Step away from the candy

Halloween really is the starting point for a season of overindulgence. I mean, a Thanksgiving spread can be pretty gluttonous, but really, it's got meat and potatoes, so at the very least, it's a substantial meal with protein and some nutrients behind it. On the other hand, Halloween offers up empty calories, cheap chocolate and sugar crashes in the form of those itty-bitty candy bars. Sure, they seem harmless enough on the surface, but as anyone with a sweet tooth will tell you, one treat inevitably turns into two, three, four... Soon, the whole damn basket is empty.

So, rather than offer up yet another tempting holiday-themed recipe, like cute-yet-creepy cookies and cupcakes, I've decided to test out something a bit more substantial, and seasonal: pumpkin soup. It's rich, creamy and simple, and if you make a big batch, you'll have a perfect lunch for these dismal and drizzly fall days.

Pick up two pumpkins at the supermarket (one for carving, of course), but take note of which kind you're buying. Ornamental pumpkins, the ones most commonly found in stores, farmers' markets and pumpkin patches, are bred to have thin shells and thin interior flesh to make them relatively lighter and easier to carve. Pie pumpkin, on the other hand, are usually marked with a sticker, and are bred for sweet, good-tasting, thick flesh, with a thick shell that helps them last longer.

The toughest part (pun intended) is getting the thick skin off of the gourd. Rather than attacking it with a veggie peeler, try removing the stem and cutting it into wedges, then use a sharp knife to carve the peel off of each wedge and scoop out the seeds. (If you're feeling ambitious, save these and toast them with a bit of cumin, cayenne and olive oil for a tasty little snack.) But once you have that sucker skinned, its all downhill.



2 lbs peeled pumpkin

4 to 5 cups stock

Salt and pepper to taste


1) Place peeled pumpkin in saucepan with stock to cover and a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Cover pan, and bring mixture down to a simmer. Cook until pumpkin is very tender (about 30 minutes.) Let cool.

2) Pour cooled mixture in blender, in batches if necessary, and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. And to elevate the basic recipe, try adding one or two of the following: 1 tsp. freshly minced ginger, 1 tsp. curry powder, ½ tsp cinnamon as the mixture simmers. Or, garnish the finished product with sautéed mushrooms and onions, chopped chives, a dollop of crème fraiche, sour cream or yogurt, or a sprinkling of those toasted pumpkin seeds.


An extra scoop

It was a packed house at Black's Pub on Thursday night, as people turned up in droves to cheer on six local mixologists as they faced off in the second round of the Smirnoff Premium Spirit Mix-Off. The six talented bartenders stepped into the spotlight in front of the crowd and a panel of judges (myself included) in hopes of advancing to the final round of competition at the end of November. Up for grabs: a trip for two to Las Vegas.

The competition started at around 9 p.m. with participants taking turns creating two cocktails: the first, an original creation, and the second, a "black box" surprise, featuring two tricky, surprise spirits, campari and tequila.

This week, the winner was Hailey Pasemko of Nita Lake Lodge, who impressed the judges with her innovative and tasty Hot Buttered Hazel, which featured Irish Whiskey, clarified hazelnut butter and brown sugar rimmed with toasted hazelnuts, sugar and cayenne pepper. While delicious, the cocktail was also beautifully presented, served over a candlelit warming unit - a truly inspired après concoction.

Naryan Green of Tommy Africa's came in second overall, scoring major showmanship points for his fire breathing on-stage antics. Sam Bailey of The Mountain Club and Scott Van Doren of Vancouver's Cascade Room tied for third place in the competition. All four will go up against winners from the first round of the competition (Anton Fruewirth of the Rim Rock Café, Tia Stonier from Ric's, Alex Horobjowski of Quattro and Uriah Conti from the Four Seasons) during the finals on Thursday, Nov. 25. While there are certain to be lots of industry folk at the event, the public is also invited.




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