Return of the Pumpkin

I mean, pumpkin is, after all, kind of like a Jedi of baking. Its Force pulls everybody in for a bite of cozy goodness and its seeds, roasted, are the lightsabers that ward off unsavory snacks.

Sorry, I’m done making lame food/Star Wars metaphors now. The point is, I still have pumpkin puree that I froze last fall, and I made somethin’ scrumptious. A friend pinned this pumpkin cheesecake recipe and I drooled just looking at it. You may be shaking your head at first glance – recipe from a website called “SkinnyTaste”?!

This recipe totally destroyed my skepticism about a “healthier” version of cheesecake. The vanilla greek yogurt made for a great thick yet fluffy cheesecakey texture, and I’ve never been able to tell the difference between full fat cream cheese and Neufchatel (1/3 less fat) stuff. My momma’s kitchen wisdom tells me that reduced fat stuff usually tastes just the same while completely fat free is almost always gross.

The only changes I made to this recipe were to the pumpkin butter to swirl in. I love pumpkin butter. It’s so smooth and creamy and cozy [I need to diversify my food adjectives…]. The combination of nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cloves, and cinnamon will always make me want to hunker down at home for the day, no matter the season.

I made just a cup worth of the pumpkin butter, instead of the 3 and some odd cups the recipe makes, so I only used 1 cinnamon stick and took it out after 10 minutes, which was plenty. If you’re outta cinnamon sticks, I think you could just put an extra dash of ground cinnamon in and call it good. Although it might be quicker to just buy pumpkin pie filling to swirl into the cheesecakes, I think the homemade goodness of the pumpkin butter would win. It’s a little smoother, thinner, and maybe not quite as sweet.

I’m callin’ this one a tri-yum-ph. Three little cheesecakes mysteriously disappeared right after I made these, and I was the only person around…hmm. I wonder whodunnit.

p.s. Here’s a little update on the mystery knit. A few hints: cotton yarn, cast on 306 sts. Any guesses yet?

Soup a L’Orange

If I could quit my jobs and just make people things all the time, I’d be one happy camper. I visited Wooster a few weekends ago [I almost said, “to see Noah and my sister,” but that’s a gross understatement – it was great to see everyone!]. Before I came, my sister, who’s been having a weird time sorting out how she deals with lactose and soy, asked if I could make some squash soup to bring to her. UH. YES. I’d been meaning to make pumpkin soup of some sort, and there was a soup I made a while back that I wanted to try to replicate, if only I could remember what I used…

The soup I’d made in the past was an amalgamation of a recipe-surfing session. I looked at recipes for carrot/orange/ginger soup, and ended up making something along those lines that was warm and bright, with a little kick from the ginger. I found some of the recipes I looked at again, but alas, I couldn’t remember all the details I changed. Leslie’s [my sister] soup was going to be a guessing game.

If the soup needed to be lactose and soy free, so I figured it might as well be vegan, too.  The key ingredients I used were carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, orange, and ginger. The bright colors and creamy warmth were perfect to combat the dreariness of a windy February day.

So here it is, my very own pumpkin-carrot-orange-ginger soup.

Disregard the amounts of ingredients here - I made a double batch when I took the pictures.

  • 1 1/2 c. pumpkin puree [canned or frozen, shouldn’t matter]
  • 1 large sweet potato, cubed [I chose these for their sweetness and thickness instead of Idahos]
  • 1 med onion, diced
  • 1 lbs carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1 orange [juice and zest]
  • approx 2 ins grated ginger
  • 18 oz vegetable broth
  • 2 1/2 c. water
  • 1-2 c. almond milk [vanilla]
  • 1 rounded tsp. corandier
  • 1/2 tsp. cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. minced garlic [approx 6 cloves]
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil

I just really love orange zest.

In large pot, heat olive oil and add onion, carrots, garlic, and spices. Sautee until onions are translucent, about 3-4 mins. Add pumpkin, sweet potatoes, juice and zest of orange, grated ginger, vegetable broth, and water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about half an hour or until sweet potatoes are soft and easily pierced by a fork.

Transfer soup to food processor in small batches and puree. After soup is entirely pureed, put back in pot, add almond milk, and simmer for 5 mins. Enjoy! If you’ve got ’em [I didn’t], croutons make a great sidekick to this soup. Because clearly, sidekicking for salads would suck balls.

Please, lemme know how it turns out, should you decide to make it! All feedback is welcome 🙂

Sandwich Heaven

Okay, a post about a sandwich might sound pretty menial, but…holy balls. Just made a deluxe grilled cheese that had me singing at the though of it. [The Muppets – “We Need A Little Christmas” – why Christmas? No idea. It’s just an upbeat song.]

Ingredients: white cheddar with bacon bits in it, deli turkey, tomatoes, a quarter of an avocado mashed up [so it’s spreadable], and spinach.

Popped it in the skillet with some olive oil. Drooled. Added some crispy crunchy lettuce when it was done. Groaned with taste bud happiness when I took the first bite. 

Any suggestions for the next pumpkin recipe post? I’m thinkin’ soup.

Pumpkin Bread

Ok, so I know that I made all this fuss about how awesome pumpkins are, only to forget about ’em. Well, pumpkins are still awesome and I don’t care if they’re “outta season.” [Oh, right, that’s why I froze them.] In an effort to make up for the lack of food posts and neglect of pumpkin, I’mma post about them until…well, I have no idea. I won’t ever get sick of them. So maybe until I run out of frozen pumpkin.

Annnyway, I made pumpkin bread yesterday. I think I’ve eaten about half a loaf all by myself already. It’s a family recipe, so I essentially left it alone and just cut the sugar from 3 cups to 2, using brown sugar instead of the regular white stuff. Not a dangerous switch, especially because the molasses-y flavor from the brown sugar pairs well with punkin stuff. The recipe says nuts are optional, and the 9-year-old in me still scrunches up her nose and mumbles “yuck” to bread with nuts in it, so I ruthlessly banned them from the recipe like the cool kids exclude the geeks at school.

Ze recipe, pour vous [with my teensy adjustments]:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 cups brown sugar (packed)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon each: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, & ginger
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups frozen pumpkin puree [canned is fine, too, if you don’t have as much time on your hands as I do]
Mix dry and wet ingredients separately.

Combine.

Pour into 2 greased and floured loaf pans.

Bake 1 hour at 350*F. Let cool on wire rack. Devour. Potentially with ice cream.

Isn't it cool how the edges kinda folded up?

Verdict: Tri-yum-ph. [I make no excuses for my awful puns and love them anyway]

ONIONS, or A Chopping Method that Blew My Mind

Image

H’ok so I’m sure this isn’t new to everyone, but it’s so fun that I’ve gotta share. Instead of dicing onions by cutting long strips and then chopping those, my friend Miles taught me this trick while we were studying abroad in London a couple years ago. Nothin’ quite like cookin’ with friends.

Cut the onion in half by the root.

Place it flat on the cutting board and cut horizontally toward the root, but not all the way through. Then make a few vertical slices on the top-most part of the onion half that still looks like a petal.

Finally, hold the onion so it doesn’t smoosh out on the sides and slice across it like you normally would from front to back. MAGIC.

Feel free to step back with your hands on your hips and a grin on your face to relish how quick and entirely neat and orderly and uniform [which equates to WONDERFUL in my book] it was to chop an onion like that. Now, please, go put it in something delicious and tell me about it.

p.s. I don’t often use the phrase “off the heezy,” but when I do…it’s Dos Equis. Christmas Eve morning I made these delicious pumpkin bars from the pumpkin puree I’d frozen this fall, but I didn’t take any pictures because the kitchen has been, ahem, off the heezy with all the holiday food production lately. I added cream cheese frosting to ’em, because really, what are pumpkin desserts without a cream cheese element?! Within hours, they were decimated by the hungry mob made up of my extended family. I hope everyone’s holidays have been just as delicious as mine!

P(yum)pkins, part 2: Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Also called pepitas, I remember looking forward to these little guys after carving pumpkins as a kid. It’s super easy to roast them, and there are about a million ways to do it. My mom always used to toss them Worcester sauce and some salt, and man oh man were those the best.

This time, I decided to branch out a little from the straight up salty avenue. Don’t get me wrong, classic is well, classically delicious, but I wanted a little more of an adventure. A little bit of Google searching led me to an blog entry with 3 different ways to roast the seeds. I chose the Sweet ‘n’ Spicy and Curried recipes [though the third, Black Tea and Butter sounded pretty interesting, too]. And I almost followed all of the directions.

Before we get to the recipe, can I just write about the highlight of my day for a second? Puffy coats on little waddling kindergarteners are hilarious. A kindergarten kiddo in the classroom I work in always struggles with putting his marshmallowy winter coat on, and we’ve been practicing putting it on by laying it on the floor, standing at the collar, stickin’ his arms in and flipping it up and over his head. Today, the little dude did it by himself TWICE. The look on his face when he succeeds is this excited shock that he put his coat on without a struggle. I was so pumped and had this huge grin on my face, to which he responded by giving me a big ol’ bear hug. I about melted from cute overload.

H’ok, back to the food.

For the Sweet ‘n’ Spicy:

  • 1 c. pumpkin seeds
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/4 c. natural cane sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper [yaaaaay!]
  • scant 1/2 tsp. sea salt, finely ground [I think regular ol’ salt would do just fine, too]

“Preheat oven to 375. In a medium-sized bowl whisk together the egg white, sugar, cayenne and salt.

I think this looks disgusting. Good thing it doesn't taste how it looks.

Add the pumpkin seeds and toss well. Drain off any excess egg white (using a strainer) and place seeds in a single layer across a baking sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes or until seeds are golden. Sprinkle with a bit more sugar and cayenne pepper when they come out of the oven. Taste and season with more salt if needed.” [Original recipe]

I thought the oven temperature was a little high compared to when I’d roasted pumpkin seeds before, so I started at 300 F. The seeds on the pan looked super gooey and gross, like they were just going to sit there and stay soggy to spite me. So after two 4 minute intervals with some turning in between, I bumped the heat up to what the recipe called for and kept my fingers crossed.

Sweet 'n' Spicy

OH. MY. GOD. They turned out to be perfect after two more 4 minute intervals at 375 F. They crisped up with this really beautiful gloss from the egg white coating combined with the caramelization of the cane sugar. The heat from the cayenne kicks in like a sassy little aftertaste is supposed to. I forgot to sprinkle with more cayenne and sugar at the end like the recipe calls for, but I couldn’t stop eating them. Neither could my family. OM. NOM. NOM.

Curried Pumpkin Seeds:

  • 1 c. pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. curry powder
  • scant 1/2 tsp. sea salt, finely ground
Again, whisk together the oil, curry powder, and salt. Toss seeds in mixture, spread single layer on baking sheet, bake for 12 minutes or until golden, yadda yadda. I didn’t take process pictures because it’s pretty simple.

The recipe called for egg whites again, but because I’d never coated pumpkin seeds with egg whites before, I wanted to do a batch in a way I knew would succeed [so much for adventuring, but I wasn’t about to risk all the seeds I worked so hard to separate from pumpkin guts]. These guys were the reason I started the heat at 300 F, because they started out dry  and I thought that anything higher would burn the outsides too quickly. I roasted them together with the Sweet ‘n’ Spicy guys, even when I turned the heat up to 375 F. In hindsight, I would have just done them on their own before roasting the egg white-coated seeds that call for a high temperature. I think they’d only take about 10-15 minutes at 300 degrees, and not have gotten a little on the dark side like they did. Make sure you stir them up every now and then during baking to make sure they roast evenly.

Curried Pumpkin Seeds

Holy moly, do I love everything about pumpkins.

All the curried seeds you own in the bowl to the left, on the right that's sweet 'n' spice, yes.

Some take home lessons here:

  • Dry pumpkin seeds tossed in oil cook way faster than fresh seeds that are still moist (I think). Do the dry dudes at a lower temp at, oh, maybe around 275-325 F? Let me know if you know/discover otherwise, please!
  • Egg whites make friggin’ awesome coating for roasted stuff. Despite how they make pumpkin seeds look clumpy and disgusting at first, the outcome is glossy and crispaaaay.
  • Don’t forget about the other squashes! Seeds from acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squashes roast up just the same.
Verdict: Triumph.
If anybody’s got suggestions or favorite recipes for other interesting ways to roast pumpkin seeds, please share! I’d love to make some more from other squash seeds.
A huge thanks goes to my brother, who sent me the nice camera that he never uses anymore so that I can take nicer pictures to post here. Also for his encouragement to keep writing. And for just being the best brother in general. Thanks, Ben.

P(yum)pkins, part 1.

Pumpkin. Bright. Sweet. Some kind of wonderful. With sweet stuff or in savory stuff. YUM. Even the guts are fun to play with. Anyway, I don’t know how different canned pumpkin from the store is from fresh pumpkin you puree yourself and pop in the freezer, but I like to think that it’s yummier when it’s DIY.

Roasting pumpkins is simple yet somewhat time consuming, but it’s downright fun if you like to be elbow deep in pumpkin guts and seeds. So if you’ve got a lazy Sunday, why not revisit the squeal-inducing childhood indulgence of squishing pumpkin guts in your hands? [No one else was home while I did this, and I couldn’t help but feel a little like a mad scientist and fill the house with bellowing laugh…muahahahahahaha!]…we’ll come back to the seeds another day.

Roasting pie pumpkins (the lil guys) is just like roasting any other kind of squash.

Slice that sucker in half. Takes some serious elbow grease, at least if you’re like me and have toothpicks for arms.

Scoop out all the seeds (save these little dudes in a bowl and soak in water for later) and guts with a spoon.

Pop those pumpkin halves face down in a big ol’ casserole dish and add about a 1/4 inch of water. I can’t help but think the halves together kinda look like a baby’s tush – adorbz. Anyway, I snap off the stems so the halves aren’t quite so tight a fit, but if the pan you’ve got is on the smaller side, you can cut the pumpkin into smaller pieces, just keep an eye on it because it won’t take as long to roast. When that’s all taken care of, it takes about 45 minutes to an hour at 350 F. Although if you’re roasting more than one pumpkin at a time, it might take longer.

While the pumpkins are baking, go ahead and separate the seeds from the stringy bits, rinse well, and spread ’em out on some tea towels to dry thoroughly for a day or two. If they’re not completely dry when it’s roasting time, they won’t get crispy like they’re supposed to. Avoid drying them on paper towels at all costs – they stick to the seeds when they’re dry, and no one wants to munch on roasted paper towels.

When the pumpkin’s done, it should be soft enough to pierce the skin with a fork. Unfortunately, sometimes the skin can be pretty stubborn – the smallest of the pumpkins I did this time had an almost brittle skin. When I took a fork to it after 45 minutes, it didn’t feel done at all. After an hour, I decided to try to use my toothpick arms again and take a running start to jab with a little more might. It turned out to be done on the inside, even though the skin was brittle and shell-like. What the what? No fair.

After the cooking part is finished and your pumpkins have cooled a bit, remove the skins and puree the flesh in a food processor or blender until smooth. Three pie pumpkins to yielded approx. 2 quarts. It all depends on the size of yo squash.

Divvy it up into whatever portions you’d like (I measure 1 and 2 cup amounts in tupperware containers) and toss it in the freezer. Fresh punkin puree allllll winter long. [Consider this foreshadowing for future kitchen (mis)adventures].

Verdict? Triumph. [a wonderfully messy one]