Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cooking with real pumpkin

The arrival of cool weather has had my fall-lovin' self craving all kinds of autumn treats. Apple cider. Candy corn. Cinnamon spice tea. Pumpkin muffins, cookies, pie, cream cheese, lattes flavored everything. You get the picture. So last week I took an evening to bake up a batch of heavenly pumpkin muffins (with cream cheese filling! eek!)... which I promise to share about later. But this post is actually about the main ingredient to my fall muffins...

I always stock up on canned pumpkin. It's so cheap, and I'm totally obsessed with pumpkin-flavored baked goods. And every year, I start craving them long before our local grocery store has it in stock. This year was no exception. Luckily, as I stumbled across the most divine pumpkin muffin recipe on Pinterest, I was confident that I had at least two cans of Libby's left from the wintertime. Or so I thought.

Maybe they got lost in the move? Left in my in-laws pantry? Stolen by the pumpkin boogey man? I had no idea. But I searched and searched my pantry to no avail. Womp womp. Imagine my dismay then, when I arrived at Kroger only to have my suspicion confirmed: canned pumpkin = not in stores yet. Dang! And I really had my heart set on those muffins.

As I walked through the produce section, my heart quickened as I remembered the solution for lack-of-pumpkin-problems when I was living overseas. We used real ones! And sure enough, on sale for $1.29 a  gourd, were the cutest little pie pumpkins. I tossed one in my cart.

I googled some different ways to use real pumpkin in recipes. There are three basic methods: baking the pumpkin, boiling it, or zapping it in the microwave. Since it was getting late at night, I decided to use the fastest procedure and nuke the little guy. 

To cook down a real pumpkin in the microwave, first cut it in half and remove the seeds. Normally, I'd pick out the seeds and roast them, but I was being tired and lazy and figured there would be other opportunities this season for pumpkin seeds.

Then, I just put each half in the microwave (on a plate) for about 7 minutes, until it was fork tender. I realized after I'd done it that the tutorial I was following said I should have peeled the skin off first... but I think my method actually worked better because once the flesh was soft, the skin just came right off without a knife or anything. I let the halves cool, cut them into manageable sizes, and tossed them in the food processor. It took about 5 minutes of pulverizing, but lo and behold, there I was with about two cups of pureed pumpkin!

Convenient, since that's exactly how much I needed for my muffin recipe. If you have puree left over, you can refrigerate it for a few days or even freeze it for up to six months.

Honestly, with how great the muffins turned out, and the fact that this method is au-naturale (no preservatives or funky chemicals), I might even be prone to start stocking up on frozen real pumpkin each year, rather than buying a couple extra cans. The price is virtually the same, all it takes is some time and energy.

Though I can't end this post without sharing... as SOON as the timer went off and my muffins were baked, I opened the cereal cabinet and saw this little devil lurking in the shadows:

Sure enough, the two cans I knew I had were just in a place I didn't expect. Oh well, I guess that just means I'll have to make some more fall treats. Sigh.

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