Saturday, November 28, 2009

Pumpkin bars and Thanksgiving

R. and I hosted our first Thanksgiving together and had 9 friends over for the big meal. One of the sides was mashed sweet potatoes with lavender--it's a recipe that R. has made a few times but I'm not sure where he got it. Everything was delicious. This Winter Fruit and Nut stuffing has no pumpkin or squash in it, but it is now my favorite stuffing recipe. (Sorry, dad! He makes a great stuffing with clam juice in it, but I think this new recipe will be my T-Day contribution for years to come). The only thing I did differently was just use 8 tablespoons of butter instead of the 12(!). Still plenty moist. We cooked the stuffing separate from the turkey, which I guess makes it dressing, to accommodate the vegetarian guest.

For dessert, we had an apple strudel brought my a friend and pumpkin bars made by me. Sadly, I don't have a single photograph of the cooking, the meal, any of the people, or any of the food. The pumpkin bar recipe is the one I grew up with; I'm pretty sure my mom got the recipe when we lived in Missouri.

Pumpkin Bars (with cream cheese frosting)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

4 eggs
1 2/3 C sugar
1 C oil
15 oz can pumpkin

Sift together:
2 C sifted flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

Combine pumpkin mixture and dry mixture. Spread in greased 16 x 11 in jelly roll pan. Bake 25 – 30 min at 350 degrees. Frost when cool and cut into bars 1 in x 2 in.

3 oz cream cheese
½ C butter
1 tsp vanilla
2 C sifted powdered sugar

Cream Butter and cream cheese. Add sugar and vanilla. Mix well.

My mom has made adjustments to the recipe, such as using 2 whole eggs and 2 egg whites, but I just used the original one. The only difference is I did *not* use canned pumpkin -- I used some of the frozen pureed pumpkin. I had a 2 cup bag, which is a little more than 15 ounces, but I also let the pumpkin drain which reduced the quantity a little.

I had meant to decrease the amount of oil because the fresh pumpkin, even after draining, has more liquid than the canned, but I forgot. The bars turned out perfectly! As did the frosting. I had some issues putting the frosting on the bars -- the spatula tried to pull up the top layer of the bars and make the frosting look crumby. But I didn't hear any complaints. The bars actually lasted until Saturday, but that may because there were only 3 of us here--half of them disappeared by the end of Thursday.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Variations on Butternut Squash Soup

In the past month, I've received or found three butternut squash soup recipes and have taken the chance to make all of them. They're pretty similar and are each quite tasty. Sadly, though, 1) I have no pictures of any of them being made or eaten; and 2) I can't cite the source for two of the recipes, but I will do my best to track that down and post an update with links. [Update: links are now available for all three recipes]

Soup 1: Squash, Cider, and Apple Soup
This recipe was sent to me by my mom who saw it in the newspaper. That either means my parents' local, small-town paper or the Sunday NY Times.

[Update]: this recipe appears to have come from American Profile and must have been reprinted in a newspaper.

2 T unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
3 C peeled and diced butternut squash
5 C fresh apple cider (not apple juice)
2 large apples (any kind), peeled, cored, and chopped
2 T light brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3 C low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1/8 tsp ground cloves

1. Melt butter in a stockpot or large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in onion, cover and cook 10 min.
2. Add squash, apples, broth, salt and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, covered, until squash and apples are soft, about 20 min. Remove from heat.
3. While soup simmers, pour cider into a medium skillet. Bring to a boil and cook until reduced to 4 or 5 T. Remove from heat.
4. Remove bay leaf from soup. Spoon solids into a food processor. Process until smooth. Stir back into broth. Add reduced cider. Reheat soup, stirring in brown sugar and spices.
Serves 6

I made this one Sunday night. I had the soup cooking on the stove when it was time to pick R. up from work, so I turned it off and then finished cooking it and boiled the cider when we got home. I didn't notice any problems with this. A soup you puree is pretty forgiving.

There is a fair amount of prep work with the peeling and chopping, but the cooking process is easy. I would love an immersion blender for recipes like this (and the ones to follow). Instead, I scooped everything into the regular blender, which holds more than our food processor, and then transferred the pureed contents back into the pot.

Results: Delicious with a nice cider tang. My mom thought it was a little too sweet when she made it. My squash was so big that I ended up with close to 4 cups instead of 3, so that might make a difference. I would suggest trying to use less cider. But make the regular recipe first.

Soup 2: Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash Soup
I have no idea where I found this. I'm pretty good about saving links to online recipes in my delicious account, but this one doesn't show up. I'll have to do some computer/web sleuthing.

[Update]: This one came from the New York Times and was by Martha Rose Schulman.

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 pound butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium-size Yukon gold or russet potato, peeled and diced
6 cups chicken stock, or vegetable stock
Salt to taste

1. Heat the oil in a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger and stir together until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the squash, sweet potatoes, regular potato, and water or stock, and bring to a simmer. Add salt to taste, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 45 minutes, or until all of the ingredients are thoroughly tender.
2. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup (or you can put it through the fine blade of a food mill or use a regular blender, working in batches and placing a kitchen towel over the top to avoid splashing). Return to the pot and stir with a whisk to even out the
texture. Heat through, adjust salt and add pepper to taste.

Yield: Serves 6

Advance preparation: You can make this a day ahead and refrigerate. Reheat gently. The soup freezes well. Once thawed, whisk well to smooth out the texture, and reheat. Note: I add 3-4 cloves of garlic to the onions after 4 minutes.

Results: Very similar to the first soup minus the apple and cider. I had an apple going soft so tossed that in (after I cored, peeled, and chopped it), but you couldn't taste that addition at all. I also added some garlic. And I used the blender.

Soup 3: Gingered Butternut Squash Soup
This soup recipe is from Carolyn Cope (Umami Girl) in a post at Serious Eats.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, large dice
2 large stalks celery, large dice
2 large carrots, large dice
2 large boiling potatoes, peeled, large dice
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and seeded, large dice
2 medium apples, peeled and cored, large dice
1 two-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated with a rasp over a bowl to catch any juice
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
A few slices red chili
6 cups veggie stock, chicken stock or water*
Salt and pepper to taste
Lime wedges for serving
*If using water or unsalted stock, add one teaspoon of salt

1. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and carrots along with a good pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to soften. Add the potatoes, squash, apples, ginger, garlic and chili and cook, stirring occasionally, for five minutes more.

2. Add the stock or water along with a few good grinds of black pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all the vegetables are very tender, 20 minutes or more depending on the size of your dice.

3. Remove from the heat and carefully purée with an immersion blender, or in batches in a regular blender, until very smooth. If you want a completely smooth soup, pass it through a fine-mesh strainer. Serve hot, garnished with lime wedges.
Serves 4-6.

Results: My soup ended up looking browner than the beautiful picture in the link because I was lazy and did not peel the potatoes (or the apples). Other differences - I did not have any celery. The carrots were from a canning project earlier, not fresh. Instead of 2 large potatoes, I used 4 smaller ones. We did not have fresh ginger, so I used ginger from a jar. I also threw the entire red chili pepper in there. I chopped the onion up in the food processor and then for some reason did the same with the (unpeeled) potatoes. Since everything is pureed, I don't think it really mattered, but it didn't look too great.

Yum. Even with all those differences, the soup was still quite tasty. And the lime wedges at the end are brilliant. It also went well with the vodka-with-spiced apple mixer (cut with club soda) we're finishing up from a party.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Great pumpkin the second (smaller and faster)

Okay, I had no photos of the 18-pound pumpkin before it was cut. And I had no photos that showed its size compared to something else. And now I can't find the photo of the second pie pumpkin we received. This one was 9 pounds, so half the size of the first one.

Still pretty substantial but a little easier to handle. What else is 9 pounds, I thought? Oh yeah, me when I was born. The Great Pumpkin Blog (and Squash) Recipe Blogger came into this world weighing 9 pounds exactly.

9-pound baby

This baby photo was taken 1 or 2 days later. Picture a big baby. Then picture it orange. Now you have a 9-pound pumpkin. Now picture 2 of those, and you have the 18-pound pumpkin. When I made the connection between me as a newborn and the 9-pound pumpkin I was carrying around the apartment, I sent a quick apology out to my mother.

1/2 of an 18 pound pumpkin
(= 9 pounds)

The 9-pound pumpkin was faster to take care of. I don't remember how many cups of puree I ended up with, but this time the puree went in hard plastic containers instead of plastic bags and then put in the freezer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pumpkin Birthday Cake Disaster

R. is an excellent cook. He plans main dishes and side dishes, is adventurous, likes to cook with fresh produce, and rarely has a bad day in the kitchen. For my birthday dinner party, we had Cornish game hen with stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes (with lavender), a salad with goat cheese and dried cranberries, and a pumpkin soup (I made that one). He is not, however, a baker and is quick to admit this himself. In fact, he claims the cake he made for my birthday this fall was the first time he had ever baked. I believe him. (Someone else made a cake for the dinner party; the pumpkin cake was just for the two of us.)

It all started with this: the Williams-Sonoma pumpkin harvest loaf pan I picked up last year on sale right after Christmas. When I moved in with R., he thought I should not bring the pan with me. Since I hadn't used it yet, I wanted to keep it at least through the fall and see if I baked anything with it.

In October, when when R. saw a recipe in Southern Living for a pumpkin cake, he thought of all the pumpkin we had and my harvest loaf pan (I'm still not sure why he was reading Southern Living). I think it was this cake. The picture on the cover showed the cake baked in a pumpkin-shaped pan.I am a big fan of pumpkin bars (to be posted about in the future), which also have a cream cheese frosting, and thought a pumpkin cake sounded good.

My birthday cake was made a couple days after my birthday (that's ok!) R. had copied the SL recipe but could only find 1 of the 2 pages so ended up using an alternate recipe online for a Pumpkin Rum cake -- it was probably this, the Pumpkin Raisin Rum Bundt Cake. Except we didn't have rum, just whiskey. Close enough? This was not the only substitution made. We didn't have enough raisins, so craisins were used to supplement the dried fruit portion of the cake. The recipe called for canned pumpkin. We had fresh -- it should taste better (and it does) but it tends to be more liquidy, so I said when I used fresh, I just ended up putting in less of one of the liquid ingredients. For example, when I made pumpkin bread last year, I ended up not adding the oil, and the bread still came out great.

The recipe said to bake in a bundt pan; we had a smaller harvest loaf pan with some bundt-like qualities.I thought I suggested leaving some room in the pan, but R. didn't hear me and filled the harvest pan to the top with batter. Some of it was put in a 2nd pan, but 3 pans probably would have been better. Fortunately, he did heed my suggestion to put a cookie sheet under the cake pans in the oven in case of spillage.

And there was spillage. The pumpkin cake practically exploded. First it spilled; then it got poofy and looked like it had potential. Then it deflated and became a Cake Fail. But the project was not abandoned! R. made the rum (whiskey) glaze and dribbled it over the cake pieces. There were some pumpkin shaped pieces, then some big cubes, and then a light layer of cake that had baked onto the cookie sheet.

Despite its appearance, it was actually a very tasty cake and perfect for fall. It would be a good recipe to try again with some changes at home to the actual baking process.

The Williams-Sonoma harvest loaf pan

Most of the ingredients

Draining more liquid from the pumpkin

Pumpkin cake batter. So far, so good.

Batter in the loaf -- looking a little full!

Uh-oh, batter eruption

Cake deflation!

Don't forget to let it cool.

Presentation counts for a lot.

Birthday slice

Lessons: baking and cooking do not require the same skills. Substitutions don't always work. Don't fill cake pans to the top. Don't worry too much about how it looks if it still tastes good.

Great Pumpkin the first

This truly was a great pumpkin. I felt like we should take it to the fair except we hadn't grown it ourselves. My relationship with pumpkin has been carving one at Halloween and cooking with canned pumpkin. It's only when I started receiving pumpkins through my farm share that I started cooking with them. Last year I ended up with a freezer full of pureed pumpkin and butternut squash that I couldn't get through. This year looks to be the same.

It all started in mid October when we got an 18 pound pie pumpkin. How are we supposed to eat that? We only know the weight because I stood on the bathroom scale with the pumpkin and without and subtracted the difference. Fortunately, we had recently bought a handsaw for a home improvement project. I used the handsaw and a large knife to cut through and break the pumpkin open on Saturday. Sunday became Pumpkin Day. I didn't think to take a picture until after it had been cut, so look at one half and multiply it by 2 for the full size.

First I roasted the two halves in the oven following the directions in the Joy of Cooking. I think it said to cook for an hour. I let it go longer because of the size. The oven can be set on a timer that turns the stove off at the end so I left it to roast while I went to the gym. When I got home, I showered, had a snack (needed the energy for what lay ahead), and then got to it.

Working with one half at a time, I scraped out the pumpkin and discarded any extra seeds -- I had pulled a lot of them out before cooking. I know you can cook the seeds but I can only handle so much at a time. Then I put that food processor to use and pureed the pumpkin. I put the puree in a colander to drain out some of the excess liquid. An hour or so later, I ended up with 15 cups of pumpkin. If I had wanted to spend even a little more time on it, I could have gotten an even gallon.

I scooped the pumpkin into plastic bags, 2 cups to a bag, and then a few 1 cup bags. In retrospect, I should have used containers, but the bags take less space up. Then I put the small bags into two gallon-size freezer bags and put those in the freezer. I marked each small bag with a 1 or 2 to indicate how much was in there.

Since then, I think we've used maybe 4 cups of pumpkin. The insides of the great pumpkin puree project give the freezer a nice orange glow when you look inside.

Welcome to the Great Pumpkin (and Squash) Recipe Blog.

I live in a slightly southern city with my person R. We both had CSA (community supported agriculture - check it out!) this year that we split with other people. Which meant, by the end of the week, we ended up with a full share (his half and my half). We can find recipes for most of what we receive and have only lost a few items. When October rolled along, we started getting the squash and the pumpkins. When he received an 18-pound pie pumpkin one week, I knew this had to be documented.

This blog will show our attempts at cooking through all this food and will post links to recipes we've found. We have a 13-week winter CSA share coming up and it's all for both of us - winter greens, winter squash, and more.