Stuffed Tiny Pumpkin Perfect For One

My mother is quite the vegetable grower, and alongside all the kale, rhubarb and tomatoes that I keep pilfering from her garden, she recently gave me a teeny tiny pumpkin. I initially wasn’t quite sure what to do with it (boil it? Mash it? Stick it in a stew? Hang on, wrong vegetable), it was such a pretty wee thing that chopping it up as a component in a dish seemed like it would be an insult. But then I thought “well, if you can stuff a big pumpkin then you can also stuff a mini one,” did some research, smushed a bunch of different recipes together and devised the perfect stuffed mini pumpkin for one. The best thing is that it’s that kind of recipe I love, the ‘shove in whatever you have handy’ kind, so you can mix up the ingredients list depending on what you have in your pantry.

Ingredients

  • 1 tiny pumpkin
  • 1/2 wholemeal English muffin (or whatever fresh breadcrumb is handy for you)
  • 1/4 small green capsicum
  • 1/3 small zucchini
  • 4-5 mushrooms (any kind – I used shiitake)
  • grated cheese, to taste (whatever you have – I used a mix of cheddar and parmesan)
  • thickened cream
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • 4 fresh sage leaves (obvs. if you don’t have fresh herbs on hand use the dried equivalent)

1. Preheat oven to 220C. Line a tray with baking paper.

2. Take your wee pumpkin and cut a circular lid into the top around the stem (be careful! Use a sharp knife, as pumpkin skin is quite tough, and be slow and deliberate about it). Get a spoon and scoop out all the seeds and slimy membraney insides. Put the now disemboweled pumpkin on your baking tray, lid off.

3. Chop up the mushrooms, zucchini and capsicum into tiny little diced pieces. Crumble up the half of the English muffin into course breadcrumbs, and put in a bowl with the diced vegetables. Chop up the herbs, add to the bowl. Grate your cheeses, when you feel you have enough, add to the bowl (warning: what you think will be enough cheese will never enough; add some more. Yes, even more). Mix together all the things in the bowl so they’re nicely combined. You have stuffing now!

4. Take your bowl of stuffing and fill the cavity of the pumpkin. Pack it in there. Once it’s filled to about an inch or two from the top, pour over the cream. It should sink throughout the the stuffing, but if you want to give it a hand in mixing it through a little, do so. Don’t overfill, as you need to make sure you can put the pumpkin’s lid back on for baking. Crack some black pepper and salt over the filling, for good measure.

5. Pop the lid back on the pumpkin, and put it in the oven. Cook for 1 hour – 1 hour 20 minutes until you can pierce the pumpkin with a wooden skewer and it goes through easily and cleanly.

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And there you go, you made a tiny delicious pumpkin! Get a fork, get a glass of wine, pop the lid off and get a whiff of the lovely pumpkiny smell. Pull away the soft orange flesh from the walls of the pumpkin and mix it through the creamy vegetables, and feel the contentment start to sing through your bones. You’ve done good.

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The Cornish Arms

There are days where all you want to do is throw caution and health to the wind and stuff your face with as much processed fried crap as you can find. When you dare to be vegetarian or vegan, however, sometimes the sweet embrace of crisp fried badness can be hard to come by.

That’s why a place like The Cornish Arms is such an ace blessing, with it’s near-endless vegetarian and vegan options that fully commit to hearty, fried, oh-so-bad-for-you-it’s-good pub grub. I somehow hadn’t been before (alors!) so Carla took me in hand to ensure that I could finally experience one of Melbourne’s best cruisey vegan places.

The Cornish Arms is an old school boozer in a lot of ways – you’ll find a lot of grizzled blokes putting back schooners alongside tattooed too-cool-for-school hipsters – but everyone seems to be happily welcomed. On the Thursday evening we visited trivia was in full swing, so we ended up sitting out in the beer garden, which was pleasant despite a tricksy wind wanting to blow menus away.

While I was definitely intrigued by the idea of the ‘meat loathers’ pizza (I mean, how couldn’t you be?), I ended up with a fever for mock chicken and ordered the vegan chicken burger. As well as a big fat herb and breadcrumb-encrusted slab of fried mock chicken, the burger also contained facon, vegan ‘cheez’, cos lettuce, tomato slices, ranch sauce and chipotle aioli. The burger is also served with some fat chips, which were nice enough, although it would have been nicer if they’d been accompanied by some kind of condiment.

I don’t know what sort of magic the chefs here sprinkle over their mock meats to make them so succulent and delicious, but it is some level 50 mage shit. I actually ended up feeling that all the other components of the burger apart from the facon were distracting from the fried mock goodness. I might keep the cos lettuce and tomato, but there was definitely too much bread involved. And I don’t think I will ever reconcile myself to vegan cheese, it never seems to achieve any sense of true cheesiness for me and always has this unpleasant, chemically aftertaste. Carla insists that Cheezly is the only way to go when it comes to vegan cheese, I trust in her judgement.

Carla wasn’t about to let bread get in the way of her mock chicken consumption so she went with the vegan double down – two pieces of crumbed mock chicken sandwiching facon, cheez, tomato and sauces, served alongside some super crispy wedges and the tokenistic inclusion of a small mound of coleslaw. While some might balk at such an extreme level of soy protein, I ended up with a serious case of food envy at the sheer amount of fried wonder that adorned Carla’s plate. Ironically, she ended up feeling that some bread actually would have improved things for her tastes, so really we probably should have gone halfsies.

I couldn’t get the image of the double down out of my mind, so a few weeks later I went on a solo jaunt by myself to experience the glory. While my mound of coleslaw was definitely bigger than Carla’s (and actually contributed nicely to leavening all the soy protein), and the wedges were indeed fluffy crisps of amazement, again I couldn’t arrest my attention away from the vibrantly spiced, crisp moist goodness of the mock chicken. It is delicious wizardry. Although again, could have done without the vegan cheese. I am sorry, vegan cheese, you are just not a thing, not yet anyway. But otherwise this is the most pure form of soy mock enjoyment I have yet discovered.

I’ve since realised that even in mentioning The Cornish Arms to folks, veg*ns and omnis alike react with worshipful glee and reverent creative swearing. This is clearly a venue of joy that I’ve been far too slow in getting around to, you didn’t need to read this at all, you’ve clearly already been there hundreds of times, TAKE ME WITH YOU.

The Cornish Arms

163A Sydney Road, Brunswick

Ph: 9380 8383

www.cornisharms.com.au

Le miel et la lune

On the internal list in my head that contains all the food places that I really want to visit, Le miel et la lune has been hovering at the top for an embarrassingly long time. It’s right along my work commute, I’m in Carlton pretty much all the time, the space has always looked like a wonderfully inviting one, and the more I heard about the Asian influences that feature throughout the menu, the more intrigued I became.

I finally managed to get there along with Muffin for lunch after a morning screening of Dallas Buyers Club (which, eh… I was really squicked out by the film’s pretty limiting representation of trans* folks, it is really a film about gay issues for straight people). The space has been nicely utilised since the days of What About Food – there’s still a nice big table up front by the open windows for bigger groups, bright cabinets filled with cakes, and the whole place is so sun-filled at pretty much all times that it becomes a really pleasant place to while away time in.

The menu does indeed have an Asian influence peppered through it, with ingredients like kimchi, yuzu chicken and even a special of eggplant tempura (oooooooooo) featuring.  While I was intrigued by the 12 grain rice, and the cabbage water kimchi with konyyaku noodles (because why wouldn’t you be?) I ended up choosing something just a touch more conventional with the vegan breakfast – grilled asparagus, with crushed potato salad served on flaxseed bread. I was initially a little worried that the toppings wouldn’t be moist enough to balance out the bread, which I imagined was to be quite dense. But I was happily surprised both with the creaminess of the potato salad – must have been some kind of nut cream going on to bind it all together – and with the flaxseed bread managing to be stuffed full of all kinds of fun grains and also retaining a moist-ish texture (no dry alternative breads, excellent, excellent).

The one big flaw, however, was the fact that even though the asparagus had been liberally applied – I honestly think an entire bunch had been prepared for the plate – and although the tips were luscious and tender, the ends had clearly not been trimmed at all, because they were so darn tough that I could barely saw either knife or teeth through them. There really is nothing more hugely disappointing than woody asparagus, and it’s such a shame that one element can end up casting a pall over what was otherwise a delightful and very generously plated meal.

Muffin chose to have the 12 grain rice, which contained – take a deep breath – brown and white rice, quinoa, blackbeans, lentils, black eye beans, green and yellow peas, borlotti beans, sesame seeds, chia seeds and cannelini beans, served with fried eggs, seasonal pickles and miso sauce. While my inner pendant wants to rename this dish 12 grains and legumes, it did certainly look like an amazingly varied and hearty dish, with all the health of the grains cannily balanced out by the very breakfast addition of the fried egg. All the protein you’re gonna need for the day, clearly.

In other bits and bobs, my flat white was nice although I do recollect it was quite strong with a bit of a fierce back end. Beverages-wise, though, with the stinking hot weather when we visited I needed something cold and packed with ice cream, so I made sure to finish off with a long cold glass of iced chocolate. This turned out to be just the kind of decadent thing I required, with lots of thick, rich chocolate syrup and creamy vanilla goodness. Not the sort of thing to have if you’ve managed to be virtuous and partake of Le miel’s healthier brunch options, but it’s far too late now to pretend I’m in any way sensible when it comes to these things.

Despite the unfortunate woody asparagus, overall I was very pleased by my visit to Le miel et la lune. I don’t know yet if it will have the power to pip Cafe Lua as my favourite Carlton cafe haunt, but it certainly argued a persuasive case for further visits.

Le miel et la lune

330 Cardigan Street, Carlton

www.facebook.com/lemiel330