Pumpkin Butter Salsa Chicken, Michael Ruhlman, and Obsession

pumpkin butter chicken, pumpkin butter recipes, salsa chicken, pumpkin butter dessert

Pumpkin Butter Salsa Chicken … An Easy Dinner

This post is linked to Gluten-Free Wednesdays.

It wouldn’t seem like Pumpkin Butter Salsa Chicken, Michael Ruhlman, and Obsession would have anything in common. But, bear with me and I’ll tell you exactly how they all tie together.

Badge for Pumpkin SeriesThe other day when I shared the Pumpkin Butter recipe for this Pumpkin Pie Plus … series, I mentioned that I thought it would be great for a savory dish with meat. So that evening when I got ready to bake some chicken breasts in wine, garlic, and onions, I decided to add a topping made of pumpkin butter and salsa. This falls into the category of what Erin (Gluten-Free Fitness and Nutrition) calls “not really a recipe.” It can also fit into what Melissa (Gluten Free for Good) calls a “launching pad” recipe. And, Alta (Tasty Eats At Home) actually calls them “un-recipes.” Whatever you choose to call these non-recipes, this dish is just a concept that you can have fun with. Season your chicken as desired and then top with a mixture of pumpkin butter and salsa—made to your taste, with just enough to cover the surface of the chicken—and then bake or grill. The result is a tasty dish (the photo doesn’t do it justice). It’s not fancy by any means, but I wouldn’t hesitate to serve it to guests and personally I could eat it every day. In fact, I did have leftovers for lunch the very next day. Perfect combination of sweetness balanced by tomato-and-pepper-based heat—all providing a lovely depth of flavor.

And, for dessert? I swirled a little Pumpkin Butter with Honey Cinnamon Whipped Cream. That’s about as simple as you can get and makes for an excellent way to hit one’s sweet spot. In fact, this combination tastes very much like pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Can you tell I’m developing an obsession with this pumpkin butter? I’ve already given away all except one jar to help temper my obsession. (But I can always make more.)

Moving on … now some of you may have heard that Michael Ruhlman was part of the closing panel at BlogHer Food along with Shauna James Ahern (gluten-free girl and the chef) and Molly Wizenberg (Orangette). I had the pleasure of attending BlogHer Food again this year and the conference truly was better than ever. I do plan to do a post on the event … eventually after my traveling the next week or so. But let’s get back to Mr. Ruhlman, who I am going to call Michael from this point forward. Michael also showed us all how to make/cure bacon from pork bellies at the after party. I didn’t catch all of his presentation, but what I did get to see was both entertaining and enlightening. (You can find out how to make your own bacon on Michael’s blog.)

I have to confess that my knowledge of Michael was pretty limited prior to hearing him speak. Yes, I’d heard about his book, Ratio—an anti-cookbook of sorts—and read rave reviews of it and other books of Michael’s on other blogs. His books all sounded good; he sounded good, but I didn’t know enough to be a knowledgeable fan. However, when he spoke in closing, he talked about the importance of getting into the kitchen and cooking, and absolutely not being hung up on a recipe. In fact, he stated that he offers up recipes on his blog only when he doesn’t have other wisdom and musings to share—sort of as a fallback versus a focus. I liked that. (I was quickly becoming a fan, in fact.) Sure, I share recipes constantly and love cookbooks. I read cookbooks, review them, and do giveaways of ones that meet my gfe approach. Some cookbooks that I review and recommend are not gluten free. All contain some gluten-free recipes, but for really all cookbooks, I suggest that folks should use them as a guide or inspiration. I’m also well known for saying, “don’t obsess over this” when it comes to specific steps in gfe recipes. I didn’t really learn how to cook until I was living on my own and stopped obsessing in the kitchen. I stopped following recipes line by line, and unstuck my nose from the cookbooks. Notably, I didn’t start enjoy cooking until I started cooking this way. Yes, baking can be a little different, a little more structured, but even with baking if you are creating in the kitchen, you are using Michael’s Ratio concepts. Those of us who are gluten free (or have other intolerances) tend to do this all the time out of necessity. We just don’t think of it that way.

At the end of the interview portion of the keynote speeches at BlogHer Food, Elisa Camahort Page, one of BlogHer’s founders who was conducting the interview, asked Michael if he had anything to add. He bolted upright like a man on fire … one that could not be held back. He offered startlingly impassioned words on how the advent of cooking fundamentally changed man and, conversely, how the demise of cooking has affected mankind. He referenced the book “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human,” by Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham—saying he’d read it many times and highly recommended it.

Diane Cu and Todd Porter, the amazingly talented and dynamic couple who together make up White on Rice, talked to Michael afterwards. They wanted to know more about exactly how this book had impacted him and why he thought it was a “must read.” As he spoke and explained to them, they made the video below, which fully explains Michael’s thoughts on this topic. Michael’s speech and his follow-up talk to Diane and Todd was covered in the LA Times Food Blog. The LA Times cautions: “Warning: There’s a touch of salty language, and this video will make you want to run to your kitchen — or run into someone else’s kitchen.” So if you have just a moment, please stop what you are doing and take time to read the article and watch the video below. I think it will make you look through a different window than you had previously. I won’t say more because you just need to watch it.

And, there’s more … as fate would have it—and truly delightful fate in this case—Michael ended up sitting next to me on the shuttle to the airport as we both headed home. I introduced myself and thanked him for sharing his viewpoints, his bacon curing techniques, and especially his guidance on getting folks in the kitchen to cook without fear—i.e., learning to get the hang of what ingredients work with others and the ratio needed of each. I said, “What’s the worst than can happen, right?” He agreed. Even when I had a disappointing baking day recently, it wasn’t the end of the world. As I shared earlier, I didn’t heed my feelings about the two recipes I made—either my misgivings about the ingredients working together or the ratios of these ingredients. So I took note and moved on.

Most of the time, my play in the kitchen goes really well though. Tonight’s dinner was a slow cooker pot of chili made from leftover ingredients from the refrigerator and a few staples from the pantry—some venison taco meat from dinner a few days ago, a few Portobello mushrooms, a little salsa, chopped onion, black beans, plum tomatoes, beans, chili powder, and, yes, a good dollop of pumpkin butter (the amount leftover from filling the pint-sized canning jars … I was channeling Kim on using this ingredient in chili and feeding my own new “obsession”). We ate this chili for dinner and it was outstanding, but I just knew it would be. The truth is, I’ve never made a bad pot of chili, and I like playing around with the ingredients. I long ago figured out the basics when it comes to chili—a bit of sweet, spicy, acidic, etc.—and just play around with those basics for successful results every time. (The only time I’ve used a recipe for chili is for my vegetarian chili, That Chili with the Mushrooms, because I’d never made a chili with no meat and so many vegetables before. But, of course, I immediately “tweaked” it.) So follow Michael’s advice and get in the kitchen and play (with some minimal guidance in mind). Spread the joy of cooking. Invite friends and family into your home. Oh, and, this from me, just in case you have forgotten, don’t obsess  (well, unless your obsessing over using pumpkin butter … maybe).

Final note: In case, you’re wondering, yes, Michael and I did speak about gluten free living on the shuttle ride to the airport. Michael was specifically interested in what I meant by focusing on “naturally gluten free” foods and dishes. He’s very interested in celiac disease/gluten intolerance and seeing that those who eat gluten free can eat well and safely. Be sure to check out this guest post on gluten-free Fried Chicken from Stephanie Stiavetti (Wasabimon) and his subsequent interview, What I Didn’t Know About Celiac, with Carol Blymire (Alinea At Home). That latter post included Shauna and Danny’s gluten-free pizza recipe, plus there was even a mention of Lauren (Celiac Teen) and me–thanks, Michael!

Not just gf, but gfe!

Full Disclosure/Disclaimer: This post may contain one or more affiliate links. If you purchase through them, your cost will always be the same, but I will receive a small commission. Thanks for the support! Read the full disclaimer here.


26 Responses to “Pumpkin Butter Salsa Chicken, Michael Ruhlman, and Obsession”

  1. Celiacs in the House on November 1st, 2010 7:23 am

    I thought I owed you that video link after being so hard on the him in my review post. I confess I have ‘Catching Fire’ reserved at the library along with some of your new friend’s books.

    • Shirley on November 2nd, 2010 2:07 pm

      Wendy–I sense you are coming over to the Ruhlman side, even before you read those books. ;-) Seriously, I was a bit blown away by his video that Diane and Todd made. We got a taste of that in his closing, but not enough. What has the demise of cooking done to our society? Very, very compelling … I can’t stop thinking about it. Truly.


  2. Debi on November 1st, 2010 8:43 am

    Thank you for sharing the video link, Shirley. I think that’s exactly why I like him so much. Where he’s about playing around in the kitchen and others would call those launching points or non-recipes, I consider recipes to be launching points. When I was in Jr. High and High School, following recipes was how I learned about food and what goes well together. It’s the reason I can go in the kitchen and play without too much worry about my end result. :D Now, I really need to check out Michael’s book, Ratio! And that other non-food one you told me about. :)

    • Shirley on November 2nd, 2010 2:11 pm

      Hi Debi–Isn’t Michael just riveting in the video? Nothing speaks to me like logical passion. Thanks so much for sharing your own experience, too. Yes, I think we all start out with recipes, and we learn so much from them and the “ratios,” and with that knowledge we can really have fun in the kitchen. Now I want to read all of Michael’s books. How about a Twitter party soon on Ratio? With more to follow … My friend, Steph (A Year of Slow Cooking), did that for The Help and I really enjoyed it.


      • Debi on November 6th, 2010 12:42 am

        He does have a logical passion. A driven passion, too. I think that’s what gets me. A Twitter party? Oh my. *adds to “To Do List” -open Twitter account -procure copy of Ratio* :D


        • Shirley on November 9th, 2010 8:04 am

          Hey Debi–I couldn’t agree more on Michael’s passion. Gosh, that doesn’t sound good, does it? ;-) He’s VERY inspiring! Yep, as soon as we all read Ratio, we can have that Twitter party! :-)


  3. Kim @ Cook It Allergy Free on November 1st, 2010 1:55 pm

    Many of my kitchen adventures are sparked from the whole “not-really-a recipe”,”launching pad”, “un-recipe” concept! LOL Those are pretty much my motto! And somehow I actually end up with ACTUAL recipes from those shenanigans!
    And i loved what you wrote about Michael Ruhlman! Well said. He is really inspiring and I loved his passion in that video.
    By the way, thank you so much for channeling me on your chili! ;) Pumpkin butter could never go wrong in a big pot of chili! Yummo~

    • Shirley on November 2nd, 2010 2:38 pm

      Thanks, Kim! I need to put you on my “payroll” (you do know that means payment in baked goods and raw honey though, right?). I was actually thinking about what you just said. I start out playing, write down what I do, how much I’ve added here, stirred this or that, etc., and the whole thing becomes a real recipe. Recipe development! It’s not rocket science after all! :-)

      I agree that Michael is extremely inspiring and that video is powerful IMHO. And, of course, I love the close-ups of his shoes, too. ;-) Diane and Todd “did good.”

      The pumpkin butter chili is exceptional. Very smooth, with a slightly different and good taste that one would not be likely to discern. ;-) See … you are inspiring, too!


  4. Annelies on November 1st, 2010 3:24 pm

    I too, am a huge fan of pumpkin & love seeing how you incorporated pumpkin butter into savory and sweet dishes. Michael’s passion was kinetic as he spoke about the need for us to get back in the kitchen & how that’s changed for many Americans. I think your idea of having fun with flavors and it being okay to try something out without the fear of failure is something that holds a lot of people back. It’s something I relish when I’m in the kitchen though. Will I find a new flavor combination? How can I use what I have & make something yummy & nutritious. It’s my own personal Rubik’s cube. And it’s a lot of fun. Thanks for this post Shirley.

    • Shirley on November 2nd, 2010 2:45 pm

      Hi Annelies–Ah, it’s always wonderful to meet another pumpkin lover! And, it was so good to meet you in person at BlogHer Food … welcome to gfe! :-) I like ingredients that can go either savory or sweet. Of course, I’m the girl that made the Tomato Rosemary Mint ice cream a while back, so obviously I can sometimes push that envelope. LOL But, hey, it worked! ;-)

      “Kinetic” is the perfect word for Michael’s speaking and passion! That’s why I hope that everyone reading will watch his video. I seriously don’t think you can watch it without being affected. “Rubik’s Cube” cooking—love that! So many possibilities, huh? In general, our fear in the kitchens is just an extension of our fear in our lives. My biggest fear is that I will live without having lived to the fullest and the kitchen is just one way to do that. It hasn’t always been this way for me, so I’m making up for lost time, and happily so!

      Thanks so much for the kind words and offering your perspective, Annelies!

  5. Nance on November 1st, 2010 4:11 pm

    Michael Ruhlman is another Cleveland area treasure, along with Michael Symon, our Iron Chef and two other gems, Jonathon Sawyer and Zack Bruell. We NEO foodies don’t have to go far for great meals. Ruhlman has a real passion for simple flavors and Just Good Cooking. (Or, a la Bourdain, NFA–No F***ing Around.)

    • Shirley on November 2nd, 2010 2:53 pm

      Hi Nance–Despite the fact that I write a food blog, I’m a bit of an anomaly in the foodie world. I don’t watch cooking networks/shows or keep up with all the cooking celebs, so I don’t recognize any of the other names you mentioned (well, Bourdain’s, yes). However, I do trust your opinion, so I’m glad you have so many Cleveland area treasures. I had not heard the expression NFA … see I told you I don’t watch. ;-) However, I totally agree with the concept of simple flavors. That’s pretty much the premise of gfe. :-) Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and offering a Cleveland area perspective!


  6. Alisa - Frugal Foodie on November 1st, 2010 9:21 pm

    Great post Shirley! I envy creative minds like yours and Michael’s – able to throw caution to the wind and just try things out. Something I could learn from.

    • Shirley on November 2nd, 2010 2:56 pm

      Hi Alisa–Ahhh, lumping me in with Michael … you DO know how to win friends and influence people! ;-) Thank you, dear! Remember what Michael and I discussed … what’s the worst that could happen? You might have to head out to your favorite restaurant if you have a particularly bad experiment one night, but the next time, you’re more likely to know how to make your creation work. :-)


  7. Ricki on November 1st, 2010 10:57 pm

    I’m with you on the pumpkin butter–I would prefer it straight (oh, and with whipped cream–sigh!) as you ate it. And how cool that your blog is linked up with Ruhlman’s! :)

    • Shirley on November 2nd, 2010 3:07 pm

      Hey Ricki–You can’t go wrong with this pumpkin butter … I bet you could make a lovely ACD version, too. :-)

      Michael has been very generous, and I so appreciate his links. As the video is titled, Michael Ruhlman has something to say about food (quite an important something), and I’m happy to be even a tiny part of that. ;-)


  8. Erin Elberson on November 2nd, 2010 6:39 pm

    Thank you for sharing this Shirley!
    An anti-cookbook?!?! I must have it!
    My neighbor is an anthropologist, and I find it just fascinating. That which we do not learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat…
    And my not-really-a-recipe-dinner?
    Some lovely, fresh, grass fed ground beef from my co-op thrown in a skillet with mushrooms, broccoli and cauliflower, with a bit of sea salt, pepper, tomato paste and balsamic vinegar. It was yum :) And low stress.
    Off to Amazon to add that book!

    • Shirley on November 3rd, 2010 12:39 am

      Hey Erin–I thought you’d like Michael’s “anti-cookbook”! ;-) Glad you were able to immediately download it—love that!

      Your not-really-a-recipe dinner for tonight sure sounds good. :-)


  9. Erin Elberson on November 2nd, 2010 8:01 pm

    And by the beauty of Kindle-I now have Ratio to read tonight! whohoo!

  10. Alta on November 2nd, 2010 8:56 pm

    Pumpkin butter and salsa…will have to try! You know i made your pumpkin butter this weekend and it is great! I turned it into pumpkin bars with chocolate chips, and threw some in a smoothies. Might put some in a chia pudding tomorrow.

    • Shirley on November 3rd, 2010 12:43 am

      Hi Alta–Pumpkin chocolate chip bars–what a fabulous way to use the pumpkin butter! I just love that stuff … as you’ve shown, there are many applications. Tickled pink that you love it so.. :-)


  11. Cara on November 4th, 2010 10:05 pm

    What a clever combo! I’ll have to give it a shot for a nice variation on salsa chicken.

    • Shirley on November 5th, 2010 9:45 am

      Hi Cara–Thanks! I love this combo … I could see it working on pork and even fish in some cases. Enjoy! :-)


Leave a reply

Related Posts with Thumbnails