Wednesday Recipe: Lamb-in-a-Pumpkin Supper

Individual lamb-in-a-pumpkin

Time for more Halloweeny goodness! For cooking (and nearly everything else), fall is my favorite season. You still have most of the delicious summertime crops, but you’re now also getting mature fall crops: winter squashes, cold-weather kale, frost sweetened root veggies, etc. Oh, yes. And lamb.

Wait! you say. Isn’t lamb a spring meat? Actually, no. In fact, that makes almost no sense. Lambs are born in the spring, and when they are born, they are tiny. Most sheep farmers want some time to let their lambs grow and fatten up a bit, harvesting them at about six months old. Thus, lamb is typically harvested in the fall. That’s one reason why, come Easter, you see so much lamb from Australia and New Zealand – it’s fall there. Here in New England, fall is when you find good, fresh, peak lamb. I highly recommend Chestnut Farms for the excellent quality of their meat and especially their lamb.

When I got lamb stew meat in my last meat share, I knew exactly what I was going to do with it. This recipe brings together nearly all of my favorite fall flavors: kale, pumpkin, heirloom tomatoes, and lamb, with just a hint of chile. I found this recipe in the Gardener’s Community Cookbook, my go-to for figuring out what to do with your farmshare or garden surplus. Of course, I’ve meddled with it a bit, adding kale, for example. My husband hates cinnamon, so I substitute nutmeg.

LAMB-IN-A-PUMPKIN SUPPER (Serves 8)Dianna Sanchez conquers a pumpkin

  • 1 medium pumpkin (6 to 8 pounds)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable or olive oil
  • 2 pounds lean lamb stew meat, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, not too finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup light beef broth
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 4 cups coarsely chopped fresh or canned tomatoes and their juices
  • 1 bunch kale, stems removed, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon red chile powder or smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • Roasted pumpkin seeds, for garnish (optional)

Wash the exterior of your pumpkin thoroughly with soap. Cut off the top of your pumpkin as if preparing for a jack-o-lantern. You’ll need that pumpkin top for a lid later, so try to cut it off cleanly. Scoop out the seeds and connecting membranes. (Save the seeds if you want to roast them for garnish.) With a melon baller, ice cream scoop, or other sturdy spoon, remove the flesh, leaving enough of a wall (1/2 to 3/4 inch thick) to keep the shell intact. Reserve the flesh. Place the pumpkin shell and its lid on a baking sheet and set aside.

Heat the oil in a nonreactive pot until beginning to smoke. Brown the lamb over medium high heat in batches so that the pieces are not crowded in the pan. Transfer to a bowl as you go.

Simmering lamb stewWhen all the lamb is browned, reduce heat to medium and add the garlic, onion, and pumpkin flesh (you may need to chop the pumpkin into bite-sized pieces first) to the pot. Saute until the onion is translucent, about five minutes. Add the flour and stir until the flour begins to cook, about two minutes. Pour in the brandy to deglaze, followed by the broth.

Add the remaining ingredients (except the pumpkin seeds for garnish) and the browned lamb along with any collected juices and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to very low and simmer gently for one hour, until the sauce is thickened and the lamb is almost tender.

While the lamb is simmering, preheat the oven to 350 degF. Ladle the finished lamb mixture into the pumpkin shell and top with the pumpkin lid. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until the outside of the pumpkin is golden and nearly soft. If your pumpkin starts to slump a bit, watch out! The bottom cooks faster than the top, and if you try to move the pumpkin, it will break off – stew everywhere! If it has not begun to slump, you can attempt to transfer it to a platter and serve, garnished with pumpkin seeds (optional).

This is a fantastic party dish. For additional wow factor, pour a little brandy on top of the stew, turn off all the lights, and light it! (Warning: this trick works about 50% of the time for me.) I’ve made this dish at least a dozen times, and it never fails to please. Years later, people will run into me and say, Wow, remember that pumpkin stew you made? In a pumpkin?

Last weekend, I tried a variation I’ve been considering for a while: individual pumpkins. We had a family member visiting and celebrating her 80th birthday, which is cause for fancy cooking! Next weekend, I’m making this meal for about thirty people, and I have more family coming to visit, so I thought I’d make the stew in advance, freeze it, then thaw it the morning of the meal, toss it in a jumbo-sized pumpkin, and cook that, easy shmeezy. I quintupled the recipe, planning to use some for the birthday dinner and make up the shortfall with a vegan version next weekend.

Hollowed out sugar pumpkinsTo this end, I bought small, 1-pound-ish sugar pumpkins (yum), but I knew their walls would be too thin to scrape down much, so I also bought two 3-pound pumpkins, which I peeled and chopped. I should note that peeling a fresh pumpkin is MUCH harder than it sounds. I ended up using a good sharp vegetable knife to do the job. Also, there’s no good way to speed up browning the lamb, even if you use a ginormous pot, so budget extra cooking time.

When I cooked the pumpkins, I found that they all cooked at slightly different rates. The one non-sugar pumpkin I used, a small ornamental pumpkin for Nora, actually took the longest to cook and then kept absorbing all the broth out of the stew! Overall, I don’t think I’ll attempt this again. It’s a cute trick but really not worth the effort, and the kids think a gargantuan pumpkin is far more impressive.

Pumpkins containing lamb stew

Wednesday… er, Thursday Recipe: Monster Balls

Delicious edible monsters

Hi, all. My apologies for not posting on time. Last Monday being a holiday (Indigenous Peoples’ Day!) threw me off, and I just never quite caught my stride. This week, I’m a day late due to excessive creativity.

Halloween is drawing near, less than two weeks away. I’ve been experimenting with no-bake recipes that I could conceivably make at school visits. This one from Baker Mama caught my eye because it also happens to be fairly nutritious, a mixture of peanut butter, honey, and oats with chocolate chips and mini M&Ms thrown in for fun.

Peanut butter isn’t a great choice for schools however, so I’ve altered the recipe to use sunflower butter and nut-free mini chocolate chips.  (Check the labels to make certain your ingredients are made in a nut-free facility.) It happens to be naturally gluten-free, and it can be easily made vegan by substituting brown rice syrup for the honey. I suspect molasses might work as well, and today at Spindler Confections, I discovered the existence of cider syrup, which would probably be marvelous in this.


  • 2-1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup creamy or crunchy sunflower butter
  • ½ cup honey (or brown rice syrup)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup Enjoy Life or other  mini chocolate chips
  • Halloween-themed sugar sprinkles to taste

Combine the oats, sunflower butter, honey, and vanilla thoroughly, Stir in the chips and sprinkles and mix until roughly homogeneous. Roll into 1- to 1.5-inch balls. If you can refrain from instantly eating them all, refrigerate for up to two weeks.

Unadorned monster ballsWe made the basic monster ball recipe above to bring to my daughters’ FIRST LEGO League meeting last Monday night, but Nora and I both thought they were entirely too plain to be called monster balls. Nora tried to decorate the balls but couldn’t get the decorations to stick. Then I had a brainstorm: honey. I happened to be at Michael’s today for other supplies and picked up a few extras: candy eyeballs and candy mustaches, sized for cupcakes but perfect for this purpose. We added coconut and edible green glitter gel for hair, candy corn for horns and legs, candy coated sunflower seeds for eyes, noses, and spines, and some apple raspberry fruit leather for mouths and tongues.

Goblin, Unicorn, and, warthog monster balls

Cyclops, unicorn, and, um, warthog?

The result: far less healthy but much more fun snacks! I wish I’d thought to get red licorice whips for hair, too, and I could see using pretzel sticks or regular licorice for legs. Oh, and if you’re more of a chocoholic, there’s also a version of this that uses Nutella. I don’t quite dare. I may not be able to stop eating them. But if you’re brave enough, try it, and share your photos on my Facebook feed!

EDIT: Remember there are more recipes from A Witch’s Kitchen here.

A hideous lineup of monster balls

Wednesday Recipe: Ukrainian Borshch

A bowl of Ukrainian borshch and a shot of vodka

Here’s the recipe I’d intended to post last week, before that heat wave hit. Today, it’s cool and in the 60s, with fog in the morning and just a nip of autumn in the air: soup weather.

I have never been a fan of cold soups. They just taste wrong to me, none more so that Russian borscht, beet soup served cold with sour cream. I love beets, but if I’m eating them cold, I want them pickled or in a salad. Even warm, borscht doesn’t thrill me. It’s too simple, just beets and onions and broth and sour cream.

Then I met my husband, whose mother was Ukrainian, and she introduced me to Ukrainian borshch (shown above with a shot of vodka for cold winter nights), which is a rich and varied vegetable soup rather like minestrone, but made entirely with winter vegetables. In the summertime, when my garden is bursting with produce, I will often make something I call borschtrone, and its Italian or Ukrainian character is determined most by whether I have basil or dill to season it with.

The following recipe is the version used for Sviat Vechir, the traditional twelve-course meatless Christmas dinner (more on that later this year), so it works very well as a vegan entree. It can also be easily “beefed up” by substituting chicken stock and adding red kidney beans and/or chunks of kielbasa. Delicious with pierogies (varenyky if you’re Ukrainian) and fresh rye bread.


  • 1 cup fresh or dried mushrooms
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped
  • 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil (canola or sunflower work well)
  • 2 cups beets, diced
  • 1 cup carrots, diced
  • 1 potato, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dill (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh parsley
  • 3 cups shredded cabbage (I often substitute kale and/or beet greens)
  • 1/2 cup tomato juice or canned or fresh diced tomatoes
  • 3 peppercorns
  • lemon juice to taste
  • salt and pepper
  • 8-9 cups water or vegetable stock

If you are using dried mushrooms, place in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to soften and reserve the liquid for later. Slice mushrooms (fresh or reconstituted).

Saute the onion and garlic in oil until transparent. Add mushrooms and saute slightly. Add beets, carrots, and potato and saute until just beginning to soften around the edges. Add cabbage/greens, dill and parsley and cook along with the tomatoes/juice and water/stock. If you used dried mushrooms, include the reserved liquid here, reducing the amount of water/stock accordingly. Season to taste. Simmer until all vegetables are tender. (if you are using an Instant Pot, set it to Stew for 25 minutes). Add lemon juice with caution since you want the borshch tart, not sour. (I have a daughter who dislikes sour things, so I often omit it altogether.) Garnish with additional dill and parsley and serve with optional sour cream or tofu alternative. Serves 6-8.