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October Pumpkin Round-Up

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It’s a chilly October morning here in Syracuse. And I’ve got pumpkin on my mind.

Our first pumpkin has been sitting on our front steps since our little ninja party last weekend. It has the face of a ninja painted on it. Ninja pumpkin will be joined by other pumpkins in the next few weeks and our kitchen will take on the sweet and fragrant aroma of some of our favorite pumpkin recipes…of that I am certain.

Focus on Technique –  Pumpkin Puree

Preparing fresh pumpkin is a manageable process, which can be done in a number of ways. Small ‘pie’ pumpkins tend to produce the sweetest pumpkin flavor. Many people prefer to remove the skin, chop the pumpkin into chunks, boil the pieces until tender, then puree. My preferred strategy is to simply cut the pumpkin open, remove the seeds, roast the pumpkins until tender, then scoop out the smooth pumpkin and puree. It involves less tedious chopping than with the boiling method and produces a better end result, in my opinion. You can see my complete step-by-step photo guide HERE .

If you’re not up for preparing your own puree, canned pumpkin provides a convenient alternative. Most canned pumpkin puree is prepared without additional salt, sweeteners, or preservatives, but check the cans just in case.

Check out this round-up of previously posted pumpkin recipes and keep an eye out for a few new pumpkin recipes, coming up soon!

Fresh Pumpkin Coconut Pie

Autumn Harvest Buns

Pumpkin Chocolate Chunk Bread

Pumpkin Gingersnap Parfaits

How to Roast Pumpkin Seeds

Roasted Pumpkin Caramel Bisque

Fried Pumpkin Wontons

Pumpkin Vanilla Custard

Fettucine with Pumpkin Alfredo Sauce  

Fresh Green Bean Casserole

Back in the day, we wrote actual letters to Santa. We’d drop our carefully crafted wish lists into the post box and hope for the best. Nowadays, Santa has e-mail and a facebook page. He checks Amazon.com to learn of each little girl and boy’s greatest wishes and he uses his webcam to compose personalized video messages for tech savvy toddlers. And if that weren’t enough, Santa now deploys an army of tiny felt-dressed elves to maintain constant creepy surveillance in our homes. My, how times have changed! But ultimately, all kids are just hoping to end up on the nice list and to receive that special item from their wish list.

As a kid, I repeatedly wished for the Barbie Dream House; the one like my cousins had. Heck, I would have settled for the Barbie Camper, ’cause that was also pretty sweet. I never actually received either of those items. Ahem, Santa! Like many young boys, my husband’s childhood wish was for a Craftmatic adjustable bed. And though he’s certain he was on the nice list (at least some of those years) he never received that Craftmatic bed. I’m sure Santa had his reasons.

Like most parents, I have every desire to make my children’s Christmas wishes come true. Their delight is my delight. But, I can not bring myself to purchase one of the items on my four-year-old’s wish list. The item whose features (squeamish, beware) are described as:

  • Create your own delicious treats!
  • Eat bubbling brains and zombie skins
  • Inject spiders into the eyeballs
  • Watch the Zombie’s jaw rip open as it pukes out a brain barf beverage
Seriously. Go ahead and read that last part again. I couldn’t make that up if I tried. Boys are gross. How about some nice Legos instead?
But enough disgusting zombie talk. Let’s talk Christmas dinner. For many families, green bean casserole is standard fare for Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts. My family was not one of those families. But it became part of my tradition once I started spending the holidays with my husband’s family. The crispy onion straws had me at hello.
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My version of a classic green bean casserole tastes much like the canned cream of mushroom variety found on many holiday tables. Only my version is made from scratch with fresh, delicious ingredients. It’s hardly any more work and the result is noticeably fresher and more vibrant. The dish can be mostly prepared a day ahead of time, making it super easy to pop in the oven on Christmas day!
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Fresh Green Bean Casserole

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds green beans, lightly steamed and cut into halves or thirds
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 2 cups baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/4 -1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper
  • Homemade crispy onions straws*

* Click HERE to see the Pioneer Woman’s step-by-step guide to making crispy onion straws. Her procedure calls for a candy thermometer. And while a candy thermometer would be useful, it is not necessary. Just give the oil several minutes to get really good and hot. Then, test a very small batch of onions. The oil is hot enough when the coated onions bubble frantically and quickly become golden brown and crispy. The onions can be made a few days ahead of time and stored in an airtight container. They will loose some of their crispiness in the container, but will re-crisp nicely when baked on the casserole!

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place the steamed and chopped green beans in a large casserole dish. Set aside.

Heat butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped shallot and mushrooms. Cook for about 5-7 minutes until they are tender and golden. Sprinkle the flour on top of the mushrooms. Stir and cook for an additional minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the mixture begins to thicken. Reduce the heat. Add the parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.

Pour the mushroom sauce over the green beans, then give the dish a little shake to help the sauce settle over the beans. Top the mixture with the crispy onion straws and bake for about 20-25 minutes until bubbly hot.

**You can prepare the dish ahead of time up to pouring the sauce over the green beans. Then, cover and refrigerate until preparing to serve. When reheating, allow the beans and sauce to bake for about 10-15 minutes before topping with the crispy onion straws. Once you’ve added the onions, give it another 15-20 minutes to finish baking.

A Few Variations on Apple Pie

Recently I had an idea which seemed so genius I could hardly believe the internet wasn’t overwhelmed with recipes for it. My idea: a traditional apple pie with bits of warm, melty brie nestled between the sweet apples in a homemade buttery pie crust. Doesn’t the thought of it make your mouth water with anticipation??

I had to make it. And I did. Only the result was not what I had hoped for. Rather than melting in creamy layers between the apples, the brie seemed to boil in the apples’ juices, becoming firm and a bit rubbery. Far from inedible, but definitely not the decadent twist on apple pie I was hoping to share with you.

So, I put a few other possible apple pie variations out there to my facebook followers. Perhaps a Chocolate Apple Pie or Apple Peanut Butter? Or maybe Apple Cinnamon? Someone even suggested adding raisins to the apple cinnamon pie. In the end, I just couldn’t decide which to make. So, I made four (yes, four) miniature apple pies and then enthusiastically taste-tested every pie, again and again…for the sake of accuracy, of course.

The apple peanut butter pie was my favorite of the bunch, though the apple cinnamon-raisin, made with cinnamon chips and golden raisins, was a close second. Anything with chocolate is better in my book, so I  ate more than a few bites of the chocolate apple pie. And while I was looking forward to the butterscotch apple pie, the addition of butterscotch chips was less than successful. They seemed to separate during the baking, becoming too liquid and then coagulating when cooled…not appealing. (A bit of butterscotch ice cream topping drizzled over the apples before baking may produce a better result.)

The following pie recipe is for a classic (full-sized) apple pie. You can make it as is or add in any of the optional ‘extras’ for  an interesting twist. I’m still undecided, but I think I’m going to stick with the perfectly plain, classic apple pie, served with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, for my Thanksgiving dessert!

Ok, friends…I’m out of here until after Thanksgiving. Time to put all of my energy into preparing our feast. But I’ll be around if you’re in need of Thanksgiving meal recommendations or advice. Just shoot me a message as a comment on this blog or on The Gourmand Mom facebook page.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. I count you all amongst my many blessings to be thankful for!

Apple Pie

Ingredients

  • 2 portions pie crust dough (homemade or refrigerated store-bought)*
  • 3 pounds of apples, peeled, cored, and sliced**
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips (optional)
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter chips (optional)
  • 3/4 cup golden raisins (optional)
  • 3/4 cup cinnamon chips (optional)
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries (optional)
  • 3/4 cup dried cherries (optional)
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts

* I highly recommend a homemade all-butter crust. Click HERE to my my step-by-step photo guide.

**Use a combination of apples for an interesting flavor and texture. You’ll want to use mostly apples that hold there shape when baked, liked Granny Smith, Honey Crisp, Golden Delicious, or Northern Spy, but I also like to throw in a few apples that soften when baked, like Macintosh or Cortland. (I used about 1.5 pounds Granny Smith, 1 pound Honey Crisp, and 1/2 pound Macintosh in my pie.)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Press one of the pie crust doughs into your pie plate. Toss the sliced apples with the sugars, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and flour. If desired, toss in one (or more) of the optional extras. Pour the mixture into the unbaked pie crust. Cover the apples with the second pie crust dough and use a fork or your fingers to seal the edges. Cut off any extra pie dough. Use a knife to cut an ‘X’ in the center of the pie to allow the steam to vent during cooking. Bake for about 55 minutes. Allow to cool for a few hours before serving.

Cider-Braised Turkey and Garlicky Creamed Spinach

You may recall that my recommendation for roasting the perfect Thanksgiving turkey is to roast it in parts, rather than as a whole bird. By roasting the breast separate from the drumsticks and thighs, you can cook each part to juicy perfection, rather than allowing the the breast to dry out while waiting for the legs and thighs to come up to temperature.

If desired, you can roast a few drumsticks and thighs alongside the breast, at the same temperature and with the same seasonings. Cooked separate from the breast, the drumsticks and thighs will cook more quickly (in about the same time as the breast). Use an instant read meat thermometer to test for doneness, since cooking time will vary based on weight and your oven’s exact temperature. Aim for 160-165 degrees for the breast and 170-175 degrees for the thighs and drumsticks.

Or for a little something different, try braising the dark meat using this very simple, very flavorful preparation. The meat will become fall-off-the-bone tender and you’ll have a delicious, ready-made sauce to serve along with it! You can even braise the parts the day before and reheat on the stovetop at a gentle simmer when you’re ready to serve (though the skin will lose some crispiness with reheating).

Give it a try! I think you’ll like it!

And you can click back to HERE to see last year’s post on how to roast a turkey breast.

Bacon and Cider Braised Turkey

Ingredients

  • 8 slices bacon, chopped
  • 2 turkey thighs, skin-0n, bone-in
  • 2 turkey drumsticks, skin-on, bone-in
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 2-3 cups chicken broth
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pat the thighs and drumsticks dry with a paper towel. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the flour over the thighs and drumsticks. In a large dutch oven pan, cook bacon over medium/medium-high heat until crispy. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon, leaving the bacon drippings in the pan. Place the thighs and drumsticks in the pan in a single layer, skin side down. Cook for 4-5 minutes, until the skin is nicely browned. Then flip the pieces and cook for about three minutes on the other side. Pour the cider and chicken broth over the chicken. (The liquids should come about halfway up the sides of the turkey, leaving the browned skin exposed.) Return the bacon to the pan. Cover and place on the middle oven rack. Allow to cook for 90 minutes, undisturbed. Then, remove the cover and allow it to cook for 30 minutes more (to crisp up the skin and allow the sauce to reduce). Remove from the oven. Remove the turkey pieces and place on a platter. Pour the sauce into a measuring cup and allow it to cool for a few minutes. As it cools, the excess fat will rise to the surface. Use a spoon to remove the excess fat. Then, taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, as desired.

Serves 4

Garlicky Creamed Spinach

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 shallots, finely diced
  • 1 pound baby spinach leaves
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • Salt (about 1/4 teaspoon)
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Ground black pepper

Directions

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallots. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the spinach to the pan. (It will look like a tremendous quantity of spinach. Don’t worry…it will drastically shrink as it wilts.) Cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until all of the spinach has wilted. Add the heavy cream, parmesan cheese, salt, nutmeg and pepper. Bring to a simmer and allow it to cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, until the liquid reduces by at least half. Allow to cool slightly before serving, which will help the cream to thicken up a bit.

Serves 4

How to Make an All-Butter Pie Crust

Making a homemade pie crust is not difficult to do. It just takes a few simple ingredients, carefully blended together to create a flakey, buttery crust to be proud of. And it really does make a difference!

The key to making a great pie crust is keeping the ingredients cool throughout the process. You want the butter to remain in solid form, dispersed in small pieces throughout the dough, so that when the dough is baked, the little bits of butter will melt between the flour, creating delicious flakey layers. To this end, work quickly and handle the dough as little as possible (so the butter doesn’t melt by the warmth of your hands). Start with very cold ingredients and refrigerate the prepared dough before using to allow the butter to chill before handling the dough any further. A cold work surface, such as a marble slab, is handy, but not necessary.

Some people prefer to use a food processor to make homemade dough, but it’s very easy to do by hand. The only special equipment needed is a simple plastic or metal pastry/dough blender.

This step-by-step guide will produce enough dough for two pie crusts (or one double-crusted pie). But while you’re at it, make a couple extra and freeze them for the next time you need a quick crust!

You will need:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into small cubes*
  • 1/2 cup ice cold water
  • Mixing bowl
  • Fork
  • A pastry blender/cutter
  • Rolling pin
  • Pie Pans(2)
*I use salted butter and skip the addition of extra salt. If desired, you can use unsalted butter and add a pinch of salt.

Pour 2 cups flour into a bowl.

Add 1/4 cup sugar.

Use a fork to blend the flour and sugar.

Add 1 cup (2 sticks) very cold butter (cut into small pieces) to the flour mixture. (I place the butter into the freezer for just a few minutes after cutting it to ensure that it’s extra cold.)

Use a pastry blender to cut the butter into the flour mixture, until the butter appears like flour-coated pea-sized pieces.

Gradually add the ice-cold water and stir with the fork until a loose dough begins to come together. You may need a little less or a little more than 1/2 cup.

You’ll know you’ve added enough water once the clumps of dough stick together when pressed.

Use your hands to pull the dough together into a ball. Remember, handle the dough as little as possible during this step.

Split the dough into two balls.

Flatten each ball into a disc-shape.

Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour, or overnight.

Once cool, roll out the dough on a well-floured surface, into a roughly circular shape, large enough for your pie pan. Periodically shift the dough to ensure it is not sticking. Add more flour under the dough, if necessary.

Once the dough is sufficiently large for your pie pan, using the rolling pin to help you transfer the dough into the pan. Carefully press the dough into the pan.

Use a knife to cut off any extra dough, leaving about an inch of dough around the perimeter.

Fold the edge of the dough under and use your fingers to press the edge into a fluted design.

Refrigerate until using. Or wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for later use.

Check out those flakey layers!!

Pumpkin Vanilla Custard

I call myself a runner. In fact, I’m going to run a 5k race this upcoming Sunday. Pretty impressive, huh?? More accurately, I will partially run, partially walk, and partially crawl a 5k on Sunday.

I am, in fact, a terrible runner. I can’t breathe. My muscles ache. I’m slower than a crippled snail. It’s not in my genes to be a runner. And yet I run. Diehard runners would probably call what I do “casual jogging”. But when I’ve got my running sneaks on, I feel like a runner. And so that is what I consider myself.

I started running sometime after having my second son. I was looking for a quick calorie burn to get rid of some of the extra weight I was hanging onto, without giving up my favorite foods. But what started as a means for losing the baby weight quickly became a treasured part of my day. The solitude. A chance to be alone inside my head for a few minutes. It made me feel strong and capable. It gave me peace and helped me recover a bit of the sanity that small children seem determined to abolish. And in that way, it made me a better, calmer mom.

I’d hoped to continue running throughout my third pregnancy, but fatigue and the waning evening light had other plans. Now, after months of not running (and some extra lingering baby weight), it’s been an uphill battle (both literally and figuratively) to regain my running ability.

This Sunday will be my first race since having my baby. I’m not ready. Not even a little bit. But I’m going to tie on some bells and run the jingle out of that Jingle Bell race.

I can run for 10 minutes (most of a mile) before I feel like I’m going to die. During the 5 minutes which follow, I start talking a variety of nonsense to myself. You’re a superstar. You’re strong. You can do anything! By the time I get to 15 minutes, I’m desperate and fully out of my mind. I’m screaming the lyrics to Pink’s Perfect in my pitchy off-key voice. They don’t like my jeans! They don’t get my hair! Which makes no sense since I almost exclusively wear sweatpants and keep my hair in an incredibly non-controversial pony tail. I’m quite a sight. Panting, crazy eyes, accusatory lyric shouting. Not exactly sure how I’m going to complete this race on Sunday… Ay! What was I thinking??

Run, Amy! Run!

The run will be good for me though, no matter how long it takes me, because I’ve been enjoying more pumpkin treats and apple pie (post coming soon) than any person should. Including this delectable pumpkin vanilla custard. It’s like a pumpkin pie without the crust. And it’s really good. Good enough to add a few more calorie-burning minutes to that run!

Pumpkin Vanilla Custard

Ingredients

  • 2 cups milk*
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Pinch of ginger
  • 4 egg yolks
*Skim milk would work fine if you’d like to reduce the fat and calories.

Directions

Combine the milk, pumpkin puree, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, and ginger in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, whisking continuously so that the sugar and cornstarch dissolve. Once the mixture begins to bubble and thicken, reduce the heat. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks. Gradually whisk about 1/2 of the hot mixture into the egg yolks, starting with a slow drizzle. (Gradually incorporating the hot milk into the egg yolks tempers the eggs, allowing them to slowly rise in temperature without scrambling.) Gradually whisk the egg mixture into the remaining hot milk mixture in the pot. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, whisking constantly for about 3 minutes, until thickened and smooth. Pour the custard into individual serving dishes and refrigerate until set. Garnish with whipped cream and crushed vanilla wafers.

We all enjoy an occasional pat on the back for a job well done! And as a stay-at-home mom there are no pleased supervisors or satisfied co-workers passing out the pats..only little people who need more apple juice. Urgently. So, it was such a delight to be informed that The Gourmand Mom has been awarded the Editors’ Pick Best Food Blog award by the editors of Parents Magazine. What a fabulous recognition! Thank you, Parents Magazine!

You can check out the complete list of blog award winners here.

Fried Pumpkin Wontons

A few weeks ago, I found myself at the McDonald’s drive-thru. Fast food is a rarity for me (well, except for our regular Friday night Five Guys burgers and fries). But McDonald’s was running their annual Monopoly game and I got it in my head that I was going to win. I could practically smell the cash. I was feeling lucky.

I was wrong.

But on the occasion, when I stopped at my McDonald’s dreaming of Park Place and Boardwalk, I ordered one of those little apple pies. Heck, I was already throwing dietary caution to the wind. Why not add dessert too?

Imagine my surprise when I bit into a pumpkin pie, which had been packaged in an apple pie box. Ewww. I like pumpkin pie, but the taste and texture just didn’t compute with the bite of apple pie my mouth was anticipating. The second bite was better than the first, though it was nearly impossible to get past the bitter taste of disappointment over the boring St. Charles Place game piece I’d earned.

These little fried pumpkin wontons are sort of like those McDonald’s pumpkin pies, only smaller and much tastier. A guaranteed Park Place win! Perfectly crispy wonton ‘crusts’ hold a burst of smooth, spiced pumpkin in the center. If you’re interested in putting a different twist on the standard Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, these little goodies are the answer.

Make them for Thanksgiving or any time you need to satisfy your pumpkin craving. They’re best hot out of the pan, but if you’d rather get the frying out of the way earlier, I suspect they’d warm up nicely with a few minutes in a 300 degrees oven. (They were gone before I had a chance to test that theory.) These little packets of heaven will have everyone feeling thankful on Thanksgiving!

Fried Pumpkin Wontons

Ingredients

For the Wontons:

  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Pinch of salt
  • 40 wonton wrappers*
  • Vegetable Oil (for frying)

For the Spiced Sugar:

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of nutmeg
*My grocery store carries the wonton wrappers in the frozen foods section. Some grocery stores may store them near the refrigerated produce.

Directions

Combine the pumpkin, sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger until well blended. Place about a teaspoon of filling in the center of each wonton wrapper. Fold the wrapper around the filling, using a wet finger to seal the edges. (Check out my wonton folding tips in this Apple Cinnamon Rangoon recipe.)Place each folded wonton on a piece of wax paper as you work.

Once all wontons have been prepared, heat about 1/4″-1/2″ of vegetable (or other neutral tasting oil) in a skillet over medium/medium high heat. Test the heat by placing one wonton in the pan. It should immediately sizzle and cook very quickly (less than 30 seconds per side). Flip when the bottom is golden brown. Cook for a few seconds on the other side. If they are cooking too slowly, raise the heat. If they’re cooking faster than you can manage to flip them, turn down the heat. Use a spatula to remove the wontons from the oil and place them on a paper towel to drain. Immediately sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture. Serve warm.

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