Saturday, October 25, 2014

Pumpkins

It's that time of year again.  This post is updated with instructions and recipes and reposted from last year.

Let me start with a revolutionary assertion:
Pumpkins are for eating.

This time of year, and through November, it seems that women's magazines and the Internet are rife with pumpkin recipes and ideas for decorating with pumpkins.  What rarely comes up, though, is the notion that the two are connected.  Recipes usually assume the use of canned pumpkin puree, while decorations are made of whole pumpkins of every description.  Recipes that call for chunks of pumpkin are usually made with frozen pumpkin.


Right now, the grocery stores are fully stocked with whole pumpkins, especially the ones used for jack-o-lanterns.  But, come the beginning of November, most of those large pumpkins will line the country's garbage cans and compost piles.

Since cooking with pumpkins really isn't part of American culture right now, most people simply don't realize how much food they throw away when they put a pumpkin in the trash.  For a long time, I didn't know either.  A few years ago, I bought a sugar pumpkin and made pumpkin pie from scratch.  Pumpkin puree is also on my list of baby foods.  Last year, though, I wanted to do more.  I bought two large pumpkins in October.

Each pumpkin provided me with lots of pumpkin meat in the freezer.  I used it for baking and savory cooking for months, and it really saved on our grocery budget.  The seeds, of course, were made into snacks, but I've seen recipes that incorporate pumpkin seeds for a main dish.  Finally, the water I drained from the puree made wonderful pumpkin syrup for our pancakes and french toast!  Of those two huge pumpkins, I think I only threw out the stems and about four cups of skin.

It really is rare to find such a frugal and sizable source of nutritious food.  They are an excellent source for vitamin A and beta-carotene and a good source for a wide variety of nutrients, such as vitamins C and E and the minerals phosphorus and potassium.  The seeds are also a good source of protein, healthy fats, and iron, among other things.

Let's not forget about those tiny pumpkins either, the ones that often grace fall table-scapes and mantelpieces.  Those are perfect for stuffing and baking to be served as individual meals. By the end of November, those will be on sale for very low prices.  They are delicious, and have a texture similar to the meat of sugar pumpkins.

After Thanksgiving, I highly recommend presenting leftover stuffing served in a mini pumpkin, with a dollop of cranberry sauce on the side or some gravy on top.  You can also stuff them with pie fillings of various kinds for a dessert or breakfast, with meatloaf, or with seasoned beans.

Now that I know how much food a single pumpkin can provide, it irritates me more than a little to read about decorating with pumpkins when the writer obviously (sometimes explicitly) has no intention of eating any of it.  It's one thing to have food that spoils before you get around to eating it.  It's quite another to buy food with the express intent of throwing it away.  That's not to mention that most parents try to teach their children not to waste food, except for this one, glaring instance.

If you want to make your own pumpkin puree, here's what I recommend:

  1. Open up your pumpkin, just as you would for carving, and scoop out the seeds (for later use--they freeze beautifully if you don't have time now).
  2. Stick the whole thing on a cookie sheet, and replace the "lid" of the pumpkin.  If your pumpkin is too big to stand up in your oven, cut it in half and place each half face-down on the cookie sheet.
  3. Bake at 350 until you can easily stick a fork through the skin.
  4. After you remove the pumpkin from the oven, allow it to cool enough that you can handle it with your bare hands (it will leak juice and slouch in the process).
  5. Cut it into manageable chunks, and scoop the flesh out of the skin--but only enough at one time to fill your colander (which should be lined with cheese cloth).
  6. Press the liquid out of the pumpkin flesh (keep the liquid for syrup or soup broth!).  This and step 5 are messy and time-consuming.  I recommend wearing disposable gloves and an apron for them, and waiting until DH can take the kids for a few hours.
  7. Run through a food processor to puree (not necessary for a sugar pumpkin), and store the flesh in containers or bags in the freezer.  (Don't forget to note quantities on the containers!)  I prefer to store puree in 2-cup portions frozen flat in zipped sandwich bags.
  8. If you started with a carved pumpkin, treat it like you would a butternut or acorn squash for the first three steps, and then follow the rest of the instructions.
  9. If you cleaned the exterior of the pumpkin before cooking it (and you should), the resulting pumpkin skins can be boiled for vegetable stock, just like other kitchen scraps.
To use mini pumpkins:
  1. Cut each pumpkin in half vertically.  It's easiest to start on the side and work around the bottom.  Once the rest is cut, the stem will pry away from one side pretty easily.
  2. Scoop out the seeds, and save for roasting.
  3. Place upside down with a little water in a baking dish (as for cooking acorn or butternut squash).
  4. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, until tender.
  5. If stuffing, skip 3 and 4, and balance each half face up in the cup of a muffin tin.  
  6. Fill the cavity of each half, and spread a little butter or oil on the exposed flesh.
  7. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes.

So before you go out and buy a pumpkin (or two) this year, find some pumpkin recipes you want to try, and make the most of your purchase.

One Pot Pumpkin Meal

2 onions, sliced or cubed
Defrosted chicken pieces (more about that below)

4 cups cubed pumpkin (or other winter squash)
1/4 cup sherry
Ground pepper, garlic, and rosemary to taste

Layer ingredients in a casserole dish in the order listed.  The chicken should be in serving-sized pieces, with or without skin or bones as desired, and enough pieces to cover the dish.  Cover the dish, and bake at 400 until the chicken is done.

Leftover Pumpkin Stew

The One Pot Pumpkin Meal was dinner for my family recently, and the leftover liquid and squash in the casserole was resuscitated as stew few nights later for dinner as follows:

Saute 1 chopped onion, 2-4 diced carrots, and 2 stalks celery in butter.  Add in leftover pumpkin mixture from recipe above, a diced potato, and at least two cups water or stock.  Simmer, stirring frequently, until potato and carrots are soft.  Add 1 cup milk (and, if necessary, enough water to yield 4-6 servings of stew).  Puree in a blender or with a potato masher, and season to taste.

Other Recipes:

Pumpkin Meatloaf (best done with a sugar pumpkin)

And finally, I have never tried it, let alone made it, but I have heard amazing and magical things about pumpkin curry, both Indian-style and Thai.

This post has been linked to Hip Homeschool Hop, The Mommy Club, MYHSM, Welcome Home at Raising ArrowsBusy Monday at A Pinch of Joy, and Works for Me Wednesday at We Are THAT Family.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Home Book Repair



Although I didn't originally buy it for this purpose my comb binding machine has proven itself a worthwhile investment. I can use it to bind printouts for our homeschool or paperwork I acquire, but it saves us the cost of replacing children's books as well.

Most of our children's books were mine as a child. Most of the rest were bought used (some were quite well loved). Small children are hard on books, and some of my old favorites, marked with my "artwork," are now my sons' favorites. Eventually, the volumes begin to give out, especially the covers.

But a book without a cover or with pages falling out is not a lost cause. The pages can be saved an rebound inexpensively and at home.

1.  Remove any remaining binding (pieces of the cover, glue, string, etc.).  

2.   Use a paper cutter to cut all the pages to the same size and to create a clean margin edge.  Cut the smallest amount possible.  Most books have generous margins, but you don't want to lose more than your have to or interrupt illustrations.
    3. Cut pieces of cardstock to size to use as covers. If you like you can print title information or copy cover art on them to make a nicer finished product.    

    4. Use an appropriately sized comb and your comb binder to rebind your book.


    --> 5. Save the paper pieces from the hole punch to use as confetti at a birthday party.
     This post has been linked to Busy Monday, MYHSM, WFMW, The Mommy Club, and Hip Homeschool Hop. 

    Wednesday, October 15, 2014

    Pumpkin Melts

    I've written before about base recipes and making components that can be used for multiple dishes.  This recipe is like that.  Every so often, I cook up a pound of beans, bag them up in one-cup portions, and freeze them.  That's what I did to get the beans for this recipe.

    Navy Beans and Salmon

    1 onion, diced
    2 chopped mushrooms (optional)
    1.5 c cooked navy beans (other types would work fine, too)
    1 6-oz can of salmon or other fish or an equivalent amount of leftover fresh fish
    1 T dried basil
    2 tsp dried oregano
    1 tsp salt

    • If the canned fish is packed in oil, pour that into a frying pan and use it to saute the onion and mushrooms (if using).  If not, use butter or the cooking oil of your choice.  Cook the onion until translucent.
    • Add all the remaining ingredients except the fish.  Stir until well combined and heated through.
    • Mix in the fish.
    The resulting mixture can be used as follows:
    1. Serve on top of rice
    2. Combine with white sauce and pasta
    3. Serve on its own as a main dish.
    4. Add canned olives and artichokes and serve on top of pasta for an Italian-style dinner
    5. Make Pumpkin Melts:
    Pumpkin Melts
    (serves 6)
    3 mini pumpkins, halved and seeded
    ~1 c Navy Beans and Salmon
    Swiss cheese (3 slices, if using pre-sliced)

    • Place the pumpkin halve upside-down in a baking pan in about 1/2 inch of water.  Bake them at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until tender.  Remove from oven, and allow to cool until you can handle them.
    • Fill the cavity of each pumpkin half with Navy Beans and Salmon, and place in a muffin tin.
    • Top the pumpkin halves with Swiss cheese (about half a deli slice each).
    • Return the stuffed pumpkins to the oven, and heat at 350 degrees until the cheese is melted and has begun to brown.
    This post has been linked to Busy Monday, MYHSM, WFMW, Hip Homeschool Hop, and The Mommy Club.

    Packing Framed Pictures

    To me, one of the most annoying parts of moving is packing framed pictures. Using newspaper always seems insufficient, time consuming, and wasteful.  The last time I had to pack frames, I found a better way.
      • Lay out a towel.
      • Lengthwise, down the center of the towel, lay out a row of pictures of similar width.  They should all be face up and spaced about two inches apart. If you don't have pictures of similar widths, place the largest ones on the outside edges, then the two largest pictures will help secure the smaller ones. 
                      
            • Fold the sides of the towel up towards the center of the pictures.
            • On either end, fold the outermost pictures in onto their adjacent picture. 
            • Continue folding the ends toward the center.   When all the pictures are enclosed, close the two ends like a book.
              The result is neat, compact, and secure.  Better yet, you are packing your pictures and towels at once, saving both space and time.
                    

              This post has been linked to WFMW, Hip Homeschool Hop, The Mommy Club, MYHSM and Busy Monday.

              Monday, October 6, 2014

              Savory Bread Pudding

              Here's a good recipes for using up bits of this and that, and it would be appropriate for any meal.  The spinach and mushrooms could easily be swapped out for other ingredients, and the cheese needn't be cheddar.



              Savory Bread Pudding 

              4 slices of bread, cut thick and cubed
              1 c frozen spinach
              2 chopped mushrooms
              1 c grated cheddar cheese
              3 eggs, beaten
              2 c milk
              Dried basil to taste
              Ground pepper to taste


              • In a greased 9x13 baking dish, combine the bread, spinach, and mushrooms.  Top with cheese.  
              • In a bowl, combine the remaining ingredients, and pour over the bread mixture.  
              • Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, until the egg mixture is set.

              This post has been linked to The Mommy Club, WFMW, Hip Homeschool HopBusy Monday and MYHSM.



              Saturday, September 27, 2014

              Banana Peel Rice Pudding

              A few months ago, I shared that I had started cooking with banana peels.  I have a little more experience with it now, and I'd like to share a couple tips and a new recipe.

              1. The flavor of the peels is improved if you allow them to soak at least a couple hours before cooking with them.  Just chop them up, put them in a bowl, cover with water, and pop in the fridge.
              2. Peels are much easier to cut while frozen.  Don't worry, though, they thaw very quickly.
              3. The stems are too fibrous to eat, and the blossom ends are gritty.  Cut those off, and use the rest of the peel in recipes.  The stem and blossom end can be used in teas or boiled to give a banana flavor to milk or water, and then discarded.
              4. Peels turn brown when soaked or frozen.  Don't let it surprise you or turn you off.When freezing, you can freeze, chop, then spread on a cookie sheet to refreeze.  Stores the chopped peel in baggies, about 1 cup per bag, to save space and ease use.

              Banana peel rice pudding is a new favorite breakfast in our house.  We're eating it about twice a week.  It's filling, tasty, and an excellent source of fiber.

              Banana Peel Rice Pudding

              1.5 c brown rice
              1 c milk
              2 banana peels
              3 c water
              2 T sugar
              1/2 tsp vanilla
              • Chop the banana peels, discarding the stem and blossom ends.  Cover in a small bowl with 1 cup of water, and allow to soak at least two hours, but up to overnight.
              • Combine the rice, milk, soaked peels, soaking water, remaining 2 cups of water, sugar and vanilla in a large pot.  Stir to dissolve the sugar.  
              • Cover, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer.  Allow to cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally and watching for boil over.  Add more water if necessary.


              1. This post has been linked to WFMW, Hip Homeschool HopBusy Monday an MYHSM.

              Sunday, September 21, 2014

              Using Fruit Scraps, yet again!

              As promised a couple weeks ago, I have made syrup from my fruit scrap mystery juice.  I now have two pints of homemade syrup for pancakes, and I won't have to buy syrup for quite a while.  Here's what I did.  Remember that most of my fruit scraps are apple cores, so my mystery juice ends up being mostly apple flavored.

              Cider Syrup

              2 parts Fruit scrap juice or apple juice
              1 part Sugar
              Ground Cinnamon to taste
              Ground Cloves to taste
              Citrus Peel (I used a quarter of a grapefruit peel)

              • Combine the juice and sugar in a pot in a 2 to 1 ratio (1 pint juice to 1 cup sugar, for example).  Once the sugar has dissolved, add the citrus peel and the cinnamon and cloves.  
              • Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and allow to simmer until the syrup has reduced to an appropriate thickness.  
              • To test thickness, spoon a little onto a saucer and allow it to cool.  When the cooled syrup moves slowly on the saucer, it is a good thickness.
              • When the syrup is done, let it cool, remove the peel, and pour into jars.  Reserve the citrus peel in the freezer to cut up into batter for baked goods.

              This post has been linked to WFMW, Hip Homeschooling HopBusy Monday and MHSM.