Thursday, October 30, 2014

Home Canned Pumpkin Pie Filling

This recipe is one my mom used for years. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, making a pumpkin pie was always a cinch because all we had to do was pull out a jar of Mom's home canned filling, add eggs and evaporated milk, bake and done. My sister, Rebecca, shared this recipe with me a couple years ago, along with her personal notes. She has been known to make arrangements with her neighbors to come around with her wagon on the morning after Halloween and pick up their jack o' lanterns to use in her canning in exchange for a jar of pumpkin filling. You can use any old pumpkin (or even butternut squash, which I like to throw in sometimes at about a 4:1 ratio) but the little sugar pumpkins are the sweetest and least watery. Make sure if you use a carved pumpkin that you either do your canning right away or cut it up and refrigerate so the exposed flesh doesn't rot. Cooked pumpkin can also be frozen for up to 3 months if you would rather cook and store it for canning later. If you are new to canning, I recommend reading up on it before canning, as I don't share all the finer points of the process in this post. A great resource is the Ball website.

Sugar pumpkins are fairly easy to
grow. Save some seeds from your
store bought pumpkin and try
planting them next spring. If space
is tight, you can grow them on a
trellis as long as you use mesh bags
(like those you buy onions in)
to support the fruit as it grows.
Start by cooking your pumpkin. I found that about 20 lbs. pumpkin yields about 19 c pumpkin puree, which will make just over 6 quarts of filling. Cut up your pumpkins (and/or squash) and remove the stem and seeds. Then you can either peel and boil it, or roast at 400° with the peel on for a couple hours then scoop the cooled flesh away from the peel. Baking tends to lend a nice roasted, caramelized flavor, so that's the method I prefer. Once your pumpkin is cooked, puree it in batches in a food processor until smooth and measure it into a large pot, taking note of how many cups you have. 

For every three cups puree, add the following:

1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt

Bring to a boil, ladle into hot clean quart jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Put on the lids and process in a hot water bath for 1 hour 20 min (add 10 min for higher elevation). Allow to cool undisturbed on a towel covered counter top for 24 hours. Extra amounts of filling can be used as a spread like pumpkin butter, or used in place of pumpkin puree in any recipe that calls for it (for instance, my chocolate chip pumpkin cookies). Just remember to reduce the sugar and spices in the recipe, as those are already in the filling.

Pumpkin Pie (from Home Canned Filling)

1 quart home canned pumpkin pie filling
4 eggs
1 13 oz. can evaporated milk
1 pie crust

Extra filling can be made into pumpkin custards,
like these topped with whip cream
and drizzled with nuts and chocolate.
Preheat oven to 425°. Pour jar of filling into a mixer bowl, add eggs and evaporated milk and blend well. Line a pie plate with an unbaked pie crust. Pour in the mixed filling up to within 1/4 inch of the top. Cover the crust edges with foil or a pie crust shield. Depending on the size of your pie plate, there will be enough filling left over to pour into as many as 4 ramekins or custard cups to bake as crustless pumpkin custards. Place the filled cups in a deep pan and fill with water up to the level of the filling. Carefully move the pan to the oven so the water doesn't splash into the cups (or you can pour the water in after you move it to the oven, but I find I splash just as much water when I do it this way!). Bake pie and custards for 15 minutes at 425°, then reduce to 350° and bake about 45 min more, until there is hardly any "wiggle" when you move the pie. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pumpkin Cookies

I've been dying to share this recipe with you. It's my favorite autumn treat, and probably the one that got me hooked on pumpkin everything in the first place. To me, it isn't really October until I bake a batch of Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cookies!

This recipe comes originally from my classic "Better Homes and Gardens" cookbook. I've made some minor changes, such as substituting chocolate chips for raisins or topping them with a citrus cream cheese frosting. Sometimes I substitue home canned pumpkin pie filling for the pumpkin puree. I'll share that recipe with you next week, so hang on to your jack o' lanterns! I always double this recipe because they are so fun to share and they tend to disappear pretty quick. I hope these will make your autumn even better!

Rachel's Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cookies (Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, 1981)

Makes roughly 3 dozen.  These are great with or without the citrus cream cheese frosting.  Where noted with the asterisk (*), you can optionally substitute a cup of home canned pumpkin pie filling, leaving out the spices and half the brown sugar because those are included in the filling.

2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 c or one stick butter
1 c packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 c canned pumpkin*
1 tsp vanilla
1 c semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips (I like Ghirardelli best)

Preheat oven to 375°. Cream the butter for 30 seconds, then add the brown sugar, beating until fluffy.  Add egg, pumpkin, and vanilla, mixing well.  Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, and spoon into the pumpkin mixture while beating until very well blended.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Drop very small spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, or greased with cooking spray.  You will be tempted to make them bigger, but they will not set in the middle if you do, so keep them fairly small. Bake 10 minutes.  I always rotate the cookie sheet half-way through to ensure even baking.  Cool on a wire rack.

Optional (but oh-so-awesome) Citrus Cream Cheese Frosting:

4 oz cream cheese
1 tsp lemon extract (or vanilla is okay, instead)
1 Tbs milk (or as needed)
1/4 salted butter
3 c powdered sugar
A few pinches dried lemon or orange zest (this stuff is expensive in the spice section at the store, but the next time you have a lemon or orange in the house, just wash, dry, and grate the peel with a fine grater and dry completely on a paper towel or parchment, then store in an old spice jar.)

Cream the butter and cream cheese until smooth, add lemon extract or vanilla, zest, and powdered sugar and beat to combine, adding milk until of spreading consistency.  Spread on the cookies, or use a cake decorator with a fluted tip.  Fall colored sprinkles make them even prettier.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pumpkin Season at Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's used to be a mysterious place to me. I'd never even seen one until a few years ago, but occasionally my grandma would send care packages and holiday packages with treats from Trader Joe's. It seemed to be a place to buy chocolate covered nuts and dried fruits and unique varieties of cookies that you couldn't find in a "normal" grocery store. I didn't quite get it. And then the pumpkins came…

For some reason of which I will not complain, Mr. Trader Joe seems to have taken upon himself the mission of bringing all things pumpkin to the grocery shopping public, at least for a short couple of months out of the year. My first realization of this came when we received their "Fearless Flier" last year in the mail, detailing all the items I ought to be rushing in for. It even comes with it's own "shopping list" so you can check everything off. In the fall, the flier is overflowing with pumpkin goodness, everything from pancake and bread mixes to cookies and ice cream. I just got this year's flier a week ago, as I went through the ads and circled the things I wanted, I felt a little like I was making my list for Santa, or the Halloween equivalent, I suppose. My boys and I made the trip to Trader Joe's on a breezy autumn afternoon last week and kind went pumpkin crazy, as you can see (and I even forgot to put the pumpkin butter in the picture):

Here's a quick review of the pumpkin things we got:

Pumpkin Bread Mix: I tried this last year, and it was awesome. Normally I like to bake sweetbreads from scratch, but I thought I'd give it a try and was so impressed I have no qualms about suppressing my inner Julia Child and buying more. I like to use it to make muffins and toss in a cup of mini chocolate chips to make them even tastier (if that's possible). The bread is very moist and flavorful.

Pumpkin Ice Cream: My favorite way to eat this is on top of a warm Ghirardelli brownie with butterscotch syrup, whip cream, and some candied nuts! To die for!

Mini Ginger Pumpkin Ice Cream Mouthfuls: Oh. My. Wow. I didn't want to share these ones with the kids at first, but my heart has melted and I just have to share the goodness, even though it means less for me. They took their already awesome pumpkin ice cream and sandwiched it between two soft and spicy gingerbread cookies. Amazingly good.

Pumpkin Butter: A little too sweet for my liking, but still a great spread on homemade bread, or english muffins or an apple cinnamon bagel…Anything really.

Pumpkin O's: Pumpkin flavored puffed O's. Think fruit loops without the dyes, less sugar, and lightly pumpkin flavored. Not bad. I rather liked them.

Pumpkin Granola: My husband has been eating this one a lot, and I've left it to him since it's rare to find a cereal he likes so much. I really liked the bowl I had, too. Only problem is, he's been picking out the raisins like a little kid. So if you are a raisin hater, just be warned, it has 'em.

Iced Pumpkin Scones: When we couldn't find the legendary Pumpkin Joe Joe's, a clerk recommended these instead, and I have to admit, they are incredible. The packaging is not so environmentally friendly (maybe it's just me, but I thought this store leaned towards the tree-hugging conservationist side of retail, but sadly lots of their packages are huge for the small portions they contain. What gives?) There are only a few scones in the box and a lot of plastic between them, but I guess that keeps them really safe from getting squished. They are pretty soft, but oh-so-yummy!

There are a lot more pumpkin items available, but that's the extent of what we got. I haven't tried the Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle Mix we got yet, but I expect it to be pretty good. And then there are the elusive Pumpkin Joe Joe's which I read about in the flier and tried to find at the store. Joe Joe's, if you didn't know, are Trader Joe's version of the Oreo, and to be honest, they are far superior. They don't taste quite so much like Crisco and the cookie part is delightfully crispy. (On a side note, Cookies and Cream is one of my favorite ice cream flavors, and my very favorite brand is Trader Joe's because it has great big chunks of Joe Joe's in it). In December they make a peppermint Joe Joe that is really good. I was intrigued by the thought of a pumpkin flavored one, but sadly when I got to the store, they were gone. They said another shipment was coming in the following Friday. I didn't make it in until Monday and they were gone again, this time permanently for the season! Sigh. Pumpkin season is all too short. So if you want to see any of these other items, don't waste time!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Pumpkin Cheesecake is Back!

Is anyone else excited that it's October?? Or better yet, pumpkin season? Well I will be the very first to admit that I am super excited. In celebration of this wonderful month I'm going to feature a variety of posts about this beloved flavor that conjures up images of flame-colored leaves, cute Halloween decor, warm inviting spices, and cozy holiday feasts. I'll share some of my favorite seasonal items from "pumpkin central" Trader Joe's, share my mom's home canned pumpkin recipe, and finally the recipe for my all-time favorite autumn treat: pumpkin chocolate chip cookies with cream cheese frosting! But to kick things off, I'm going to start with a pair of pumpkin cheesecake reviews, because you need fair warning to get in to a Cheesecake Factory before these seasonal favorites disappear!

Pumpkin Pecan

A year ago when we moved within 5 minutes of a Cheesecake Factory, it became one of our favortie date night getaways. We'd grab a slice of cheesecake to go, drive to the nearby movie theater, and eat our dessert covertly before heading in to catch a show. This was kind of where I got the idea to start reviewing cheesecakes because we had so much fun analyzing all the different varieties. Since it was Fall, one of the cakes we sampled was the Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake. This cheesecake is the solution to the age-old post-holiday feast dilemma: which pie to have? There you are, already full from eating way too much at dinner, and then they have the gall to break out the desserts and start asking, "pecan or pumpkin?" Are you kidding me? You want me to choose between the smooth mellow goodness of custardy pumpkin and the caramel sweet nuttiness of pecan? I admit, I am biased towards the pumpkin, but that is still a tough call. After feigning a lack of desire for any dessert, if you're like me you usually end up taking one small slice of each (...and then end up taking another small slice of each). Well, now you can have both together, slapped one atop the other in a medley that seems so natural you'll wonder why you never stacked your pies that way yourself. The bottom layer has pecans in a rich caramel-custard filling, and on top is a smooth delicious layer of pumpkin cheesecake, a little lighter than your typical pumpkin pie, but every bit as flavorful. The whole thing is topped by a gooey pecan studded glaze. Each bite gives you a sample of each of the two holiday pie favorites. A tad on the rich side, I recommend sharing this one if you have it after a meal.


It wasn't until this year that we tried the straight up, plain ol' Pumpkin Cheesecake. I wasn't disappointed. Pumpkin pie is my absolute favorite part of Thanksgiving, hands down. We could skip the turkey for all I care as long as we have that pie, piled with mounds of sweetened freshly whipped real whip cream (no squeezy-whip allowed). I was afraid the cheesecake version would be really cheesecakey, meaning it would be dense and taste a lot more like cream cheese, but the flavor was delightfully light, like a slightly fluffier version of pumpkin pie. Of course, there is a greater filling to crust ratio, so depending on how much you like the crust that could be a good or bad thing. I thought it was great. It's even garnished with a few pecans which adds a nice texture, but it is still a lot simpler and lighter than the Pecan Pumpkin, and better suited to eating after a big meal.

It was a sad day last year when the holidays ended and these two flavors disappeared. I can't tell you precisely when that happens, so if you want to try either variety, hurry in. They are both available right now and should be at least through November. After Thanksgiving passes though, all is not lost, as we have the Peppermint Bark Cheesecake to look forward to! Watch for that review in a couple months.