Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pumpkins on Parade....

So today was the day to cook down the pumpkins and extract the seeds...since I already needed to have the oven on most of the day, anyway...and had purchased the rest of the "supplies" I needed (heavy whipping cream and things to make pie crust).

In a previous blog you will note that I gave instructions on how to prepare and cook pumpkins...well, let me just say that one pumpkin "cleaning" went off without a hitch but the OTHER one....I spent over 20 minutes just trying to cut it OPEN...and ended up with the entire front of my shirt covered in pumpkin and was SERIOUSLY considering going out to the garage to get my husband's ax.  Eventually, everything worked out, but baking/foil steaming pumpkins does take a long time...and a lot of checking.  They are currently cooling so that I can extract the flesh from the rind and then process it.  The seeds have been cleaned, soaked in salt water (that's my addition to the recipe) and are drying on clean paper towels....that's my recipe for to toast pumpkin seeds.

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

When you are cleaning the seeds...separating them from the "string-y" parts of the pumpkins's easiest if you first put the seeds into a bowl of water.  They become easier to clean and separate that way.  I then soak mine in water with Kosher salt added for about 30-45 minutes and then drain.  Letting them sit in the colander for a while will help them to dry out, and you can even use a hair blow dryer if you want to!

Once the seeds are nice and dry, preheat your oven to 275 degrees.  Then spread the seeds out on a cookie sheet in a single layer and begin seasoning them.  There are many variations of this, but here are the most popular:

Spread the seeds evenly over a cookie sheet and lightly baste the seeds with melted butter, margarine, or vegetable oil.  There are many variations.  Here are the most popular, in order or popularity:
  1. Savory: 4 tablespoons melted butter, 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt and 2 teaspoons Worchestershire sauce
  2. Lemony:  4 tablespoons melted butter, 1 teaspoon 'Mrs. Dash" or lemon pepper
  3. Halloweeny:  4 tablespoons melted butter, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon salt,  and 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice.
  4. Spicy: 4 tablespoons melted butter, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/2 teaspoon thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  5. Natural: 1 teaspoon sea salt or other salt, 4 tablespoons melted butter.
You can then roast the seeds in the 275 degree oven for 10-20 minutes, until golden brown.  Keep a close eye on them, checking them every few minutes and stirring them about every 5 minutes.  If your oven "runs hot" this process can take as little as 10 minutes, or as long as 30 minutes.  Remove them from the oven when golden brown, sprinkle with salt and let cool.  An alternative method is to fry them in deep oil for a few minutes, then drain and sprinkle with salt.

I know that this sounds like kind of a tedious process but (if you like pumpkin seeds) it is SO worth it.  

Today's food quote:  "When witches go riding, and black cats are seen, the moon laughs and whispers..'tis near Halloween"~~Author Unknown

Sunday, September 23, 2012

It's a Fresh Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!!

One of my favorite holiday specials is, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!".  Those old shows bring back such great memories and are so adorable...and, when it airs, I know for sure that autumn is on the way and Thanksgiving is just around the corner.

Canned pumpkin gets rolled out en force during this time of year.  It's so convenient, it's there, on the aisle end looks so "festive" and all you do is grab it, take it home, GLOP it out of the can, maybe add a few spices (unless you've gone a step FURTHER and gotten "Pumpkin Pie Filling") and you're on your way. BUT....pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, pumpkin roll (never had one?  maybe I'll have to put THAT recipe into my blog!  it's one of our families' FAVORITES!) taste SO much better if you use fresh pumpkin.  And it's not that hard.  So, grab those fresh pumpkins, cook 'em up and you can even freeze this pumpkin for use all year long!  Say "bye-bye" to that "glop" in a can that was processed LAST YEAR (and has chemicals added!!)

You only need a few supplies to get the job done:

1 small pie pumpkin
1 large, sharp, serrated knife
1 ice cream scoop
1 large microwaveable bowl or large pot

A pie pumpkin is much smaller, sweeter, and less "grainy" than the jack-o-lantern types.  Grocery stores and farmers' markets usually carry them from late September into December...but grab then when you can; with the trend towards more "natural" foods...they go quickly.  Look for pumpkins that are firm, have no bruises or soft spots and have a nice, orange color.  You will usually get 2-3 cups of pumpkin puree from one average sized "pie pumpkin"

Step 1:
Wash the pumpkin in cool or slightly warm NOT use soap.
Cut the pumpkin in half..a serrated knife with a "sawing motion" works best.  Remove the stem...using small, short cuts, going around the stem is the easiest and best...don't try to do it all in one cut.

Step 2:
Scoop out the seeds and scrape the insides.  You want to remove ALL of the "stringy" material.  This is where the ice cream scoop comes in...perfect for scooping and scraping!

Save your seeds!!  They can either be used to plant pumpkins next year or toasted to eat (or both!)  Place them in a bowl of water and rub them between your hands.  Then, pick out all of the orange bits, discard, and then drain off the water.  Place the seeds on a clean towel or paper towel for drying.  Once dry, they're ready for next year's planting..or roasting (upcoming blog will have recipe for toasting pumpkin seeds...they are DELICIOUS when you make them fresh!!)

Step 3: 
There are several ways to cook the can use the microwave...a pressure cooker.....steam them on the stovetop or roast them in the oven.  If you are roasting...use foil.  In fact, line the baking dish with foil, then COVER the pumpkin with foil--all the juices will be saved...and the pumpkin will be, in fact, both roasted and steamed. If you're roasting in the oven add water into the foil wrapped "pocket" and bake at 350--testing periodically for "doneness" usually takes about 45 minutes.  The fastest, easiest way is to cut the pumpkin up into several pieces (remember to remove the stem) and place it into a microwaveable bowl--remember, the fewer the number of pieces; the easier it will be to scoop out the cooked pumpkin, so don't make the pieces too small, just small enough to fit all of them into a microwaveable bowl.  Put a couple inches of water into it, cover (with a dish cover/lid or cling wrap) and put into the microwave.

Step 4:
Cook for 15 minutes on HIGH then check to see if the pumpkin flesh is "soft".  If necessary, keep adding small increments of time until the flesh is soft enough to scoop out.  This usually takes anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes, in total, depending upon the size of the pumpkin.

Step 5:
Once is has cooked until it is soft, it's easy to scoop out the flesh with a broad, smooth typed spoon--like a tablespoon.  Use the spoon to gently scoop and lift the flesh away from the should remove easily and smoothly in fairly large chunks if the pumpkin has been cooked long enough.  **Letting it cool first, is a very good idea, and sometimes in fact, at this point, the flesh can be literally pulled away from the rind with your hands.

Step 6:
To get a nice, smooth consistency...use either a food processor (use the "pulse" button) or a hand blender.  This usually takes about 2 or 3 minutes.  Take your time and go slowly.

Your pumpkin is now ready for the pie recipe or anything else you may want to use it for!  They are fine to freeze...but NOT SUITABLE FOR HOME CANNING.  Freeze them into small sandwich type bags or plastic freezer containers.  TIP:  Pumpkin with a VERY SMALL amount of salt and pepper is PERFECT for baby food!  Freeze it into ice cube trays, then "plop" the cubes out into plastic cube = one serving.  TIP FOR PET OWNERS: Pumpkin puree is perfect for dogs with digestive upsets.  Use pumpkin with (again) a VERY SMALL amount of seasoning, salt, pepper, maybe a small amount of garlic (dogs LOVE garlic!!) can be used, but remember..if you're going to use this for a pup with a digestive upset, bland is you may just want to freeze it plain.  You can, once again, freeze them into ice cube trays for use if "Fido" gets a "tummy ache" .

So there you have it!  I'll bet you didn't know making pumpkin "glop" (oops, I mean puree) was this easy!!  And it tastes SOOOO good and the smell it adds to your home while it's baking (both the first time, and when you use it again, in recipes) is AWESOME!!

Food quote of the day:  "There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: politics, religion, and The Great Pumpkin"~~Linus, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!"

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Happy Autumn, Happy Fall!!

I am SO ready for it to be autumn!!  So ready for the cooler mornings, cooler evenings and, hopefully, cooler DAYTIMES as well!  Living in Central Florida I often feel as if we have seasons here...known as "Hot, Hotter, and Holy HELL!!"

But seriously, I begin to get "antsy" around this time of year...because Autumn is my favorite season...readying for favorite holiday.  In visiting the local stores, I feel that Thanksgiving is a "forgotten holiday"...just last night I was in Target, searching the Halloween aisle(s) for my new found love, "Candy Corn M&M's" (seriously...have you TRIED these?!  They're HEAVEN) and noticed that the CHRISTMAS decorations were peeping aisle of the back, behind the Jack-o-lanterns.  A sacrilege, completely and totally.

I did try a Starbucks "Pumpkin Spice Latte" last night (delicious) and that has put me into the mood for all things pumpkin.  Soooo....for the next couple blogs, I'm going to try to get some recipes together that will put a new spin on that lovely, orange, autumnal orb.  Have you ever had a Pumpkin Bagel?  Delicious!  And here's a great topping for one (if you manage to find one!) or for apple wedges, vanilla wafers, or water crackers.

Harvest Pumpkin Dip

1 c. pumpkin
1/2 c. sour cream
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 c. Cool Whip (or other non-dairy whipped topping)

Combine everything but the Cool Whip--mix well.  Fold in Cool Whip.  Spoon into small serving bowl, top with chopped pecans (this is could also top with some crunchy granola, or even "craisins"!!)  Chill before serving.

Happy First Day of Autumn!  We're still in the "90's" here...but I am ever hopeful that, before too much longer, we'll also feel (at least a LITTLE) "snap" in the air.

Food quote of the day: "Vegetables are a MUST on a diet.  So, I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread and pumpkin pie"  Jim Davis

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Meal in One Pan...Yes...You CAN!!

Today is my Amy's birthday...and she is one GREAT cook!  Sooo, I've decided to share a recipe she just gave me the other day.  When I read it...I felt "in the autumn spirit" and couldn't WAIT to try it.  And it is DELICIOUS...even my husband raved...and I was apprehensive about whether or not he'd like it!  Give it a try to get YOU into that "autumn mood" may not FEEL like fall OUTSIDE...but you can at least get into the spirit INSIDE!!

Brown Sugar Kielbasa with Apples and Onions
serves 4-6

14 oz Kielbasa sausage, sliced thick
2 medium onions or one large, sliced thick
2 Granny Smith apples, cut into thick slices
2 T. butter
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp paprika
1 T. finely chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
fresh sage and fresh thyme (although when I made it, I used dried thyme...but fresh sage)

Heat butter in a large skillet.  When hot, add the onions and apples and cook on low for about 5-10 minutes or until slightly caramelized.  Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the thyme and sage, stirring to evenly combine.  Cover and continue to cook on low for about 15 minutes, or until everything is heated through and the brown sugar has formed a syrupy glaze.  Plate and garnish with the fresh herbs.

Amy served hers with a hot German Potato Salad..which she said it went very well with.  I'm the only one that likes German Potato I served ours with rice and it was very tasty.  I think it'd also go nice over noodles...or even mashed potatoes or some potatoes roasted in the oven with some fresh herbs.

Happy Birthday, Amy!  I'm proud to share recipes with are an awesome cook!!  Love you!!

Food quote:  "Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree"~ Martin Luther.