The great essayist Henry David Thoreau once said, "I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion."
Food Challenge appreciates his sentiment, but prefers that the stem be removed.
Furthermore, here in our paneled looking glass on the splendors of the natural world, we have greater concerns. Namely, the myriad taste combinations that can be derived from pumpkin, fennel, kiwi and seaweed.
You may recall that on Nov. 4, the Food Challenge took a break from meat and its byproducts to throw all the vegans out there a bone.
Our spiral, though sharp and in the bread-basket, hit you square in the hands and fell incomplete.
Just four of you responded. And Only Ernesta Ballard, operating out of a barely furnished temporary apartment in Federal Way, Wash., designed a purely vegan concoction.
Sharon Briggs added clams, Dixie Weiss threw in a pound of chicken, and Suzanne Mullen tossed in a can of chicken broth, though with a caveat.
"I thought water would be too bland," she said, "but vegetable broth would work the same for people who are vegetarian."
The rest of you can look forward to a Food page full of butt steak, liver sausage and bloody cow renderings for all eternity - Food Challenge V and beyond.
Join us now, in Food Challenge III, as we present you with all four recipes. And as always, remember, amateur or gourmet, nothing is impossible for the cook who dreams the most.
Ernesta Ballard's 'Hot Sesame Vegkabobs'
Large fennel bulb
Two medium onions
Package of dried seaweed
Barbecue sauce ingredients:
1 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon hot chili sesame oil
1 cup honey
1 cup tomato paste
Directions: Prepare sauce by mixing together all ingredients. Using whisk, egg beater or blender, blend until fully incorporated.
Open pumpkin, scrap out seeds and discard. Cut eight 1-inch squares. Parboil 15 to 20 minutes in well-salted water, until flesh can be easily pierced but is still firm. Remove pumpkin with slotted spoon. Cut fennel into 1-inch wedges and add to boiling salted water. Parboil 10 minutes until easily pierced. While fennel is cooking, cut skin away from pumpkin pieces. Remove fennel from water.
Cut seaweed into 1-inch strips. Wrap each pumpkin and fennel piece in a strip of seaweed.
Cut onions into 1-inch wedges. Build kabobs on skewers. Start with onion wedge and follow with pumpkin, tomato, pumpkin, ending with onion. Baste generously with barbecue sauce.
Grill or broil for 10 minutes, turn, and grill or broil another 5 minutes or until tomatoes are about to burst. Baste as necessary.
Prepare salsa by mixing skinned and chopped kiwi and orange with lime juice to taste. Serve kabobs with salsa as an appetizer or to accompany fish.
Sharon Briggs' 'Clams, Fennel and Mashed Potatoes'
2 onions, sliced
1 large fennel bulb, cut into thin slices
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
12 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
4 tablespoons butter
12 pound Italian sausage
12 pound chorizo
34 cup dry white wine
312 cup diced tomatoes, drained
3-4 dozen clams
1-2 tablespoons Yamaiso or Furikake (seaweed with seasoning)
1 very small pumpkin or 1 cup canned pumpkin
2 pounds small red potatoes
14 pound butter
14 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Pernod
4 tablespoons butter
14 teaspoon granulated garlic
Directions: Quarter potatoes and cook in salt water until tender. Mash with potato masher. Add butter, cream and pumpkin. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm, covered, in oven or over kettle of warm water.
Remove kiwis from skin and puree, adding Pernod (this nicely extends the lovely fennel flavor), melted butter and garlic. Set aside.
In a large kettle, melt the butter and add the onions, sliced fennel, garlic, ground fennel and red pepper. Sauté, covered, until vegetables are soft and beginning to brown. In the meantime, cook the sausages in a skillet and drain on a paper towel when done.
When vegetables are done, add wine and tomatoes, then heat to a boil. Return the mixture to simmer and cook about 15 minutes. Stir sausage into fennel mixture and add the clams to the pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the clams are open. Remove the clams and reduce the sauce, if desired.
To assemble, place potatoes in the center of a dinner plate. Surround potatoes with clam mixture and clams. Sprinkle clams with seasoned seaweed. Warm kiwi butter in microwave for a few seconds and drizzle over potatoes.
Suzanne Mullen's 'Empire Soup'
1 cup chopped fresh fennel, bulb (save green fronds for garnish)
1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
34 teaspoon ginger, finely minced
2 to 3 cups chicken broth
112 cup pumpkin puree
112 tablespoons Nori Komi Furikake (toasted seaweed and sesame seed)
Directions: Sauté fennel garlic and ginger with butter in a heavy-bottomed soup pan over medium-low heat until softened. Add 12 cup chicken broth, cover and cook 5 minutes more. Remove from heat.
Pour fennel mixture into blender. Add peeled, chopped kiwi and 14 cup more chicken broth. Blend until mixture is a smooth puree. Return to pan over medium heat. Stir in pumpkin puree and chicken broth until soup reaches desired consistency. (At this point soup may be set aside and returned to heat just before serving.)
Serve sprinkled with Nori Komi Furikake. Place a piece of fennel frond in the center. This makes a presentation elegant enough to be called "Empire Soup."
Serves 3 to 4.
Dixie and Bob Weiss' 'Chicken Stir Fry'
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast sliced into strips
3 tablespoons oil
1 medium onion chopped
12 cup diagonally sliced fennel stalks
12 cup diagonally sliced celery stalks
1 cup pumpkin, thinly sliced into 12-inch squares or matchsticks (julienned)
1 cup from a can (1334 ounces) of chicken broth
4 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in a couple tablespoons of water
12 teaspoon salt
12 teaspoon grated lemon or lime peel
2 or 3 kiwis, peeled and sliced
Pepper to taste
Dried red seaweed broken into pieces, to taste
Cooked rice - white, sticky or brown
Directions: While the rice is cooking, cut up the stir-fry ingredients. Stir-fry the chicken in oil until cooked and push it up on the sides of the wok. Next, stir-fry the pumpkin, add onion, fennel and celery. After a few minutes, add the cup of chicken broth, cover wok and cook until vegetables are cooked, but still crunchy. Remove cover, add dissolved cornstarch to broth and vegetable mixture, stirring as it thickens. Finally, add salt, pepper, grated peel, sliced kiwis and seaweed to vegetables, gently stirring in the chicken slices from the side of the wok. Serve over rice.