Pumpkin Butter

Whoa. Did you have any idea that pumpkin butter is super easy to make? I didn’t. Having made apple butter before, which is practically tantamount to bottling your own wine, I always assumed that other “butters” of the fruit/vegetable variety would be the same way. When you make apple butter, you have to first cook down the apples into sauce, then put the sauce in a crock pot or on the stovetop for like 10-12 hours, stirring as you go. It’s like potty training–you can’t leave your house for an entire day for fear of a goopy mess. (Not saying it’s not worth it; it’s just really time-consuming.)

Pumpkin butter, on the other hand, takes you from canned pumpkin to autumn-flavored bliss in 30 minutes. Who knew? Basically, you just dump some simple ingredients in a saucepan and simmer as they combine to reach that velvety consistency that’s smooth as, well, butter. Try this and you’ll never go back to the expensive-by-comparison store-bought version!

And since this recipe is so quick and easy, I’ve been daydreaming about the many uses for this creamy, pumpkiny treat. Here are some that come to mind:

  • in oatmeal
  • on toast/muffins/scones
  • on top of cornbread for a lovely fall-inspired twist (alongside pumpkin chili, perhaps?)
  • in yogurt
  • in place of jam in thumbprint cookies
  • as a cake filling
  • with cream cheese, powdered sugar, and butter for a sinful Pumpkin Butter Frosting
  • as a unique homemade Christmas gift

Tell me your favorite use for pumpkin butter!

Pumpkin Butter
(Adapted from Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

1 15-oz can pumpkin puree
1/4 c. plus 2 Tbsp. apple juice
3/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

Directions:

Combine pumpkin, apple juice, sugar, and spices in a large saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, for 30 minutes or until thickened and creamy.

Transfer to sterile container and chill in the refrigerator.

Makes 1 pint jar.

Nut-Free Spinach Basil Pesto

Recipes like this one are the reason I’m so happy I got a food processor for Christmas last year. What a handy-dandy little workhorse it is, mixing and grating and chopping and generally doing all the work while I push one little button. I’ve always had a blender, of course, but blenders are suited for more liquid-y foods and drinks, and my poor little blender would get pretty worked up when I used to try to make thicker, food-ier foods in it. (Extra-loud whirring, discomfiting burning smell, tears, bargaining, pleas for me to stop, etc., etc.) So when I got my food processor, I felt like a woman on the frontier who’d been doing laundry with a galvanized tin and one of those ribbed washboards you see on the walls at Cracker Barrel–and was suddenly given a Whirlpool washing machine!

I’ve particularly come to enjoy making pesto in my food processor. This week I wanted to use some to fancy up a chicken dish, so I went looking for a spinach and basil version (also had some spinach to use up, thanks to the giant Trader Joe’s bag I can never seem to get all the way through). While the traditional definition of pesto is a sauce made with basil, pine nuts, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese, the word pesto comes from the Italian pestare, which means “to pound”–hence our English word “pestle,” the instrument that executes the pounding. So really, if you want, you can think of a pesto as any sauce that was made via pounding, regardless of the ingredients. (That’s why this spinach-heavy version counts. My food processor pounded it into submission.) Still, I’m here to tell you, if you’re looking for a basil pesto recipe, you’re going to have to do some looking to find a recipe that doesn’t call for an ingredient that is typically expensive and rarely used in American home kitchens: pine nuts.

I have never bought pine nuts. Ever. And frankly, I really don’t want to. They’re like $7 a pound, which I don’t want to spend, and it would probably take me until my kids are in college to go through a whole bag. Thankfully, they are not actually necessary to make pesto, as evidenced by this lovely spinach-basil pesto recipe. It’s extremely simple, with just a handful of ingredients, and as mentioned before, in a food processor it comes together with just the touch of a button.

Ta-da!

So ready your food processing engines, racers! Here comes a savory treat that’s an ideal complement for so many foods: on top of chicken or fish, in pasta or vegetables, or as an alternative sandwich spread. You just might find it addictive.

Spinach Basil Pesto
(Slightly adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod)

Ingredients:

4 c. spinach
2 c. fresh basil
2 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/3 c. + 1 Tbsp. olive oil

Directions:

Place all ingredients except olive oil in a food processor or a sturdy blender. Turn on the machine and blend for 30 seconds. Slowly stream in the olive oil while the machine is running. Process until smooth.

Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Yields 1 cup.

Pumpkin Sherbet

I realize there have been a lot of dessert posts on here lately, but indulge me (or indulge yourself) with one more. Today is October 1st, a day I have been impatiently awaiting for quite awhile now. It’s not that anything in particular is actually going to happen today–it’s just that now that it’s October, I officially feel like it’s fall. (September temps in Phoenix are mostly still in the 100’s, so now that it’s under 100, I can pretend I live in a place where fall-ish things will start happening, like color-changing trees and sweaters and a chill in the air. It’s a farce, but it’s an enjoyable farce.) Anyway, if it’s finally Fall™ I’m going to feel free to go out of my gourd…..that’s right,

PUMPKIN CRAAAAAZZYYY!

Let’s take this opportunity for the following confession: in the last 24 hours alone, I made three pumpkin recipes: this pumpkin sorbet–an ideal choice for those of us still experiencing 90 degree weather–pumpkin muffins, and pumpkin snickerdoodles. (Hopefully I don’t get any calls from my kids’ schools from an alarmed nurse informing me my children have turned orange.) The slightly embarrassing thing about this is that I have been complaining to anyone who will listen lately about the Pumpkin Spice Juggernaut. You know what I’m talking about. If you live on planet Earth, you will have seen how Starbucks has been tooting its own pumpkin spice horn for like a month already…and then M & Ms got on board with its own version…and Hershey Kisses…and See’s is making pumpkin spice lollipops. I’m telling you, it’s

PUMPKIN PANDEMONIUM!

But you know what? Why fight it? It’s inevitable. Pumpkin is here to stay. And I’ll proudly state that several of my family members hail from the Pumpkin Capitol of the U.S., Morton, Illinois. This pumpkin sherbet is a great way to spice up your pumpkin repertoire. (Get it?) It’s a creamy, very pumpkin-y, lightened up alternative to pumpkin ice cream.

Let’s do this. It’s ON, pumpkin. IT’S. ON.

Pumpkin Sherbet
(Adapted from Skinnytaste)

Ingredients:

2 1/4 c. 2% milk
1/2 c. plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
1 c. canned pumpkin or pumpkin puree
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
pinch cloves
pinch salt

Directions:

In a saucepan, combine milk, sugar, pumpkin, and heat over medium heat. Bring to a full boil while whisking, then reduce heat to low, and simmer for thirty seconds.

Remove from the heat, and add the vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and clove, and stir.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl, and chill in the refrigerator until cold, anywhere from 3 hours to overnight. When chilled, freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Makes 2 3/4 cups.

Garlic Herb Potato Wedges

If there’s one thing every kid will eat, it’s French fries, right? Or maybe mac and cheese…or pizza…or chocolate cake. (Hmm, this is starting to sound like a list of my favorite foods.) As for French fries, despite their francophile name, they are an all-American staple, especially for little ones. And while I don’t mind the frozen variety, they’ve got nothing on these crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside garlic herb potato wedges. I’ve made them time and again as a pitch-perfect accompaniment to other American classics like meatloaf, barbecue pork, fried chicken, and more. The combination of herbs plus the subtle coating of olive oil make these a craveable side dish for grown-ups and kids alike. Plus, they look way fancier than the Ore-Ida crinkle cut variety that look a little too much like worms for my taste:


Right?

Save the worm fries for Halloween. Make these potato wedges anytime.

Garlic Herb Potato Wedges
(Adapted from About.com)

Ingredients:

4 medium Russet potatoes, scrubbed and rinsed
3-4 Tbsp. olive oil, depending on size of potatoes
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary, crushed fine
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine garlic powder, rosemary, oregano, thyme, paprika, pepper, and salt. Set aside.

Cut each potato in half lengthwise. Cut each half lengthwise into 4 equally sized wedges. Place wedges in a large bowl and toss with olive oil to coat. Sprinkle herb mixture over potatoes and toss again until evenly coated.

Line a sheet pan with foil. Place the potato wedges, skin side down, on the foil, spaced evenly. Bake for 35 minutes or until well browned and crusty edged, turning every 10 minutes.

Serves 8.

I’m Mr. Potato Head and I approve of this recipe.

Summer Vegetable Soup with Shrimp and Lemon

Last year, I read probably the most inspiring food book I’ve ever encountered: Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Ever since the 5th grade, when I wrote a report on Barbara Kingsolver, I have been intrigued by this author I considered more or less local (she was a long-time resident of Tucson; I live roughly 90 minutes north in Mesa). Most people know her for her best-selling novels, but Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a memoir of Kingsolver’s family’s journey across the country, leaving Tucson (waaahhh!) for rural Virginia, where they attempted to make a go of running a self-sustaining farm. If you have any interest in the idea of eating seasonally/locally, or wonder why some people find it worthwhile, please read this book. It, more than anything else, motivated me to make the effort to support local agriculture and eat what the seasons provide.

That being said, unfortunately, in the Phoenix area, eating seasonally can be a bit of a joke. In her memoir, Kingsolver calls February “Hungry Month” since it’s the time when (in her part of the country) plants lie dormant and nothing grows. In Phoenix–or at least in our backyard garden–Hungry Months include May through September. Then again, Kingsolver also mentions that eating locally in the desert Southwest is defined (by the powers that define these things) as within a 250-mile radius. So I guess we’re off the hook for not having to harvest dead grass for our salads during these summer months.

My point here is that, even though it’s difficult, I try–and want to keep trying harder. I get to the farmer’s market when I can, and I certainly don’t buy $6 asparagus in August or $5 strawberries in January. When I saw this soup recipe, it got me excited to bust over to my nearest Sprouts and bag up armloads of vegetables that happen to be on sale right now because they actually belong to this season. (Maybe not in central Mesa, but somewhere not too far away.) The result was fabulous. This soup, while very simple, had an unusual flavor that took me by surprise. The savory-tart combination of broth with lemon juice was the perfect background for the freshness of summer vegetables corn, tomatoes, and zucchini. Not to mention that with the veggies chopped ahead of time, it was done in 30 minutes! If you’re a year-round soup lover like me, this will make you realize that “summer soup” doesn’t have to be a contradiction in terms.

Summer Vegetable Soup with Shrimp and Lemon
(Adapted from Fine Cooking Fresh)

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 qt. chicken broth
1 c. diced tomato
2 small zucchini, cut into medium dice
1 1/2 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 lb. red potatoes, cut into medium dice
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/4-1/2 lb. pre-cooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, parsley, or cilantro, or a mix
Juice of one lemon

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large stock pot or Dutch oven. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, another minute or two, being careful not to let it brown. Add the broth, the remaining vegetables, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the shrimp until heated, 1-2 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add fresh herbs and lemon juice. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if desired.

We happened to think this was great with a side of sweet cornbread!