Tuesday, October 5, 2010

puree your way to deliciousness.

the chill in the early morning air over the past week, even here in the super south, has convinced me that what i needed to do when i was at the store today for my normal weekly shopping was to hunt down the ingredients for something delicious and pumpkin and baked.

well, i looked in the usual places for those convenient cans of pumpkin puree, but they were nowhere to be found. rather than hunt down an employee, who probably would have been very helpful but probably would have told me that the recent announcement that the pumpkin shortage was over had yet to catch up with my local grocery store, i decided to do what i know to do anyway.

create purees myself.

i know i've spoken of this puree presence in my cooking life before, but i don't think i've discussed how easy it is.

seriously.

i'm pregnant, just out of my first trimester. what this means is that the current state of my house indicates that i am loathe to do anything that involves multiple steps. the laundry can get washed and dried, but it ain't folded or put away.  i can make a meal, but i can't manage to figure out how to think ahead to defrost meat for said meal.  i can barely get my junk together to put together a slow cooker chili, which is possibly the easiest meal ever (other than delivery pizza, which was last night). 

i'm not superambitious teachergirl of late is my point.

so when i tell you that it's easier, cheaper, and more healthy to create your own pumpkin puree, i'm totally serious.

first of all, you have to think outside the pumpkin box.  yes, it's pumpkin season. yes, you will find pumpkins at your local grocery, home improvement, or roadside stand.  however, they are priced at a premium right now because, well, it's 'tis the season to bake, carve, and decorate with pumpkin.  so, any self-respecting capitalist is going to jack those prices up.

you know what ISN'T jacked up? the price of butternut squash.

now before you go "EW!" and dismiss everything i'm telling you, please let me assure you: you can make PIE with pureed butternut squash this thanksgiving. i dare your guests to know the difference. they won't. in fact, it may be the most delicious "pumpkin" pie they've ever had.  i think it's better.

(and they call butternut squash pumpkin in other countries, like australia, where my wonderful husband served our church for two years. so there's that.)

today, they were $0.99 a pound. i picked up the biggest one i could find, which was about 3.7 pounds. so, all told, i spent about $4 on the whole thing.

here's how easy it is to turn your oddly shaped "pumpkin" into purees for now and later (sorry for no pictures--see earlier explanation about pregnancy and lack of the ability to plan ahead):
  • find the biggest and sharpest knife you have. the hardest part of this whole process is cutting the beast in half.  I suggest sitting it upright and letting gravity do the work.  be CAREFUL. it doesn't have any give to it. if you have to, just work your way around and through it. you want to slice it lengthwise in half, though, not into slices.  just two halves.
  • scoop out the bottom, bell-shaped halves. it has a filling like...wait for it...pumpkin! so just like you'd clean out a pumpkin, you clean out the seedy, stringy middle of the bell. that's it, though. the rest of it will be awesome deliciousness.
  • put it on a cookie sheet or broiler pan and put it in your oven to roast. i put my oven on approximately 450-475 and cooked it for a little less than an hour.  you can tell if it's done by sticking a knife into it. it should be the consistency of a cooked baked potato, approximately.
  • take it out and let it rest. you want to let it cool for a sufficient amount of time that you can work with it effectively (with no toasted fingers!).
  • scoop out the flesh into a bowl.  there will be more than you think.  make sure that you do not get the skin, which should allow you to pull the flesh away easily with a large spoon.
  • grab a blender or a food processor as well as about a cup of water.  you'll start to blend the puree with the water together to get it to the consistency of baby food.  I found that using enough water made this process INFINITELY easier than when i've done it previously.  i had a huge amount of flesh to puree, and i just kept adding to my blender. when i added enough water, i had it blending with no trouble.  
  • divide the puree up into sandwich bags.  i measured it out by cupfuls this time, but half-cup purees also work well for inclusion into recipes.
from my 3.7 pound butternut squash, i got 5 cups of puree.  that's FIVE recipes of 18 pumpkin muffins each.  what an amazing return on a little bit of investment and time!

of course, the options for pumpkin related things are endless. these are the muffins that i made today, but there are also these cookies which look like a pretty decent (and vegan/lowfat!) option if you're bored with the pumpkin bread/muffin variation. and, of course, there's always the pie route.  but you can also use this puree with a cake mix to make a healthier, calorie-reduced brownie mini-muffin (this is a huge favorite of my husband's).  i pretty much add a handful or two of chocolate chips to all of these, fyi, and they're all DELICIOUS.

while i'm all about convenience, some times it's just as easy (and even more inexpensive!) to do things yourself. the added benefit is that you know what's processing has happened to your food--and you can feel good about the vitamins, minerals, and healthy elements that have gone directly from your oven to your fresh purees!

i'd encourage you to try it this holiday season. see what you can do with it, and then share your experiments! with all of these pumpkin purees, i'll soon be dying for new recipes to try so that i can fill my house with the smell of fall.

next step for me? might be homemade applesauce.  such are the effects of fall on me.

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