Sunday, October 31, 2010

Baked Stuffed Pumpkin

The stuffing part of this recipe from Country Living magazine is wonderful and I would make it again. What I wouldn't do is stuff it into small pumpkins unless I baked it long enough to cook the pumpkins too. Cutting these pumpkins was a real learning experience for me. I brought in four small sugar pumpkins from the garage and with a combination of an electric knife and a butcher knife sliced the tops off the first two exactly like they are shown in the recipe picture. They were gorgeous. The next two were like cement and while locked in combat with a large knife and a small pumpkin, I was seriously questioning my sanity. In the end, the pumpkins won and looked nothing like the picture.

a nice one and a not-so-nice one

Notice the stems of these two pumpkins, the first two were green (apparently freshly picked) and the other two were withered and brown. So my advice would be to use freshly picked pumpkins for the shell part of this recipe or use a hack saw to cut them. The recipe calls for cooking the stuffed pumpkins 35 minutes. In order to eat the pumpkin too, it needs at least another 40 minutes of baking. The stuffing cooks on the stovetop, but would not be hurt by more time in the oven.

The taste testers (Karen, Andrew and me) loved the stuffing with or without its pumpkin shell. It really seemed a waste to throw the shells out afterwards. They were impressive while we ate, but were basically just a bowl.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Pumpkin Waffles

This recipe came from Cafe 222 in San Diego by way of Gourmet Magazine in November 2000. The first time I made them, I used my could-have-been-a-wedding-present waffle iron that neither The Hub or I could remember how long we'd had it or where it came from. They turned out good; we all liked them. I think the most interesting aspect of this recipe is to put the waffles in the oven for 5 or 10 minutes to crisp, something I had never done before, but will do with all waffles from now on.

But I did buy a Belgian waffle iron, since I had been wanting one and the recipe called for one. This model ($29 on sale at Target) was a great deal.

All three of the taste testers (Andrew, Karen and me) loved the Belgian waffles even more. They have a wonderful spicy pumpkin flavor and were also great warmed in the oven the next day.

One note about this recipe, it calls for sifting brown sugar with other ingredients. The first time I did that it clogged up the sifter; the second time I added the brown sugar separately and had lumps of melted brown sugar in the waffles. The third time I make it, I will go back to sifting the brown sugar. It's the better of the two options.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Getting Started with Fresh Pumpkins

The gift of the cracked French red pumpkin (also called a Cinderella pumpkin) caused me to move from the planning stage to the action stage. I was enjoying just looking at my fresh pumpkins. But now I was forced to jump in with both feet and do something with at least one of them. My goal was to peel it, cut it into chunks and vacuum seal the chunks in 1- and 2-pound bags bound for the freezer and refrigerator. I also had a goal of not taking all day to do it.

The skin of a pumpkin hardens after picking - sometimes to the point of having to drop it on cement in order to get into it. This beautiful pumpkin had just been picked so the skin was fairly soft. Starting at the crack, it was easy to cut in half and then cut each half into three sections.

I microwaved one section, but it didn't aid in the peeling, just made it soft and really hot. I tried a knife and a potato peeler, but it was tedious. What worked the best was a flat metal cheese slicer (not the wire kind), which peeled two inch wide sections without taking too much flesh. The groves had to be dealt with individually, but that was going to happen with any method. The whole process went pretty fast after that, and I now have five bags of French red pumpkin ready to go.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Smoky Braised Mexican Pumpkin with Seared White Onion

 I picked this recipe for two reasons. My husband, sons and I took some cooking classes based on one of Rick Bayless's cookbooks and enjoy his recipes, and I really like calabaza pumpkin. I could only find two of them this year and have been hoarding them for the right recipe. Although any fresh pumpkin could be used.

While the results are worth it, this recipe is a lot of work. Roasting the tomatillos and garlic to make the salsa. Then roasting the tomatoes, searing the onion, cooking the pork shoulder and then layering it all with pumpkin for the final dish.

We ate this dish as a main course. Without the pork shoulder, it could be a side, but for me it's too much work for a side for anything other than a special occasion. The salsa is wonderful; I wanted to drink it. But the use of a prepared tomatillos salsa would speed up the preparation.

Magic Pumpkin Buckle

This amazing recipe comes from a reader of Taste of Home. She writes that it is her family's favorite pumpkin dessert and I can understand why. There were seven people at the dinner I served it at and everyone liked it. It was good the next day cold and after that I wouldn't know because ours was gone. My son ate it for breakfast. A quick search of the internet revealed that it is called a buckle because the crust buckles during baking and it's usually made with blueberries.

This recipe has you layering melted butter, then the cake ingredients and then the pumpkin filling without stirring. During baking the batter rises to the top giving it a cobbler appearance. It truly does seem magical.

The only change I made was to pump up the spices by making them heaping measurements. It just seemed a little short. My sister planned on adding some pumpkin pie spice when she made it later in the week for a gathering.

My youngest son, who was visiting from Ireland, brought me the cute plate that has a bird under the buckle. He ate a lot of pumpkin during his visit, but this was his favorite.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pumpkin Scone Smackdown

Scones originated in Scotland and can be dated through literature to the 1500s. They were cooked on a griddle over an open flame, and it was not until the mid-19th century that scones were leavened with baking powder or soda.

Pumpkin scones were put on Australia’s culinary map by Florence Bjelke-Petersen, a Queensland senator during the late 80s and early 90s and wife of a former Queensland premier. During her time as a senator she became well known for her pumpkin scones, her reputation for them rivaling that of her political career. In Queensland they use an Australian blue pumpkin. This recipe creams the butter and sugar resulting in a cake-like texture. It also uses self-rising flour, which I converted for you - add 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt to each cup of regular flour. There are several version; I used this one.

Challenging this traditional scone is Starbucks's version of the pumpkin scone. Clearly an effort to appeal to American tastebuds, it has plenty of pumpkin pie-type spices and two layers of frosting. It cuts in the butter, which gives a totally different texture than creaming. This recipe is all over the internet, but I used this one.

Both recipes made about a dozen large scones. The Queensland ones could be eaten warm from the oven, but the Starbucks had to cool for the frosting. The Hub and I liked both of them fresh from the oven, but leaned toward the Starbucks. The next morning, the Hub decided the Queensland scones needed some honey-butter. After reheating them and adding the honey-butter, we changed our votes.

I took the rest of the scones to work where my new taste testing crew (west end of Discovery Creative including writers, production, prepress, Lab and occasional passerby) went to work. It was almost a tie, 8 to 7 in favor of Starbucks. Those who liked the Starbucks enjoyed the sweetness; those who liked the Queensland liked the fact that they weren't so sweet.

I later found out the results might be suspect. While lunching with two friends, one who participated and one who didn't, it came out that at least some of the crew hadn't understood that I had made both scones. They thought I had bought the Starbucks scones and was comparing them to my own homemade ones. So there may have been some dividing of the vote so as not to hurt my feelings. There are two things wrong with that thinking: I would not have sprung for a dozen scones at Starbucks at 3 something a pop, and this is serious taste testing, feelings cannot enter into it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

So, What Are We Cooking?

Just about everything, it seems, can be made from pumpkin. Besides the traditional pie, bread and muffins, I have recipes for pumpkin pancakes, fudge, enchiladas, tea, brittle, donuts, ice cream, gratin, pesto, salads, risotto, tarts, pizza, brownies, curry and dozens of different soup recipes. I have several cookbooks dedicated to just pumpkin recipes and the internet seems inexhaustible. Making one or two recipes a week wouldn't dent the surface.

What I thought I wouldn't be doing is sitting around reinventing the wheel. These recipes already exist and I do have a day job - we're just going to find out if they're any good. But pumpkin recipe ideas could be contagious. I was listening to my mother try and say something nice about some pumpkin biscuits. She said, "I guess you can't very well add sugar to them because then they would be shortcake." Like a proverbial light bulb going off in my head, I starting seeing pumpkin shortcake with caramelized pumpkin, apples and raisins for the fruit. The same thing happened when someone was commenting online that pumpkin popovers didn't really taste like pumpkin - I thought, popovers never taste like anything, but what if you turned them into cream puffs with pumpkin cream filling. See where this is going? It just goes on and on.

We're also going to have some guest bloggers. Several people have encouraged me to showcase their favorite pumpkin recipes, but I think they should be the ones to talk about them.

A note about the photos on this blog: All the photos in this blog are taken by me or The Hub. We are amateurs with a cheap camera. I know blogs are all about gorgeous pictures, but my day job has pounded into me the doctrine of PHOTO RIGHTS.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Why Pumpkin?

This is the question of the day. It just seemed like a good idea. It lends itself to both savory and sweet dishes, most people like it and it's available all year around. Ah, scratch that last reason - actually 80% of the fresh American pumpkin supply is available in October. But it cans and freezes well and I'm told you can store it for up to six months in a cool spot. There are dozens of varieties, some better for cooking than others. I hope over the next year to explore recipes using pumpkin - the flesh and the seeds - because it is so good for us. Not only is pumpkin loaded with vitamin A and alpha and beta-carotenes, it’s a good source of vitamins C, K, and E, and lots of minerals.

My assistant (the Hub) and I have been combing farmers markets, grocery stores and local pumpkin patches armed with photos from the internet for different varieties. There's a learning curve here, and we've picked up three termed "ornamental gourds" by mistake. The farmer's market people are the most knowledgeable and generous - one farmer gave me a 15 lb French red pumpkin he had accidentally dropped and cracked. Our own Burke Nursery Pumpkin Patch has a great store section, which sells many types of pumpkins. The displays are clearly marked with the variety's name, which was very helpful. (Unfortunately we stopped there after purchasing our ornamental gourds.)

But don't think we'll only be using fresh pumpkin in the recipes. Clearly we are a country of only two forms of pumpkin - squeezed into a can or carved out as a jack-o-lantern. I plan on taking advantage of the fact that Libby (and others) have conveniently pureed and canned it for me. In fact, I might have a taste test or two later on to see if anyone can even tell the difference between canned and fresh pumpkin puree in certain recipes. Soups and baked goods usually call for pureed, but many stews and vegetable side dishes call for cubed pumpkin.

This should be fun. I've got plenty of volunteer tasters and a garage full of pumpkins so let The Pumpkin Project begin.