Jacob’s Kitchen: Pumpkin Patch Picnic (Project Food Blog – Challenge 6)

This post is my sixth entry for Project Food Blog, foodbuzz.com’s quest to find the next food blog star. (Click here to see my contestant profile.) In this round we were challenged to create a portable meal on the go. Voting begins Monday, October 25, 2010. Follow me on twitter, facebook, or through my RSS feed to keep up to date with my progress in the competition. Thank you to everyone who took the time to vote for me in the first five rounds, I appreciate all of your support more than I can ever express!

Every year a good friend and I make our annual pilgrimage to our favorite pumpkin patch. The farm itself is about a thirty minute drive, and over the years it’s become something of an agrarian amusement park. Her children  join in on the fun, and we end the day by each carefully selecting our own pumpkins from the field for carving. For me, the pumpkin patch is one of those rare experiences in life that really live up to the charm of the perfect Norman Rockwell paintings. Fall is my absolute favorite time of year, and there is something about that familiar chill in the air, all of those bails of hay, and the mounds of colorful leaves, winter squash and decorative gourds, that fill me with joy. Moreover, this time of year begins the long holiday season where we all, as a community, seem to collectively retain some sense of sentimentality; and people just seem kinder to one another. And on these days, traipsing through the corn mazes and produce stands, feeding the farm animals, and spending time together in the country I somehow feel most like myself.

The children always have their requisite hot dogs and apple cider from the farm stand, but this year I thought I would surprise my friend with something a little bit more special. So I decided to pack up a little picnic to share while the children played in their autumn wonderland. Nothing terribly fancy mind you, just simple, casual, delicious food among friends.

When planning the menu I wanted something light, something best eaten cold or at room temperature, and something that would ultimately travel well. I  decided I would stick to the fall theme and make individual pumpkin and blue cheese crostatas, an autumn inspired green salad, and finish it off with a little bit of seasonal whimsy with my favorite white chocolate dipped caramel apples. To go with our meal, I chose to make a sparkling pomegranate pear punch, and for something extra cozy with dessert I thought my coconut chai would pair beautifully with the apples.  All of the wonderful flavors of fall wrapped up together in one little picnic.

Packing – A few ice packs along the bottom of the cooler is all that I need to keep our food nice and fresh for the ride. I like packing the food in cylindrical deli containers which I purchase at my favorite restaurant supply store. They are inexpensive, sturdy, reusable, and I really appreciate the fact that all of the sizes use the same lid. Hand sanitizer and plenty of moist towelettes are a must for picnics. Not only are they great for keeping your hands clean, but they are also nice to use to wipe down your dishes before repacking them. I always like to use real plates, mugs, and reusable bottles whenever possible. It really isn’t that much trouble and it always feels a little bit more special; besides, it’s just the green thing to do.

Sparkling Pomegranate Pear Punch – This punch is refreshingly tart and sweet; the lemon and pomegranate add a delicious pucker, and the subtle hint of cinnamon, vanilla, and ginger really make the pear flavor come alive. In a blender, combine five ripe pears (peeled and cored), two cups of water, a third of a cup of vanilla sugar (or to taste), the juice of one lemon, a pinch of salt, and the tiniest dash of ground cinnamon. Blend until the mixture is very smooth, then pass it through a fine mesh strainer to remove the fruit pulp. Add one cup of pomegranate juice, and two cups of your favorite ginger ale.

Autumn Salad – This salad is the perfect mix of flavors and textures. The rich creamy goat cheese, sweet juicy pears, smoky bacon, crunchy pumpkin seeds, and the tart chewy cranberries all come together perfectly. The spiced apple flavored dressing rounds everything out, driving home the fabulous flavors of fall. To make the salad, toss baby greens with sliced pears (which have been tossed in freshly squeezed lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown), crumbled goat cheese, lardons of crispy bacon, dried cranberries, and toasted pumpkin seeds. To make the dressing, reduce one cup of spiced apple cider over medium heat until only one fourth of a cup remains. Add one finely minced shallot, three tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a third of a cup of extra virgin olive oil, and a dash of salt and freshly ground black pepper. (To take the salad on the road pack the lettuce in one large storage container, submerge the sliced pears into the dressing and place into another smaller storage container, pack the crumbled goat cheese into a separate re-sealable storage bag, and combine the remaining salad topping into one small container.)

Pumpkin and Blue Cheese Crostatas –  Pumpkin and blue cheese are a match made in heaven, and together they make an elegant filling for these crostatas. The buttery crust, sweet earthy pumpkin, subtle sweetness from the maple syrup, and delicious piquant creaminess of the blue cheese all harmonize together beautifully. The toasted pine nuts add a great texture and nutty flavor, and the sage leaves are the perfect savory compliment that bring it all together.

To make the pastry dough, combine one and a half cups of all purpose flour, one teaspoon of salt, and three tablespoons of sugar. In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, pulse this mixture along with twelve tablespoons of cold diced butter and one half of a cup of cold vegetable shortening until the flour is evenly coated with the fat (about twenty seconds).  Add another cup of flour and pulse to combine. Empty this mixture into a large mixing bowl and sprinkle the dough with one fourth of a cup of very cold vodka, one fourth of a cup of ice cold water, and gently fold to combine.  Flatten the dough (which should still be pretty tacky) into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for one hour (or up to a week in advance).

Meanwhile, in a large skillet set over medium heat, sauté three cups of peeled diced fresh pumpkin in two tablespoons each of butter and extra virgin olive oil until it is soft and beginning to brown around the edges. Add two tablespoons of finely chopped fresh sage leaves, three tablespoons of pure maple syrup, a third of a cup of toasted pine nuts, one large garlic clove (grated on a microplane zester), three fourths of a teaspoon of salt, a fourth of a teaspoon of cayenne pepper, a fourth of a teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg, and a half a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Continue sautéing for two to three minutes, then remove from the heat and allow the pumpkin mixture to come to room temperature.

Roll out the pastry dough on a floured board to one fourth of an inch of thickness and cut out four rough seven to eight inch rounds. In the center of each round add one fourth of the cooled pumpkin mixture and top each with two tablespoons of crumbled blue cheese. Bring the dough up around the sides of the pumpkin filling, forming a rustic pie. Brush the dough with a beaten egg and bake at 400° for twenty to twenty five minutes, or until golden brown. Garnish with fried sage leaves. (To take these crostatas on the road carefully stack them on a small plate, separating each with a piece of parchment paper, and wrap the stack tightly with plastic wrap. In a separate sandwich sized storage bag, separately pack the fried sage leaves for garnishing.)

Jacob’s Favorite Caramel Apples – These decadent apples are really just our childhood favorite dressed up for company. The tart apple, rich caramel, creamy white chocolate, and sweet cinnamon sugar all meld together in your mouth to create a flavor that really is very reminiscent of apple pie. Perfect for this time of year, I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t be happy to be surprised with one of these beauties.

To make them, begin by thoroughly washing and chilling your apples (if you suspect that your apples have been waxed, scrub them with baking soda as the wax can prevent the caramel from properly adhering). Insert a stick into the core of each apple (you can typically find these at bakery and craft supply stores).While I will often go to the trouble of making my own caramel for dipping, since I was in a bit of a hurry, I decided to take a fool proof short cut and use melted caramel candies instead. I start by melting one and a half pounds of soft caramel candies over a double boiler along with two tablespoons of whole milk, one tablespoon of pure vanilla extract, and a half a teaspoon of salt. Dip each of your apples to coat, and allow the excess caramel to drip off. Hold the coated apples upside down for forty five seconds or so to allow the caramel a chance to set up slightly before placing them on a baking sheet lined with lightly buttered parchment paper.

Once all of your apples have been dipped, place the baking sheet into the refrigerator for thirty minutes, or until thoroughly chilled (if your caramel covered apples are not cold enough, the melted white chocolate will not adhere to the caramel). Next, melt one and a half pounds of white chocolate chips over a double boiler with one tablespoon of canola oil, and allow it to cool slightly. Dip each of your caramel apples three fourths of the way into the melted chocolate, allowing the excess to drip off (holding each apple upside down just as in the caramel dipping step). Before returning the now chocolate covered apples to the baking sheet, carefully sprinkle each with a generous amount of cinnamon sugar (two cups of sugar mixed with one and a half tablespoons of ground cinnamon).  Once the apples have dried and hardened, transfer each to a small cellophane bag and tie with raffia. (While these apples are perfectly fine on their own, to aid in the ease of picnic eating I think it’s nice to pack an apple slicer.)

Coconut Chai – This chai is rich and flavorful. It has just the right amount of spice, and the honey and coconut milk take it far beyond just your ordinary cup of tea. To make it, in a sauce pan, combine six whole cloves, six allspice berries, six green cardamom pods, one half of a nutmeg nut, four star anise, and three cinnamon sticks. (Here I had the luxury of instead using one four inch length of real cinnamon which a fabulous friend sent to me from her recent trip to the spice markets of Dubai. In the United States you can often find it labeled “ceylon.”) Over a medium low flame, slowly toast the spices for two minutes or until fragrant.  Add six cups of water, one fifteen ounce can of coconut milk (whole or light), one vanilla bean split down the center, and two half inch slices of peeled fresh ginger. Bring this mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for seven to ten minutes. Add five and a half tablespoons of loose leaf black tea, and continue simmering for another five minutes. Add one fourth of a cup of honey (or to taste), and strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Ladle it into a thermos to keep it piping hot and ready to serve whenever you are.

These days it seems like most of the food that we eat is on the go.  But just because we are on the move doesn’t mean that we can’t still enjoy the food that we love to eat with the people that we care about most. This pumpkin patch picnic is a perfect example of how investing a little bit of extra time can turn any ordinary meal into something really special. In this economy, where money is tight for all of us, a little thoughtfulness can really go a long way. Luckily, preparing someone’s favorite meal, surprising a friend with a beautifully wrapped jar of homemade jam, or baking something extra special is often even more appreciated than the most extravagant gifts.  This season brings out the best in all of us, and it makes me want  to spend as much quality time as possible with the people that I care about. Food sets the stage for our time together. And with a picnic like this, what a beautifully charming production it is.

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76 Comments

Filed under Beverages, Desserts, Project Food Blog, Salads, Side Dishes

76 responses to “Jacob’s Kitchen: Pumpkin Patch Picnic (Project Food Blog – Challenge 6)

  1. just wanted to say – I don’t know how you do it time after time….another winning PFB entry!
    Voting tomorrow….but tweeting today….

  2. Really a perfect picnic….let me go vote….Good luck!

  3. Outstanding! What a perfect fall picnic. I absolutely love the pumpkin and blue cheese crostata – yum! Good luck!! :)

  4. Love your posts! This one is so awesome. That crostata and punch are right up my alley…definitely saving this one to make those soon…and will vote tomorrow! good luck!

  5. What an incredible and thoughtful menu… your images jump off the computer screen and are vibrant giving me the best opportunity to savor it all. Well done.. I am voting for you! Go Team Jacob!

  6. Jacob! this is absolutely gorgeous! I love every single thing. Photos, recipes- the whole nine yards! Great job friend! See you in the next round (fingers crossed!)

  7. Sherry Thrasher

    This post simply screams autumn and you have once again successfully captured my vote! I am catering a book launch Friday evening and I have a fall inspired menu which has just jumped up a notch with your caramel apples. Thank you, Jacob. You are what excellent food blogging is all about. Best of luck on capturing first place!

    Sherry

  8. Another winning entry for PFB#6. I’m voting for you. Great, pics and menu, down to the smallest detail, perfect.

  9. This is amazing. Your photography makes me want to cry it is so perfect.

    • Hi Judy!

      (Blush)

      I think with each of these challenges my photography has gotten just a little bit better. I have had a lot of fun pushing myself outside of my usual blogging comfort zone and learning a lot through trial and error. It has been such a great experience. I appreciate your support!

      Thanks for stopping by! =)

  10. The benefit for the voters (that be me) is discovering new blogs. Your is a true treasure, and I am a big fan. Where do I start? This is not your run-of-the-mill picnic. It’s epic. It’s colorful. It’s flavorful. I am in awe of your talent. I particularly love the crostata– to the point that I am going to bookmark this one. I’m a big crostata fan (my blog has a few of my own). I never thought to prepare pumpkin this way, and pair with with Blue Cheese. Brilliant! I love fried sage. You don’t have to ask for my vote. You earned it. Congrats on making it this far.

    • Hi Debby!

      Thanks so much. You are just too sweet! =)

      I think I first found your blog through Lick the Spoon Good, and I read both of your blogs religiously, even before I became a blogger myself. So I take this as high praise indeed.

      Thanks for dropping by! =)

      • I am blushing, big time. What a wonderful compliment, and thank you. I hope your are coming to the Foodbuzz Festival this weekend. I’m excited to be there. Good luck. I’m watching and voting for you.
        Debby

  11. misssmouse

    What an amazing looking picnic! I can’t believe you made such an amazing menu and then were able to transport it and present it in such a beautiful way. You absolutely deserve my vote!

  12. This sounds like a GREAT idea for how to deal with the picnic challenge. It’s very festive!

  13. Ok, so I want to come on your next picnic. While everything looked fantastic, I think I want the crostata the most. It looks amazing. The flavor combinations were making my mouth water.

    Keep going, you’ve got this one in the bag.

  14. Lovely post and menu Jacob! Voting of course. Cheers!~

  15. This sounds amazing!! I can imagine myself eating every one of those dishes you prepared, that’s one picnic I would love to attend. Good luck and you have my vote!

  16. I could use a cup of that chai right now! I’m freezing!!! Another great post, my friend! It all looks fantastic!

  17. Amy

    All of the food at this picnic looks wonderful! Especially the crostada! What a great idea to go to a pumpkin patch :)!

  18. Jacob! Your Fall photography is awesome! I cannot wait until Thanksgiving! Terrific dishes, you a very creative with your use of spice and seasonings. Good luck with the challenge.
    LL

  19. junebu8

    I wouldn’t have thought caramel apples could BE that beautiful. Breathtaking photos, perfect seasonal food, inspiring menu. My favorite of your posts!

  20. OMG! Your chai sounds SO amazing! I want to recreate it for all of these beautiful Fall days we’ve been having. Great post, fantastic pictures! Good luck on the PFB contest!!!

  21. This is a fantastic picnic! I love all the fall inspirations….and I think the candy apples best :)

  22. Beautiful!! I love your pictures, they are always amazing and delicious! You have my vote!

  23. Looks great- I had no idea that blue cheese and pumpkin went together!!

    Lisa.

  24. I am new to foodbuzz and the wonderful world of foodie blogs but I think it is all very exciting. Your picnic is fantastic: just my kind of food. I appreciate the way you describe how to make it too: clear and concise. I can follow in my mind exactly how to proceed. Let me read further to find out about this competition but I imagine that you are all set to win!
    Claudia from Istanbul

  25. I am new to foodbuzz and the wonderful foodie world of blogging. It is all very exciting. I think your picnic is divine, just my kind of food. you also explain very clearly how to put it all together: I can follow it easily in my head. I need to find out more about this Food Project but I would say that you surely have an excellent chance!

    Claudia from Istanbul

  26. a PERFECT country outing: photos, food and presentation. yes, Norman Rockwell-ish :)

  27. this post is lovely jacob!

  28. That crostada just sings tome. Want it….now.

  29. Beautiful! Lovely menu and lovely photos.

  30. I am loving this pumpkin patch theme! I’m also really jealous of your bottles for the Sparkling Pomegranate Pear Punch! I looked everywhere for something like that! Good luck to you!

  31. Gorgeous picnic! Looks like a great time!

  32. Beautiful! I had wanted to do ours during our trip to the pumpkin patch but alas the darned bag didn’t arrive in time for that. The crostatas look quite delicious! Good luck :)

  33. Jacob,
    I can’t compliment you enough on this post! I wanted to read every word, I felt like you brought me along. I felt all the love you gave the food and the people you were making it for. My family would love a picnic like this and I’m so glad you wrote recipe I can easily reproduce for them. I’m so excited, I want to go on this picnic. You more than deserve your spot in this contest. Wishing you the best of luck!
    -Gina-

  34. this is a gorgeous lunch, beautifully prepared and captured by your camera. i am happy to place a vote for you!
    i am going to make the crostata to carry on a plane trip my husband and i are taking next week. thanks for the inspiration.

  35. What a beautiful picnic! I am so pleased that you shared these delicious recipes.

  36. your explanation of how to make the caramel apples is mesmerizing and your photography tells such a delicious story. I truly get that warm cozy sweater on crisp fall day feel, thank you! once again, great post!
    Leila

  37. You always bring it and this is another perfect example. That crostada clinches it for me. GREG

  38. Perfect for the season.

  39. Thank you for reminding me to make caramel apples this fall! Beautiful post and photos. You have my vote!

  40. gigi

    always got my vote! and my-oh-my, those hands in the beginning are SO cute holding that pumpkin!

  41. You’re food always makes me believe that I might like something I wouldn’t otherwise.

    Picnics are fab and far to under done in this day and age.

    Thank you for another beautiful, and inspiring post on ways to really make food beautiful for body and soul.

  42. Oh what a wonderful job you did!!! That salad looks just perfect… I have most of the ingredients on hand as I type and this this will be my dinner. Good luck! my vote has been cast!

  43. Great images Jacob! You have my vote! Good luck!

  44. I am such a crostada fan! And pumpkin and blue cheese? Oh yes, I must have one. That sparkling pomegranate pear punch sounds absolutely delicious, how perfect. I just went on my yearly pilgrimage as well – we certainly didn’t have anything close to this – next time I am packing you! Voting for sure.

    – Butter

  45. Wow, so much deliciousness and great pix combined! You have my vote (again)!

  46. This is an incredible spread with gorgeous pics to chronicle it. You’ve captured the essence of fall cuisine, part comfort food, part fresh ingredients. Good luck!

  47. Mmm, I just want to eat your whole post. Nice job! VOTED!

  48. Jacob, yet another beautiful post. The colours! The flavours! Love it. Also, how funny that we both did pumpkin/blue cheese pastry combos! Mine baby tartlets, yours beautiful crostatas. Delicious.

    Also, that photo of a goat? Too cute. Well done, m’dear – another cracking entry. I’m supporting you to the end! Good luck – fingers crossed!

    Jax x

  49. sherry thrasher

    Hi, Jacob. I am using your white chocolate/caramel apple recipe for a catering event Friday evening and would like to know how many apples the recipe produces.

    Thanks,
    Sherry

    • Hi Sherry,

      I think I got about 10 apples (it really depends on their size) but I always have a little extra caramel and chocolate left over (as it gets harder to dip I eventually just give up) so I am sure you could even get 12-14 if you have the tenacity to continue. I hope they are a big hit for your event! People really love them. =)

      Thanks for stopping by! =)

  50. Ill be honest, I was sick of seeing all the entires at this point. I didn’t participate but i was getting annoyed with seeing blog after blog with basically the same entry.
    You, are ahead of the pack. Its beautiful, refreshing, inspiring and it didn’t make me feel like a debbie downer for being annoyed at pfb. good luck, but I dont think you will need it.

    • Hi Eden!

      Thanks! I’m flattered. This competition has been great precisely because it has forced me to create my absolute best posts, and I have learned a lot along the way with each challenge. Thanks for your kind words. I appreciate your support!

      Thanks for stopping by! =)

  51. Yum. I’m totally voting for picnics where I begin to drool….coconut chai! YUM! Plus, your picnic just makes sense! (know what I mean?) It’s lovely and autumnal and everything goes well together. Kudos!

  52. Looks great!

    You got my vote!

  53. Nina

    27/58
    Yours is the first I bookmarked.

  54. Congratulation for making to challenge #6!!! You’ve got my vote again this round! Congrats & Best wishes to making to next round :)

    Have a great week
    jen @ http://www.passion4food.ca

  55. I could go for one of your crostatas and a coconut chai RIGHT NOW!
    Such a gorgeous post…no question you’ve got a vote from me ;)

  56. Those appples…man this is an incredible post!

    good luck.

  57. Your meal looks so, so delicious! I want that crostata especially. You have a vote from me!

    For my entry, I wanted to create a road trip and picnic for my boyfriend, who had recently given me a “do over” of one of my childhood memories. I decided to give him his own “do over” — a special birthday picnic with a heart-themed meal. Come see if you’d like :)

    http://www.foodbuzz.com/project_food_blog/challenges/6/view/1479

  58. sherry thrasher

    Apple update: I must say that your idea for the cinnamon sugar is genius. I seriously spent a good part of the evening making these and there is certainly an art to it. Mine did not turn out as smooth as yours–perhaps the caramel had not melted enough and was too thick. I also began to run out of white chocolate and decided to take out a pastry bag and small tip and to decorate them with drizzles. The cinnamon sugar made it much easier to get the apples in the bag.

    Thanks,
    Sherry

    • Hi Sherry!

      Yeah, it sounds like maybe your caramel wasn’t melted enough. I should have specified. I apologize. I have been mnaking them for so long now that it’s all second nature to me now. The caramel should be very smooth and pourable (and I feel like you really can’t over melt it). The chocolate and cinnamon sugar do allow you to use cellophane bags (which you can’t do with straight caramel without first spraying the bag with cooking spray). The good news about caramel apples is, often the messier they are the tastier they look. And in the past when I have made other candied apples, when they aren’t as attractive as I would like I simple choose a decorated cellophane bag to cover up any mistakes. I hope they are well enjoyed at your party! =)

      Thanks for stopping by! =)

  59. I voted and look forward to vote for you again next round! Best of Luck!

  60. This looks and sounds amazing. I’m going to have to try that apple and the chai soon. Delicious! And yes…perfect for fall!

  61. This is one picnic I would love to attend! That autumn salad dressing is really calling to me. Outstanding work as always, and you have a vote from me.

  62. The coconut chai looks amazing. The color just melts.

  63. sherry thrasher

    Thanks for the information. My catering was a huge success–especially the dessert station. I believe your ideas are creating a monster. :)

    Thanks!
    Sherry

  64. Great post! looks like the perfect picnic… Good luck in round #7 ;)

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