For my first official Stardew Valley recipe I knew I wanted to to make something really special. Although the recipe I finally put together is relatively simple, the process was anything but. The number of recipe fails I experienced during the development of this one has GOT to be a new record for me! That said, I didn’t quit until I had something really delicious and I’m so proud to share the recipe with you all now :].
So what’s the big deal with Stardew Valley and why did I sacrifice so many pumpkins to this recipe? I think the game can best be explained as a love letter to the ‘farm simulation’ genre of video games and more specifically to the Harvest Moon series. Stardew Valley sees the player take on the task of rehabilitating and derelict farm. You will generally go about this by doing things like clearing farmland, tilling soil, planting vegetable seeds, and caring for the plants until they can be harvested and sold for money. The player can then take this money to reinvest in the farm by buying new tools and seeds among other things.
There’s wayyy more to do in this game then just farming however! You can fish, you can mine, participate in town festivals, raise animals, fight a capitalist empire, and if you play your cards right, you can even marry one of the eligible townspeople and start a family! I love these types of games and I am very much looking forward to starting a new farm on my Nintendo Switch.
As you can imagine with a game about growing crops, there’s a good deal of cooking found in it, 72 recipes in fact! (And that’s not even mentioning things like wine, jam, and cheese that you can process.) With the onset of the cooler weather I thought it would be appropriate to try making a dish that highlighted some fall flavors and I don’t think I could’ve asked for anything more suitable than today’s recipe: Autumn’s Bounty.
Pumpkin and Yam (sweet potato) are the only two ingredients necessary to complete this recipe in the game, so there was a ton of creative freedom in determining its real life recipe representation, especially with a vague name like ‘Autumn’s Bounty’. Unfortunately, this freedom was actually the beginning of my problems! I usually look to the pixelated food sprites in times like these in order to get a better grasp on what the dish was imagined to be and if you look up in the title image you can see that the sprite is more or less just a jumble of colors without any real defining features. All I could really use here were the colors: brown, pink, red, and green.
So I set about trying to brainstorm ingredients of those colors that would also compliment the aforementioned pumpkin and yam. For my first trial (shown below) I chose red onion as my ‘pink’ ingredient and spinach as my green. Both of these flavors paired well with the initial two, but my effort to maintain large size wedges of everything as it appears in the sprite left me with a dish that was very difficult to actually eat. That’s not to mention the pumpkin and sweet potato skin that I left on in order for the recipe to appear more rustic. It wasn’t rustic, it was gross.
For my next attempt, I knew I needed to cut my vegetables smaller, but I also felt that my flavors were actually pretty bland by themselves and needed a boost somehow. My solution was to work some fat into the mix (fat is flavor they say) as well as some spices and sweetness. Bacon fat was my knee-jerk reaction as it’s always delicious and actually pairs well with the red onions and sweet potato (and hey! it’s kind of pink isn’t it!?) As for spices, I wanted to really go Fall out (get it?) so I threw in some rosemary, thyme, sage, and apple cider to change it more or less into a braised vegetable dish.
The outcome of trial number two really let me down. By switching from the dry heat of a roasted veggie dish to the moist heat of a braised dish, the flavors all kind of mixed together and fell flat. The worst part about it was that the pumpkin and sweet potato that were supposed to be center stage turned out to be soggy, tasteless lumps. Easier to eat than #1, but still gross.
Ok, I can’t let this beat me! This should be easy right!? Maybe I need to take the taste in a different direction… Instead of savory, I’ll try sweet!
To this end I switched out the herbs for fall spices like cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg as well as subbing out the bitter greens for the brighter tasting brussel sprouts. Throwing in a chopped apple seemed like the right thing to do as well and it finally gave me the elusive red color from the sprite I’d been searching for.
Tragically, it turns out it doesn’t matter what spices you add to a dish, if the main components don’t have good flavor on their own, you’re going to keep getting duds. The pumpkin and sweet potato still didn’t taste like anything and it seemed like the cooking method was to blame for that. At least when they were roasted in the oven, they had some character, but this braising in apple cider business had to go.
I was feeling pretty broken at this point. Why couldn’t I come up with anything that worked? In a dish that only requires two ingredients, I was having an incredible amount of trouble! I needed some help, so I reached out to the best cook I know, my girlfriend, Charlotte (Hi!) We decided that the biggest problem with my attempts so far was just an overall muddled flavor, with nothing really shining through. I was more concerned with combining all these complimentary flavors in theory, when in reality it didn’t really work that way. It was kind of like mixing too many colors together and ending up with an ugly brown.
I had to simplify the recipe. At her suggestion, I went back to the roasted pumpkin and sweet potato method I had started with and just dropped the whole ‘braised in apple cider’ thing completely. I also removed many of the herbs and spices I was trying to cram into the recipe in order to focus on the remaining ingredients I did have. I’m happy to say that the trial #4 results blew everything else away! It’s kind of embarrassing that it took me so long to come up with something, but I feel like I just had these recipe blinders on you know? I was cooking like Link does in Breath of the Wild by just throwing everything into a cooking pot and hoping for the best. After reading over everything now, I can’t help but be reminded of a saying one of my culinary school chefs would tell us time and time again: K.I.S.S. Keep it simple, stupid.
All in all, I’m glad I didn’t settle. It would have been easy for me to just throw a nice picture of one of the previous trials up here and then move on to the next recipe, but I didn’t want to make something I wasn’t proud of, especially for my first Stardew post! I kept thinking “would I bring this to Thanksgiving dinner?” and it helped me keep striving for tastiness.
So I hope that you enjoyed my little story of recipe struggle haha. And if you make some Autumn’s Bounty for your own Thanksgiving festivities (which you totally should, because it’s honestly the perfect side dish) I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Let me know what you think in the comments below!
+ Autumn’s Bounty +
makes about 6 servings
|Pumpkin||1 small (around 2 lbs)|
|Sweet Potato (Yam)||1 medium (about 1 lb.)|
|Vegetable Oil||1 Tbsp|
|Red Onion||1 small|
|Brussel Sprouts||5 to 7 sprouts|
|Red Skinned Apple (Gala)||1|
- Sharp knife and cutting board
- Large mixing bowl
- Baking sheet
- Wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula
- Large fry pan
1) Preheat the oven to 375°F
2) If you’ve never cooked with an actual pumpkin before, now’s the perfect time to learn! (although I suppose we have used it before.) Start by peeling the skin off either with a vegetable peeler, or what I find much easier, just a sharp knife; it’s kind of like peeling a melon. Use a sharp knife to cut off the top and bottom of the pumpkin and then cutting it into quarters. Remove the seeds with a spoon or small knife and reserve them if you feel like making pumpkin seeds, if not, simply discard them.
3) Cut up the pumpkin into medium dice as shown here. Peel and chop the sweet potato similarly and toss the vegetables in a mixing bowl along with the oil, honey, salt, pepper, and thyme sprigs. Spread the mixture on an un-greased baking sheet and place in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes. Pop the oven open about every 5 minutes during this cook time to give the pan a stir and avoid any burning. Once the veggies are soft and begin to color, remove the pan from the oven and set it aside (oh, and remove those thyme sprigs!)
4) Next it’s time to make your kitchen smell amazing. Slice the three strips of bacon into small strips and throw them in a fry pan over medium heat to render. While the bacon is cooking, chop up your red onion and garlic and add them to the pan once there’s a good amount of fat present, about two minutes.
5) While the onions and garlic cook you can prepare the brussel spouts (notice a pattern here?) Because they’re so dense, I mainly used the outer leaves in this dish. The easiest way to get at them is to trim the base and remove them from the bottom up as they fall away from the center. You can also slice the sprouts thinly if that’s more your speed. Once the onions have softened up a bit, throw in the brussels and toss to combine.
6) Cook the brussels with the rest of the ingredients for a minute or two before finally adding the roasted pumpkin and sweet potato back in to the pan. Chop up a red skinned apple (I used gala) and add it to the pan at this time as well. Toss everything in the pan for two more minutes over medium heat until everything is heated through and combined. Serve the Autumn’s Bounty right from the pan or empty into a casserole dish for a shareable side dish!
Hey! Thanks for reading all the the way to the end! You’re awesome :D! If you haven’t already and are looking for more nerdy food stuff, consider following me on Twitter, Facebook, tumblr and Instagram. I post a lot of work in progress pictures for the blog as well as stuff from my Twitch streams. If that sounds like something you’d be into, please check out those links above! Anyway, take care everyone and I’ll see you next time with an all-new recipe!
I also have a Patreon page where fans like you can help support me directly! There are some pretty cool rewards in it for you as well so you’ll definitely want to check it out :].
Thanks to everyone who has supported me so far!
Chets Y., Charlotte G., Tyler S., Derek R., Dan S., Victoria , Kurt P., Fox Corp., Archy Dan, The Gluttonous Geek, Josh M., Val C., and Katharina.