus-Chen was born in Taiwan and grew up eating foods prepared from whole natural ingredients.

“My mother made everything from scratch,” she says. “We never ate fast food or prepared dishes. I think the Chinese culture is one of the few cultures that still cooks from whole ingredients. My parents live in Taipei and go to the fresh market every day.”

Although she grew up enjoying Chinese cuisine, Mitzkus-Chen enjoys cooking foods from many cultures.

“My husband is German, so we cook things he likes, too,” she says. “We try all different cuisines. I think the key to eating well is diversity.”

Mitzkus-Chen tries to keep a supply of lemons, Parmesan cheese, ginger root, onions, potatoes, cilantro and Indian spices in her pantry. She finds these flavors to be helpful in creating new dishes

After meeting members of Home Grown Naperville at a CSA potluck, Mitzkus-Chen joined the group that shares her passion for eating locally grown natural foods. She is looking forward to their semi-annual food swap Nov. 14, when members share their home-canned and baked foods.

Her adventuresome approach to eating has taken her on some interesting cooking journeys. When she makes a recipe she enjoys, she often varies the ingredients the next time she makes it. For example, she made a ginger lime pineapple crisp that she liked. The next time she made it, she used apples in place of the pineapple and liked the dish even more.

“I like recipes where I can switch out ingredients,” she says.

Mitzkus-Chen shares the recipe for the ginger lime apple crisp and for a spectacular roasted pumpkin that can be served whole at the table for a memorable presentation.

“Bringing the whole filled pumpkin to the table is exciting. The pumpkin can be sliced to serve or the filling and pumpkin can be scooped out together,” she says. “I have tried many variations of the ingredients in the pumpkin with interesting results.”

Pumpkin Stuffed With Everything Good

3-pound pumpkin

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/4 pound stale bread

1/4 pound cheese, such as Gruyere, Emmenthal, cheddar or a combination

4 strips bacon

1/2 pound onions

1/4 cup snipped fresh chives

1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme

1/3 cup heavy cream

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin like when making a jack-o-lantern. Clear away the seeds and strings from the cap and from inside the pumpkin. Season the inside of the pumpkin generously with salt and pepper, and place on the baking sheet.

Thinly slice the bread and cut into 1/2-inch chunks. Cut cheese into 1/2-inch chunks. Caramelize the onions being sure not to burn them. Fry bacon until crisp and crumble. Toss together the bread, cheese, caramelized onions, bacon and herbs. Season to taste with pepper. Pack the mix into the pumpkin. Mix the cream with the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Pour into the pumpkin. Place cap back on the pumpkin and bake at 350 degrees. Bake 90 to 120 minutes.

The inside mixture should be bubbling, and the pumpkin flesh should be very tender when pumpkin is done. If desired, remove the cap during the last 20 minutes of baking to reduce liquid and brown the stuffing. Carefully transport pumpkin to the table. It will be very wobbly. Cut into wedges to serve or scoop out portions of pumpkin and filling.

Vary filling by using cooked rice instead of bread or add cooked vegetables, cooked sausage, ham or nuts to the filling.

Apple-Ginger Brown Sugar Crisp

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

1/2 cup unbleached flour

1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant)

1/4 cup unsalted butter

Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Kosher salt

1 pound apples

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon fresh lime zest

1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger

Cut butter into 1/4-inch chunks. Combine the brown sugar, flour, oats, butter, nutmeg and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Using your fingers, rub in the butter until the mixtures is about the size of small peas and resembles coarse breadcrumbs. It should hold together when squeezed. Refrigerate, uncovered, while making the filling.

Dice apples into 1/2-inch cubes and place in an 8-inch square baking dish. Sprinkle with lime juice, lime zest and grated ginger. Toss to mix. Sprinkle the crumb mixture evenly over the top.

Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes at 375 degrees. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the fruit is bubbling around the edges and the top is golden-brown and crisp, about 10 to 15 minutes more. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

For variety, pineapples, pears, stone fruits, and butternut squash can be used in place of the apples.

Ann’s Culinary Cue

Don’t waste bread. As slices become stale, cut them into cubes and allow them to dry completely. Use the cubes to make bread crumbs, panzanella bread salad, bread pudding or stuffing.

The Food Swap

What: Food Swap, a time for home cooks to trade homemade food, drinks and garden products. Breads, home-canned goods, jellies and all other items are welcome. All items must be homemade, homegrown or foraged.

When: 7 to 9 p.m. Nov. 14

Where: McDonald Farm, Clow House, 10S404 Knoch Knolls Road, Naperville

Who: Event is hosted by Homegrown Naperville, a group of friends who are passionate about growing and sharing real food. The swap is open to all who wish to participate

Web: Learn more about the food swap concept at foodswapnetwork.com. RSVP to participate by emailing foodswap@homegrownnaperville.org.



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