The Plus Side of Pumpkin

By Brenna O’Dea

If you read the blog a few weeks back then you already know I am not pumpkin’s biggest fan. I am not even pumpkin’s smallest fan. Pumpkin and I have just never quite clicked. We’ve always had our differences…pumpkin spice or classic chai? I choose the latter. At thanksgiving year after year…I head for the pie table, fork in hand and ready to feast, sorry pumpkin buddy, it’ll be apple for me this year. Even the apple orchard appeals to me MUCH more than the pumpkin patch. Although I do love a good hay ride.

This fall season however, I have decided to change my ways. Not entirely. Just the other day I turned down a coupon for a free pumpkin spice latte (or PSL as the kids are saying), and I don’t think I’ll be carving up any Jack o’ lanterns this year on account of I am NOT interested in my hands & house smelling like squash until Christmas. But I have decided to turn over a new crispy crunchy freshly fallen leaf and open my mind & mouth to the power of pumpkin. It is a miracle. After months and months of agonizing research (okay, just a few hours browsing the web) I have discovered a few fantastic recipes that make pumpkin palatable, and almost…dare I say…delicious.

Pancakes: We’ll begin with breakfast. Pancakes to be more specific. Now who doesn’t LOVE pancakes? I don’t know anyone who would turn down a good pancake breakfast, and if you do…I would seriously reconsider that relationship. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life. For this pancake party, pumpkin is on the menu. Don’t run for the hills just yet. Drizzled with some GOOD maple syrup and whipped coconut cream, these babies will have your babies jumping out of bed with their jammies still on. They might even offer to set to table just to catch an extra whiff of that sweet cinnamon smell.

Cookies: If you give a mouse a cookie…he probably won’t expect it to be a pumpkin cookie. And neither would I. I would not be pleasantly surprised. At first I would probably be disgusted, horrified, nauseated. But WAIT…are those chocolate chips? I guess I’ll have a bite or two. I bet you will want to bite right into these too after you stir those dark chocolate chips into that burnt orange batter. A few dashes of cinnamon & nutmeg, and some allspice to pull it altogether. If these cookies don’t scream fall, well that’s okay, cookies can’t talk. But if this one could, it would say “welcome to sweater weather.”

Cake: Layers of love sandwiched together with some divine cream cheese frosting…I mean come on, sugar AND cheese…as the Barefoot Contessa herself would say, “how bad can THAT be?” Not bad at all, even though pumpkin is the primary ingredient. Combined with some soothing spices like ginger and clove, smothered in ooey gooey goodness, pumpkin shines bright in every bite. If sinking into a sugar coma on a cool fall evening is not your thing (maybe you’re THAT person who hands out raisins on Halloween) don’t fret, we’ve got an amazing alternative that is free of gluten and dairy (and JOY). Just kidding. I myself would opt for the raisins over the classic candy bar – they are nature’s candy, after all. I’m also a huge fan of the sans gluten & dairy options out there today as my tummy ties itself in knots at even the thought of a brownie sundae. Whichever team you play for, with wheat or without, this layer cake will push your pumpkin limits to the edge in the BEST way possible.

Butter: First of all, I would like to formally acknowledge that in NO way do I believe that butter needs ANY additions at all to make it fabulous. All by itself, butter is the ultimate condiment, topping, side dish…main course…however you take it, it’ll probably be delicious. Pumpkin butter however, resides in a galaxy all its own. You’ve probably heard about and maybe even tasted apple butter, and if you are among the lucky ones then you’ve gotten your greasy fingertips on some honey butter. Pumpkin butter comes around less often. The best of both worlds, sweet n’ savory, the maple syrup and lemon juice compliment the pumpkin perfectly in this spreadable squash creation.

Soup: Butternut squash soup is SO last year. Pumpkin porridge is where it’s at. Smooth and slightly sweet, a bowl or two…or three of this seasonal soup will warm your hands & heart. Puree it with your choice of heavy cream for those freeeeezing winter nights when you need a bit more meat on your bones, or coconut milk for a lighter, fresher fall afternoon snack. Simple soups just like this one are great opportunities to play around in the kitchen and experiment with fun flavors. Even better, it is a great time to invite the little ones along for the ride. Let them sprinkle the spices into the pot – just make sure they don’t dive in…it will smell SO good they just might want to. For the kids who are finally as tall as the kitchen counter, put them on stirring duty – easy enough for your small sous chefs who can’t quite yield a knife yet, but still a great lesson in patience and concentration for those feisty foodies.

Pasta: Okay, so fettuccine Alfredo is already crazy creamy dreamy delicious. But why stop there?? Add some pumpkin puree and rosemary sprigs for an even better bowl. This warming dish will pair perfectly with some hot apple cider on a chilly fall evening. The sweetness from the cider will balance the saltiness from that GOAT CHEESE and the kick of the red pepper flakes. If you prefer a more mild mouthful or maybe you need a modification for the little ones, try this version using only FIVE ingredients. Staying in this Friday night? Whip up a batch for one and settle in with some noodles n’ Netflix. Throwing a dinner party? This dish is perfect to pass around the table and share with the people you love. Because what says I LOVE you better than a big bowl of buttery, cheesy pasta? And if some pumpkin in the sauce isn’t enough for you, go big or go home with this pumpkin ravioli. Little hands are perfect for pinching the edges of these HEAVENLY pumpkin-filled pockets.

Pie: Well we have finally made it. The end is near and this pumpkin pilgrimage is coming to a close. I figured there was no better way to say so long to this squash than with a tribute to a classic: pumpkin pie. Personally, I don’t love the stuff, but I know plenty of people who cannot WAIT for Thanksgiving to roll around for no other reason than that big slice of goopy brown-orange slop. I must admit, this pie usually smells pretty great, Some of my favorite sweet n’ savory spices give this pie its signature scent – cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger & cloves – these babies are four peas in a pod, and they pair perfectly with the pumpkin puree. The key to the perfect pie-filled bite however, comes from that classic crust. Fluffy n’ buttery, if you get it right, there’s nothin’ quite like it. And make sure to call all your pint-sized cooks into the kitchen to help roll out that dough. Little hands will do just the trick.

So are you ready to join the pumpkin party? I’m sure one of these recipes is bound to make your mouth water and spark curiosity in the kids. Why are these yummy cookies orange, mom? What is that sweet flavor in my tasty pasta, dad? Well buddy, believe it or not, it’s a VEGETABLE, and damn right, it’s DELICIOUS.

(Image by flickr member Ree Drummond licensed under Creative Commons)

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