October Pumpkin Delights
Good news gets around fast when it comes to food, and our household was pretty thrilled to read recent published reports that last year's rain-induced pumpkin shortage is officially over.
Living in Illinois, the nation's largest producer of canned pumpkin, our family decided to use this month's designated Mom-and-Teen Cooking Day as a celebration of all things pumpkin. The only rule? No pies. Even though pumpkin pie is one of our family's favorite desserts, we wanted to branch out and experiment with dishes that go a little beyond the ordinary.
With that in mind, I scoured one of our go-to cooking sites -- Kitchen Daily -- for a savory side dish recipe, while Anna, our 17-year-old, emerged from under a hefty pile of homework to whip up a relatively quick and easy selection, designed to satisfy even the sweetest tooth.
¼ cup butter (plus extra to grease the pan)
½ cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup corn syrup
2/3 cup fresh pumpkin seed, washed, dried and toasted
Line a 9x13 pan with foil or parchment and grease with extra butter. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in sugar and corn syrup and bring to a boil. Stir constantly (or edges of pan will burn) 5-8 minutes until mixture reaches 280 degrees on a candy thermometer. Stir in pumpkin seeds. Pour mixture quickly into prepared pan; if necessary, spread with back of a greased spoon. Let cool completely until hardened. Break into pieces as desired.
This month, Mom and I both wanted to cook with the ultimate symbol of fall: pumpkin. So, while Mom chose to make some fancy-schmancy rice, I opted for a recipe with an autumn twist on classic peanut brittle -- pumpkin seed brittle.
The prep work wasn't too bad once you got past gutting the pumpkin. It made the seed extraction a lot easier once we soaked the pumpkin pulp in water to help separate seed from goo. Once we gathered all the seeds we needed, the next step was to salt and bake. Salting was super-important because it helps accentuate the flavor of the seeds, and provides for a nice balance between sweet and salty in the brittle.
After the seeds were done baking, we moved on to the fun stuff. Making the brittle mixture was a little difficult without a candy thermometer, but the readiness of the mixture can be easily guesstimated with a cold water test. When the candy is done, just stir in pumpkin seeds, pour in a pan, wait to cool and, voila, pumpkin seed brittle at its finest.
This is a good recipe for school lunches because it doesn't take too long to make, but if you're looking to spend some quality time with the fam, all you need are some pumpkin seeds and a little bit of dedication. And, as promised, our cuisine prep this month was complemented by the lulling background sounds of Lil Wayne. I could tell Mom really enjoyed the music selections, especially "Stuntin' Like My Daddy." Enjoy this month's creations!
1½ cups fresh pumpkin or winter squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
½ cup chopped, peeled parsley root or parsnip
¼ cup chopped hazelnuts
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
2 tablespoons cooking oil
2/3 cup Arborio or medium-grain rice
14½-ounce can reduced sodium chicken broth
¼ cup water
2 teaspoons snipped fresh chervil or parsley
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
Fresh chervil or parsley sprigs
In a medium saucepan, cook and stir pumpkin, parsley root or parsnip, hazelnuts and pepper in hot oil for 5 minutes. Stir in rice and cook for 3 minutes more, stirring often. Stir in broth and water and bring just to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and gently stir in chervil or parsley and grated ginger; let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Rice should be tender but firm and mixture should be slightly creamy. Serve garnished with chervil or parsley sprigs.
With the school year in full swing, our efforts to set aside family kitchen time proved more challenging this month. But like any commitment, shared family activities often require firm resolve -- and a bright red penciled-in date on the calendar.
So what did we learn from our time together? First, that pumpkin rice, with hazelnuts and parsnips, is a pretty tasty dish -- the vote was 4-1 in favor, which is a major victory in our house. We used the smaller-variety pie pumpkins in our recipes, as those are the most popular type for cooking. (Save the bigger ones for your front-porch displays.)
I also learned that cooking together gives me the chance to hear a little more about what's going on in Teen World -- now that college apps, an after-school job, and volunteer work have infiltrated the schedule.
It's an impressive load that many teens seem to be carrying these days -- and getting in the kitchen to dish about it just heightened my appreciation for what our kids go through. So while rapper Lil Wayne rhapsodizes about "Stuntin' Like My Daddy," I think I'll turn my props toward the ambitious schedule-juggling of so many teens ... and stunt more like my daughter.
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.