It’s pumpkin fever time!!! It’s that time of year when pumpkin flavored everything floods the shelves and coffee shops. I LOOOOVE it! I love the smell, the taste, the warmth, even the color of pumpkin. I love to roast them and make the whole house smell of autumn. Life is good with a pumpkin in the oven! This year we’re really into these homemade roasted pumpkin lattes. This cuppa is richly flavored with real roasted pumpkin, warm spices, and a touch of sweet maple syrup to turn any day around. I know what I’ll be sipping while doling out sugar bombs to already hyper children this Halloween!

What are some of your favorite pumpkin dishes?

Here are some pumpkin treats from previous years for your autumn indulgence:

Roasted Pumpkin, Mushroom and Barley Risotto

Pumpkin Cheesecake Frozen Yogurt

Roasted Pumpkin Latte - copyright Crystal Cartier

  • 3 heaping Tablespoons roasted sugar pumpkin flesh (or canned pumpkin)
  • 1 teaspoon ground vanilla bean
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1-2 shots espresso

~ In a saucepan, heat milk, pumpkin, spice and vanilla to a strong simmer. Whisk smooth while simmering.

~ Pour pumpkin milk into a large mug and pour espresso over it.

Take a big whiff of that goodness and ENJOY!!!

Roasted Pumpkin Latte - copyright Crystal Cartier

I’m often asked, by clients and friends alike, what I eat in normal day to day life. We eat a lot of different things over here, mostly veggie based, but hands down the dish I eat the most is a loose variation of Shakshouka or a Turkish Şakşuka. Sounds like a sneeze or a word in a spell to curse someone if you ask me! I can picture Bette Midler in Hocus Pocus spitting “Shakshouka” at someone and turning them into a toad. She truly is the epitome of Halloween fun in my book! “Double, double, toil and trouble….Shakshouka!” Ha!

Anyway, I’ve been making this recipe in large batches and eating the leftovers in a bunch of different ways for about a year and never knew that it had a legitimate name (though this recipe is a very non-traditional version!). Usually I make a giant dutch oven sized batch of the vegetable ragout and put it over polenta cakes and top it with fresh mozzarella and fresh basil for dinner. It is so delicious and full bodied that I don’t even miss the pasta. Then for a nice hot breakfast I heat up some of my leftovers in a skillet and then crack a couple eggs in and poach until softly cooked. This is a lot less work overall for the number of delicious, healthy meals it yields. That said, you could also make a small batch in a skillet the traditional way with the eggs the first time around which is what this recipe does. Whatever floats your boat!

This non-traditional version borders on a pot ratatouille and is really adaptable to whatever delightful veggie you may have in your fridge. As a food photographer, I loved shooting this dish because of the incredible richness of color and texture. It is earthy and divinely delicious! It’s a whole different kind of soul food;)

Shakshouka Vegetable Ragout with Poached Eggs- copyright Crystal Cartier

  • olive oil, enough to saute
  • 1 Tablespoon smashed garlic
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 1/2 pound mixed mushrooms (I used king oyster and king trumpet), chopped
  • 1/4 cup baby japanese eggplant, chopped
  • 1 pound zucchini, chopped
  • 1/4 cup red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 cup sweet cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup  prepared tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 eggs
  • few squirts hot sauce, optional

~ Heat olive oil in a large cast iron skillet, add garlic and onions and saute for a few minutes until fragrant.

~ Add mushrooms and eggplant and saute for 5 minutes.

~ Add zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, tomato sauce, thyme, cumin, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

~ Using the back of a spoon, make 2 indentations in the mixture for the eggs. Crack two eggs into your indentations, reduce heat to low and cover skillet. Cook until white are opaque but yolks are still tender and jiggly.

~ Plate mixture and top with a few squirts of your favorite hot sauce if desired.


 Shakshouka Vegetable Ragout with Poached Eggs- copyright Crystal Cartier



Lately Los Angeles can’t make up it’s mind about the season. It snaps from the heat of summer to the chill of fall overnight which results in some pretty large swings in my food cravings. One day I’m eating ice cream and making refreshing coolers to drink and the next I want something heavy, earthy and cheesy in my belly. This recipe is for the latter. It’s for those nippy days when the dogs snuggle in a heap for warmth and the cat that always wants to be outside seems to be morphing into an indoor version of her wild self. Everything just gets a bit cozier and more cuddly when the temperatures dip!

Nothing is more comforting than a decadent creamy polenta. I recently had to go gluten-free and was unsure how to replace the pastas etc. that make up the warm heavier foods of winter. Enter polenta. Problem solved! This soft parmesan polenta is a bit sinful but not nearly the calorie bomb I’ve seen in other versions so don’t feel too bad about it;) Oh, and there’s some wilted greens in there so there ya go, a vegetable!

Also, this is so easy….

serves 4

Creamy Polenta with Wild Mushrooms- copyright Crystal Cartier

wild mushroom ragout

  • 1 1/2 pounds mixed wild mushrooms (chantrelle, maitake, oyster, shitake, beech…), cleaned and chopped
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic, smashed
  • 1 Tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 4 ounces baby kale leaves
  • salt and pepper, to taste

creamy parmesan polenta

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (I use 2%)
  • 3/4 cup polents (not instant)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan, extra for serving

~ In a medium saucepan, combine water, milk, and salt. Bring to a simmer and slowly whisk in polenta. Reduce heat to low and cook partially covered for 20 minutes, whisking every 5 minutes, until polenta is creamy. Remove from heat, stir in butter and parmesan.

~ While polenta is cooking, heat butter in a skillet with garlic and shallot. Add mushrooms, balsamic vinegar, thyme and rosemary and saute for 5-10 minutes on medium heat until fragrant and very slightly browned. Salt and pepper to taste, stir in kale and remove from heat.

~ Divide polenta into bowls, top with mushroom ragout and sprinkle with shaved parmesan to garnish.


Creamy Polenta with Wild Mushrooms- copyright Crystal Cartier

Soup is awesome. Period. I fancy myself a diplomatic and tolerant gal, but the simple truth is that soups, stews and chowders are irrefutably fantastic foods. Nearly each and every time I cook, no matter the time of day, I have to fight the urge to make a soup. I’m aware I have soup issues, but I simply don’t care. Today we’re giving in to those carnal soup urges and let it all happen. I recently went back east to celebrate my little sister’s wedding. It. Was. Fantastic. Fall in New England is a beauty I often forget about since I only tend to see it in the frozen, yucky winter. My SoCal soul never did care much for winter. That said, as the weather cools I get a mean hankering for some legit New England chowder. I need the real deal salty, fishy, slightly creamy kind of chowder, not the clumpy, gloopy, flavorless imitations that can be found, well, almost everywhere. This is a FLOUR-LESS chowder recipe that uses the starch from the potatoes as a mild thickener instead of relying on flour or (gasp!) cornstarch to give the soup body. Let’s hear it for gluten-free goodness!

The other great thing about this recipe is that you can really mix it up using different seafood combinations. I like to use a half cod, half flakier fish (dover sole etc.) as well as tiny shrimp, some clams, and sometimes even some lobster when I’m feeling frisky! This makes for a wonderful array of textures and flavors. Mmmmmmm. This time I used milk, but sometimes I use cream depending on my desired “health factor” at the moment. Both work quite well, though the cream makes for a richer soup broth.

Tastes like home to me!!!  I hope you love this as much as I do. So curl up with a bowl of soul food, a pup (or two or three;) and a good movie and enjoy!

p.s: Speaking of my sister’s wedding, the wood round in this photograph was one of many made for her centerpieces and cake stand, several of which I shipped here from the east coast (yeah, that was a heavy box!). The skilled Zack Frank cut the rounds with precision and my clever mother stripped and oiled them, yup, craftiness definitely runs in my family!

New England Fish Chowder     COPYRIGHT Crystal Cartier Photography

  • 6 strips high quality bacon OR 4 ounces salt pork, diced fairly small
  • 2 onions
  • 2 Tablespoons dried thyme
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1-1/2 pounds Dutch gold baby or new potatoes, scrubbed and sliced into 1/4″ slices
  • 1 quart fish or chicken stock
  • 1 bottle clam juice
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  •  1-1/2 pounds cod
  • 1-1/2 pounds flakey fish like dover sole
  • 1 can tiny shrimp
  • 2 cans chopped clams
  • sea salt and fresh pepper
  • 1-1/2 cups top cream whole milk or cream (for a richer broth)
  • finely chopped chives for garnish

~ Heat a large dutch oven or stock pot over low heat then add bacon/salt pork. After it has rendered a healthy bit of fat, turn up the heat a bit and cook until crispy. Remove pork with a slotted spoon and reserve on a paper towel lined plate.

~ Add onions, thyme and bay leaf to the rendered fat and saute, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 10 minutes.

~ Add potatoes, stock and clam juice to cover potatoes and bring to a boil. Cook vigorously for about 10 minutes until potatoes have softened but are still a bit firm. If the stock isn’t thick enough, smash a few potatoes against the side of the pot to release their starches.

~Season aggressively with salt and pepper. Once you add the fish you don’t want to have to stir too much so over season just a bit in anticipation of the milk. Stir in fresh thyme.

~ Reduce heat to low and add the fish. Cook for about 5 minutes or so then remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes, it will continue cooking.

~ Gently stir in milk. Divide among bowls and top each bowl with diced chives and the reserved crispy bacon.

Serve and ENJOY!!

I had a realization that we simply don’t eat enough nachos in my house. It’s a food that gets a bad rap from all the plastic cheese product and mushy sauces we typically associate with nachos. Ick. In reality it is a quick and versatile food and can be a vehicle for all kinds of crunchy veggies and savory flavors. We put an egg on everything here. If we’re not sure what a dish is missing, we throw an egg on it and “viola!” perfection. Eggs make everything better, meats, veggies, soups…bliss. An egg on nachos was a natural next step and, boy, was it a brilliant one at that. The man and I made these for friends the other day and let’s just say they went over VERY well.

So go on, throw an egg on it! You know you want to…

Breakfast nachos with Egg by food photographer Crystal Cartier

  • Corn tortilla chips, enough to cover the bottom of the pan (I like baked)
  • Extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • Dubliner cheese, shredded
  • Black beans
  • Fresh charred corn kernels  * place ear of corn directly on stove grate over a low flame, rotating periodically, until perfectly charred.
  • Tomato (chopped)
  • Jalapeño, seeded and diced
  • Avocado, sliced
  • Red onion, thinly sliced
  • Egg over easy
  • Cilantro, chopped
  • Srirachi

other options:

  • sauteed mushrooms
  • green onions
  • sauteed zucchini

~ Raise the top oven rack to 5-6″ below the broil flame. Turn on the broiler.

~ Spread chips on baking sheet or cast iron frying pan and sprinkle with cheese. Broil for 4-5 minutes, keep an eye on it.

~ Meanwhile, make over easy egg.

~ Once the cheese melted and bubbling (4-5 minutes), remove the pan from the oven. Top with all the veggies, beans, cilantro and egg. Then squirt some sriracha on there and go to town!


 Breakfast nachos with Egg by food photographer Crystal Cartier

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