Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Great Pumpkin

Trying to figure out what to bring to Thanksgiving dinner that will impress friends and loved ones with your culinary prowess? I recommend something seasonal. Might I suggest something with... pumpkin??

So I am, admittedly, a little obsessed with pumpkin. Pumpkin beer, pumpkin and bacon pasta, pumpkin bread.... There was the time in grad school when my cousin Sonia and I decided to make curried pumpkin peanut soup one night. (I thought my boyfriend Adam was going to pass out from hunger, since we didn't finish making it until near midnight. It was damn good, though.) There's the pumpkin ale I made with my boyfriend Nick and my cousin Caroline a few years later when Nick was just starting to tinker with homebrewing. (Dad and I still reminisce about sipping on it that Thanksgiving.) I even took part in a pumpkin-themed Iron Chef competition with some of my brother's friends a few years ago. (With broiled, bacon-wrapped pumpkin spears, and spiced pumpkin seed-marinated grilled turkey legs, we totally should have won. I think it was rigged.)

These gorgeous gourds may be one of my favorite things about autumn. I have, however, in my ongoing quest for pumpkin-related recipes noticed quite a trend toward canned pumpkin. Fresh pumpkin (halved, roasted at 400 degrees for an hour or so until soft enough to scoop out and mash) must make an infinitely superior pie, muffin, etc., much as my brother's sweet potato pie with roasted, mashed sweet potatoes puts the canned competitors to shame. (Yes, aside from large hunks of grilled meat, my kid brother makes a mean sweet potato pie. Though I think his signature dish these days is the french onion soup. Ah. Right. Back on point: pumpkin.) The stuff from scratch must be better, right? I don't know that fresh pumpkin is any more sustainable than canned -- and in fact it makes sense to can some of it for later use -- but when the fresh stuff is available, shouldn't you use it? I'm researching food and clearly this research (tangent) needed more data.

Realizing that it may be some time before I have the luxury of a well-stocked kitchen at my disposal, I decided this afternoon to do a little experiment. I stopped by the market and picked up an organic pie pumpkin and a can of organic pie pumpkin (which listed only one ingredient: organic pumpkin) and got cooking. I adapted a recipe from the Nov 2002 issue of Bon Appétit (Spiced Pumpkin Muffins), making two batches: one with real pumpkin, one with canned. I don't like using sugar when I can avoid it, so there were a number of changes to the original. I did my best to document what I actually did and wrote down the approximate measurements. (Those of you who have cooked with me know I am more of a "handful of this" in my estimates, so it took some work). In honor of Charlie Brown, I give you...

The Great Pumpkin Muffin (makes 12 large or 15 standard size)

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Butter and flour muffin pan.

Whisk in large bowl to blend:
• 1/2 cup all purpose flour
• 1 cup whole wheat flour
• 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
• 1 tsp ground cinnamon
• 1/4 tsp ground cloves
• 1/2 tsp salt
• handful of chopped pecans (unless you're Felicity, in which case you'll try to substitute trail mix -- busted!)

In a separate, medium-sized bowl, stir together:
• 1/2 ripe organic banana OR 1/3 cup apple sauce
• 3 TBSP honey
• 1 1/2 cups roasted pumpkin OR 1 can organic pumpkin
• 1/2 cup skim milk
• 1/2 cup whipping cream
• 2 large eggs
• 6 TBSP (3/4 stick) butter, melted
• 2 TBSP grated, peeled, fresh ginger

Add to dry ingredients and stir just until incorporated (do not overmix).

Spoon 1/4 cup batter into each cup. Bake until muffins are golden and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean (25-35 minutes).

Turn muffins out onto rack and cool. Store muffins airtight at room temperature. (As if you can resist eating them long enough for storage -- ha!)

If you want to fancy them up, make a frosting by blending the following:
• 1/2 stick (4 TBSP) room temperature butter
• 8 ounces of cream cheese
• 1/2 tsp vanilla
• 1 tsp lemon juice or 1/2 tsp powdered ginger
• 1 TBSP honey

When he came back from work, I accosted Kevin to give me feedback on frostingless candidates. After a blind taste test, here's the verdict:

Flavor: fresh pumpkin wins with a stronger, more pumpkinny presence -- Aha!
Texture: canned pumpkin wins with a moister springiness -- Doh!

In retrospect, I think I would puree the roasted pumpkin, which might make the muffins a little airier. In the meantime, I'll see what folks think when I bring some of each to the potluck tomorrow in Olympia....

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

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