Friday, 4 April 2008

Pumpkin and Millet Bake

It's the freakiest show
Take a look at the Lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man! Wonder if he'll ever know
He's in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?

From "Life on Mars" by David Bowie

We watched the final episode of Life on Mars last night. This has to be one of my favourite television shows at the moment and possible of all time. I wasn’t going to mention it but it really resonated with me, and seemed to relate to many aspects of life where difference can be hard to articulate and understand. It even seemed to encapsulate some of my feelings about trying to understand foreign recipes.

For those who have not seen it, it is about a policeman from present day who has an accident and ends up in 1973 unsure if he is time-travelling, mad or in a coma. The lyrics from the David Bowie song seem so spot on if you have watched the show. There is a brilliant scene last night in the police station where he can’t understand it all nor explain to others why he is out of step.

Life can look very strange when you are looking in from the outside. Recipes can seem odd when they don’t speak your language or use your ingredients or measurements. I have been here before (in my biscuit post) and I am sure I will be again. I wont go into a lot of detail about it today but will share my experience making Heidi’s version of Mark Bittman's Autumn Millet Bake.

I found the recipe on 101 Cookbooks and loved the warming autumnal combination of pumpkin, cranberries and maple syrup. I found it so sweet that at one stage I thought I had accidentally cooked a dessert for my dinner. In reflecting on why it was so sweet, I thought maybe it was because I had to make do with sweetened dried cranberries and I decided to use Kent Pumpkin instead of butternut ‘squash’. I’ve never seen fresh cranberries in Melbourne and I did wonder if butternut squash or pumpkin (as we call it) might have made a difference. My other explanation is that a lot of American recipes seem quite sweet and maybe Heidi liked it like that.

The sweetness wasn’t disastrous. I served the bake with roasted cauliflower and broccoli which were well seasoned. It was even better the next night when I reheated with more stock (and a generous helping of stock powder) The second round of cooking also made sure the millet was well cooked. As well as being unsure of my ingredients, I am still not very experienced at cooking millet. If I had more time to dedicate to my cooking I would try this a few times but life is too short so I have just tried to write a few notes in this post and the below recipe to remind myself for next time.

Autumn Pumpkin and Millet Bake
(adapted from Mark Bittman as seen on 101 Cookbooks)
Serves 4-6

2tbsp virgin olive oil
¾ cup millet
800g pumpkin, peeled and cubed
½ cup dried cranberries (or 1 cup fresh cranberries)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped sage leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoons maple syrup or honey (or less)
1 – 1½ cup vegetable stock (or a mix of stock, water and cream), warmed*
¼ cup pumpkin seeds or coarsely chopped hazelnuts

Preheat oven to 190 c (or 375 F). Grease a largish casserole dish or a 22 x 32 cm (or 9 x 13 inch) baking dish.

Heat oil in a medium frypan over medium high heat. When hot, add millet and cook about 3 minutes or until fragrant and golden, being careful not to toast too much. Spread in bottom of the prepared baking dish.

Scatter pumpkin, cranberries and sage over top of the millet. Season and then drizzle with maple syrup or honey (I have recommended 1 tbsp if you are using dried sweetened cranberries – if you have fresh ones you might need more syrup.) Pour a cup of warmed stock over mixture and cover with lid or foil and bake for 45 minutes.

Taste the millet and if it is not cooked, add additional stock. When tasting, also check that it is not too sweet and if it is, add more seasoning. (Heidi said not to disturb but I really wanted to stir and I think if I did it again I might give into this temptation and give a stir at this stage.) With hindsight I think I would just add an extra half cup of stock and bake an additional 15-30 minutes. Then turn oven up to 200 C (or 400 F). Uncover casserole, sprinkle with pumpkin seeds or hazelnuts and bake for about 10 minutes or til the top is browned (and Heidi says it should be bubbling but mine wasn't).

On the Stereo:
Best of Bowie: David Bowie


  1. I've been waiting to see if someone would make this! When I looked at the recipe it seemed too sweet for my tastes, too. But pumpkin is often served sweet in the US, isn't it? Like you, I like mine much more savoury. You've got me thinking about millet though...a good posting idea, methinks.

    Edward (elder of the two boys) has been obsessed with David Bowie for a couple of years now and I have no idea where he's put my CD's, naughty boy. Love me a bit of Bowie! Can you believe I missed the last episode? Don't even know what I was doing, actually...

  2. OH my goodness yes wasn't the finale to Life on Mars BRILLIANT?!?!?! I've been thinking about it all morning and wanting to talk about it with someone but none of my colleagues watched it. I was gobsmacked by the ending (SO wonderfully ambiguous!), and how well the Bowie lyrics linked up to the plot... I've always loved that song, but now it'll have extra meaning for me... such brilliant performances, writing, cinematography, and John Simm is a cutie... what was your favourite part?

    I don't usually write about non-food related stuff on my blog, but was really tempted this morning to mention LOM... I like the way you worked it into your post :)

  3. Thanks Lucy - it was good once I adjusted the seasonings but I feel I still need to get to grips with millet! E was a big Bowie fan but all his albums were on vinyl or cassette so the best of was all we could find last night - the last episode was pretty amazing but really messed with my head!

    thanks MM - glad you share the Life on Mars passion - it is such an amazing show - and did you hear there is another been made called Ashes to Ashes! Something to look forward to. I confess to putting all sorts of non-food stuff in my posts - I like the flexibility of a food blog to just talk about food or to go off on little esoteric discussions as long as I can justify a link to food to myself :-)

  4. I haven't cooked with millet yet but its on my list. Though I'm not averse to sweet with savoury, I suspect I might have the same thoughts about this dish as you.

    And I haven't seen Life On Mars but have been toying with renting the boxset. Will take your advice and do so. :)

  5. thanks Wendy - I still am a little unsure of millet and need a little more experimenting. Will be interesting to see how you use it. (I have just posted a risotto recipe and was thinking rice is from venus and millet is from mars!) But I can highly recommend Life on Mars!

  6. Millet is a tricky grain to work with. Depending on how you cook it you can end up with individual grains and a rice like consistency or more of a mash or polenta like consistency.

    I bet the sweetness was due mostly to the sweetened cranberries. I bake with them often and will reduce or eliminate any sugar because they can be so darn sweet on their own. Also, the 1 cup of fresh cranberries called for would have added a lot of extra liquid to the dish and that may be why the millet wasn't cooked to your liking.

    Fresh cranberries freeze amazingly well so you may have luck finding them frozen.

  7. thanks for all the great advice LisaRene - I am off to check the freezer section as there might be cranberries there!

  8. I think I'd love this bake. Interesting about the pumpkin/squash differences--over here, pumpkin is not AT ALL sweet on its own, but butternut squash is quite sweet. So maybe Heidi was adding sweetener to offset the pumpkin. I think dried cranberries would also add quite a bit of sweetness, as they are preserved with sugar.

  9. thanks Ricki - it is tricky to read recipes when the ingredients are so different but all the feedback is very helpful


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