I love the fall for so many reasons. The cool crisp weather, the beautiful foliage, and the harvest of great food. I have two favorites, apples and winter squashes. My favorite squash is definitely pumpkin and pumpkin puree is great to bake with in lots of different recipes. This adorable pie graphic is from NatalieDee.com
You can buy canned pumpkin puree or make it yourself. I like to stock up when it's on sale, usually around Thanksgiving in preparation for all the pie baking.
If you want to make your own pumpkin puree, you'll need a sugar or pie pumpkin. They are generally smaller, sweeter, and less grainy than the kind you carve into jack-o-lanterns. It's a bit time consuming and messy, but you'll yield a larger amount of pumpkin than you'd get in a standard 15 oz can, and it has a fresh bright color and taste.
Look for a pumpkin at the farmer's market or grocery store. There are several cooking methods - bake, steam, or microwave. To get started, rinse the pumpkin in fresh water and dry it off. Then remove the stem and cut in half and scoop out the seeds and gunk. Then cut it into a few large pieces.
To microwave it, just put it in a safe pan with a little bit of water, cover and cook until it's soft.
Put a few inches of water in the bottom of your pan, add the steamer basket and put in the pumpkin pieces. A large pumpkin might need to be cooked in more than one pan. Bring the water to a simmer over medium heat and cook covered until pumpkin is soft.
Place the cut up pieces in a large pan with a little bit of water, and cover the pan with a lid or aluminum foil, bake at 325 until it's soft. A few years ago, I found instructions on how to bake a whole pumpkin from Martha Stewart Living Magazine. Basically, you just poke a few holes in it, and put the whole thing in the oven in a shallow pan, then bake it until it's soft. Once it's soft and the skin has shriveled, you take it out of the oven and let it cool. Cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and guts, cut it up,then peel the skin off (which practically falls right off).
Use your food processor to puree it in batches until it's smooth. This is probably too big of a job for blender. A hand blender would also work well. You could also mash it by hand, but you won't get the same smooth consistency as with a food processor. If the puree ends up very watery you can drain it out. The easiest method is to line the bottom of a large colander with a few overlapping coffee filters and plop the pumpkin puree on top. Put a large bowl underneath to catch the excess water.
What to do with all that yummy pumpkin puree? Not a problem! Here are a few of my favorite recipes (any extra puree can be frozen in zip top bags, plastic wear or my preference glass Pyrex containers).
I made some super yummy pumpkin strudel topped muffins a few days ago using the recipe below. You can also make it into two small loaves. Strudel topping elevates even the most boring muffin, and here it's super yummy.
Pumpkin Bread or Muffins with Strudel Topping
yields 18 muffins or two loaves
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups pumpkin puree (canned or fresh)
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
3/4 cup flour
3 tbls butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 tsp cinnamon
1. Beat butter in large bowl until smooth and creamy. Add sugar and brown sugar, beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla, then blend in pumpkin puree
2. In a separate bowl, mix together dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients with wet ingredients, blending slowly. Scrap sides of bowl and mix again. Spoon batter into greased muffins tins or loaf pans (or use muffin paper liners).
3. In the same bowl you used for the dry ingredients, combine strudel topping ingredients. Using a pastry blender tool or the back of a fork, cut up the butter into the dry ingredients until crumbly. Sprinkle mixture evenly over the top of each muffin or loaves.
4. For loaf pans bake 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. For muffins bake 20-25 minutes. Cool on cooling rack 10 minutes then remove from pan.
Extras can be frozen.
My friend Heather can't eat gluten so recently I made this yummy cheesecake to bring to one of our girls nights out get togethers. I modified the crust of this recipe from Libby's Pumpkin.
I used Mi-Del's Gluten Free Gingersnaps. I think the gingersnaps give it a little something special, as opposed to a standard graham cracker crust, which can also be used. Cheesecakes are super easy to make and they are always a show stopper and delicious!
Gluten Free Pumpkin Cheesecake
1 1/2 cups Mi-Del Gingersnap cookies (grind up first in the food processor)
1/3 cup melted butter
Preheat oven to 350. Blend crust ingredients in a small bowl, then press onto the bottom and up the sides of a springform pan. Bake 6-10 minutes until set and just slightly golden brown. Set aside to cool.
3 8-oz packages of Neufchatel (reduced fat cream cheese) at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1 3/4 cups pumpkin puree
2/3 cup evaporated milk
2 tlbs cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Beat cream cheese in mixer until very smooth, add sugars and blend. Add eggs, beating well, and scraping sides after each. Add remaining ingredients and blend well.
Pour batter into crust, smoothing the top. Bake for 55-60 minutes until it's set and the middle is ever so slightly jiggly. While cake bakes, prepare the topping.
2 cups low fat sour cream at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Combine ingredients in a small bowl. Spread evenly over the top of the cake as it comes out of the oven. Then bake (still at 350) for another 5 minutes. When done, shut off oven, leave oven door open and let cake cool very slowly. After 30 minutes, remove from oven and cool on wire rack, then cover tightly and chill overnight.
Then there's always the classic Pumpkin Pie, which is a staple at most Thanksgiving dessert tables. I use the recipe from Libby's, because it always comes out great.