Boxing Day

Boxing Day in our family is mostly a relaxing day where we play with our new Christmas toys and then head over to my parents’ place for the traditional turkey dinner. (I would have taken pictures of the food, but we all dug in so quickly that I didn’t have a chance!) Mom’s turkey dinner includes stuffing, gravy, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, butternut squash and apple casserole. Dad makes Yorkshire pudding that we either cover in gravy or spread with butter.

My contribution to the meal this year was my usual pumpkin pie. It’s usually one of my best desserts, but I was really disappointed with it this time. The consistency was good, the crust was reasonable (considering it was in the fridge for two days), but the filling was almost bitter. I distinctly remember putting sugar in the filling, but I doubled the recipe and I think what I did was double everything except the sugar. This also means that I have a second, bitter-tasting pumpkin pie sitting in my freezer that I might just throw out. What a waste. It was almost palatable smothered in whipped cream, but that’s not a ringing endorsement.

See, this is what happens when you bake for three days straight in preparation for a holiday: something’s bound to get messed up. I should have just thawed one of the berry pies that I’d frozen for future use back in the summer. I wanted to be traditional with pumpkin pie, but in retrospect it would have been better to lighten the cooking load a bit. Oh, well. Maybe I’ll have learned my lesson by next year.

Pumpkin Butter

I wrote last week about finally canning my Halloween pumpkins. So far I have done two of the four. For one of them I simply froze all of the pumpkin puree that I created by roasting the gourd and then running the flesh through a food processor. The other pumpkin I turned into pumpkin butter.

Way back when I started making preserves, I burned an entire batch of fruit butter by trying to cook it too quickly on the stove. Ever since then, I make my fruit butters in a slow cooker, for the most part. I don’t have a recipe as such, more of a technique. For the purpose of posterity, this time I measured everything out. I used a six-litre slow cooker, but I didn’t fill it to the brim because fruit butters tend to have big bubbles, so there needs to be some space under the lid. For this batch, I used:

20 cups (4.75L) pumpkin puree
3 cups (710mL) honey
4 Tbsp cinnamon
3 Tbsp ginger
2 Tbsp nutmeg
1 Tbsp cloves

Then I cook it with the lid a bit ajar so the steam can escape (some newfangled crock pots have a vent, but mine is probably older than me so it does not) for about 24 hours, or until the butter thickens. If it doesn’t reach the desired thickness in this amount of time, sometimes I will cook it a bit on the stove, since I find that leaving it longer than that in the crock pot can make it taste burnt. When it is ready, it will have changed from orange to a deep, nutty brown.

Now, I’d been making pumpkin butter for years using this recipe and then hot-water-bath canning it, and I never had any problems. I was using what I thought were USDA-approved recipes — and, indeed, they used to be! But the rules have changed over time, and now it’s no longer recommended to can pumpkin butter (or even pumpkin puree, which is less dense) at home. So once this pumpkin butter is complete, it’s going right in the freezer — which is the approved process. I use wide-mouthed mason jars to avoid cracking as much as possible, I don’t fill them all the way, and I make sure they’re totally cool before I freeze them. I still will lose a few every year to cracked glass. Of course, you can always buy plastic freezer jam containers and avoid cracked jars, but I like to give my preserves as gifts, and I find the glass jars to be much more attractive.

Now I’m a little bit paranoid about the whole thing, and I don’t want to make anyone sick, so I do pressure-can my pumpkin butter first. I process it for an hour (being careful not to let the canner boil dry), and when the cans come out of the cooker I can still feel butter boiling inside the jar. In addition to making the pumpkin butter safer, I find that pressure cooking it for this long also changes the texture. I wonder if this is because it is guaranteed to reach the jelling point (220°F to 222°F)?

(As an aside, the instructions for my pressure canner, which is only about four years old, specifically states that pumpkin puree can be pressure canned safely in this device.)

Pressure Canner

I have to admit that I find pressure canning more than a little terrifying. The steam hisses out at irregular intervals and constantly makes me think I’m going to end up with some disaster like this. In reality, that hissing means that the pressure is venting properly — what’s really a problem is if it stops (if you haven’t turned off the heat underneath first). That means that your steam vent has clogged and the pressure inside is building up disastrously.

In the end, I ended up with fourteen 250mL jars and one 125mL jar of pumpkin butter. Now all they need are labels, and they’ll be ready for the freezer!

Pumpkin & Sage Pasta Recipe

I did manage to finish Thing 2’s skirt last night, as well as doing a bit of Christmas shopping. That being said, Candy Cane reminded me today of another task that I really have to complete.

It says something about your ability to procrastinate when your Christmas elf can sit on your Halloween pumpkins. The squash are still in good shape because they haven’t been cut, and they have been set on holders off of the ground so that air flow underneath keeps them from rotting. They’re actually more likely to dry out than decompose at this point. I started by cooking the first of the first of my four pumpkins today. I used the same technique described on Elana’s Pantry, but the pumpkin was so large that each half took about an hour and a half to cook. Then I scooped out the roasted pumpkin flesh and blended it smooth it in the food processor. These pumpkins are going to yield a lot of pumpkin puree, but that’s fine by me! It freezes well, and I still have two cookbooks worth of pumpkin recipes to try.

Having all that pumpkin puree on hand meant that I really wanted to incorporate it into dinner. I went with my tried-and-true Pumpkin and Sage Pasta Sauce, which I have modified many times over the years to accommodate both food preferences and allergies/sensitivities. I’m very happy with the latest iteration, as is my family. The sauce tastes more of sage, garlic, and onion than it does of pumpkin (which itself has a rather mild flavour). Instead, the pumpkin is what creates the creamy texture without using any actual cream. These days I make a non-dairy version, but if you prefer it can be made with milk and topped off with a bit of sour cream. Also, if fresh pumpkin puree isn’t available, canned is perfectly fine.

Pumpkin & Sage Pasta
Serves 4 adults

Into a deep saucepan or heavy-bottomed pot, pour:
2 Tbsp olive oil
Preheat the oil, then add:
1 medium white onion (100g peeled), diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
On medium heat, sweat the onions and garlic in the olive oil, being careful not to let them brown.
Turn up the heat to medium-high and add:
200g ground pork
200g lean ground beef
Fry the meat until it is browned, breaking it up as it cooks so that there are no large lumps. Drain the excess fat/oil.
Add:
2 cups pumpkin puree
250mL chicken broth
60mL 2% milk, almond milk, or soy milk
1 tsp ground sage or 3 tsp fresh sage, chopped fine
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 Tbsp fresh parley, minced
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
Stir together and simmer gently to reduce slightly for about 10min. While the sauce is simmering, cook as per package instructions:
400g fettuccine*
Drain the pasta, then return it to its cooking pot. ** Pour the sauce over the noodles and stir to mix. Serve, optionally sprinkled with:
grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, to taste

*I’ve found that an equal amount of penne works as well.
**If you want to add sour cream to the sauce, stir it in at this point. You will need anywhere from 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup, depending on your personal taste. I recommending starting with 1/4 cup and seeing how you like it, then adding more if necessary.

Preparing for Halloween

This coming Saturday I’ll be hosting my annual family Halloween party, and I am currently in full-on party-prep-panic mode. Half of the interior decorations aren’t even up, the house is in a desperate need of a cleaning, and I still have all kinds of food to make. However, I recently treated myself to a few new cookbooks, which happily arrived in the mail just in time to make some of the dishes for the party.

Those books are Purely Pumpkin by Allison Day (2016), and The Pumpkin Cookbook by Deedee Stovel (2017). I’ve been taking Purely Pumpkin out of the library on a regular basis ever since it was published, so I figured that it was high time that I actually go out and get my own copy. I’ll admit that The Pumpkin Cookbook was one of those, “people who liked this book also liked” kind of suggestions, and I thought that yes, I would probably like this one too. Even if I don’t use these books for party food, I know I’ll need them next week after Halloween when I’ll have a bunch of big Jack-o’-lanterns to turn into food before they rot.

I also took a few minutes out of my hectic day to make a few fairy skeletons. There’s a great tutorial for a Fairy Skeleton Candle over on Epbot, but when I tried to stick my fairy onto an artificial candle, it just wouldn’t stay. Serves me right for buying one of those fake candles that’s supposed to look real because it has real wax on the outside; in retrospect, I should have known that glue wouldn’t stick. I still like the skeleton fairies (I made three), though, and I’ve used them to help decorate my house. They were super-easy to make and my kids thought that they were great. Honestly, it took longer to source the tiny skeletons for a reasonable price (no way was I paying $5.00 apiece like they wanted at one shop — I got these ones at Dollarama, originally attached to a plastic chain) and to find faux butterfly wings (Dollar Tree) than it did to make the actual craft. Total cost for three fairy skeletons: $2.50 plus tax. Not bad!

Pumpkinferno

I’ve been going to Upper Canada Village since I was a child. It’s a historical recreation of a rural English Canadian village from 1860’s along the St. Lawrence Seaway. Most of the buildings are authentic to the time period, although I don’t think there was ever an actual village on that site — the buildings were moved in from a number of different sources. Needless to say, it’s an educational gold mine. Not surprisingly, it was a popular spot for school field trips, and my parents also took my brother and I there on summer outings. However, back when I was a kid they didn’t have the two lights festivals that they do now (Pumpkinferno for Halloween, and Alight at Night for Christmas). I’m pretty sure they didn’t host the medieval fair in the summer there either. These are all great events, though, even if they’re not exactly time-period-accurate.

Pumpkinferno is an exhibition of 7,000 hand-carved pumpkins along a kilometer-long walking trail. The majority of the pumpkins are artificial, since the exhibition lasts for about a month and no real pumpkin would last that long. There are some real pumpkins painted (and in previous years, carved) by local children on exhibit as well. Back when they used carved ones they had to keep switching them up for new, fresh gourds, which is probably why they switched to painting. I’ve been going to Pumpkinferno since the very first year (five years ago or so), and as my kids got older I started bringing them along as well. This year was Thing 2’s first time attending.

There has been at least one Chinese-style dragon every year (this year there were two). My kids’ first thrilled exclamation was, “Long Ma!”

There was also a rainbow ribbon made of birds (doves?) in the mill pond. Only the top half of the ribbon was actually made of pumpkins; the bottom was a reflection.

Witches danced around a cauldron to a recording of the witches’ chant from Macbeth. These witches seemed more Pratchett-like than Shakespeare-like to me, though.

There was a whole section of famous paintings recreated in pumpkins. The most recognizable, of course, was the Mona Lisa. There was also Van Gogh’s self-portrait, Emily Carr’s Haida Totems, Girl with a Pearl Earring, American Gothic, White Pine by A.J. Casson (Group of Seven), and a Frida Kahlo self-portrait.

In honour of the village itself, there was an exhibit called the “Upper Canada Village People”, of which there were a schoolteacher, a cheese-maker, a baker, and a spinner.

The Jack-o’-lantern-covered archway to the children’s area is another exhibit that has remained constant (although I believe at least some of the individual pumpkins have changed).

My favourite part this year was the Day of the Dead area, which was actually so large that I couldn’t fit all of it (or even most of it) in one picture. It was colourful and detailed and a general pleasure to behold.

Of course, these aren’t all of the exhibits at Pumpkinferno — they’re just the ones of which I got the best pictures. If you have time before Hallowe’en, I highly recommend a visit. It only runs Thursday through Sunday for the next two weekends, so keep that in mind when you’re planning. Also, the lines for entry can be quite long. I highly recommend buying your tickets online in advance, which means you get to take the quicker and shorter line, and spend more time inside the event.

Bread Machine Baking

I’ve been taking the opportunity to play with my bread machine over the last little while, and not only because there have been some stinking hot days (30°C (86°F) with a humidex of 40°C (104°F) this past Sunday) where I don’t feel like baking in the oven. I’ve picked up a few more books about maximizing the potential of a breadmaker, and I think that the new knowledge I’ve gained, and the new recipes, are really making a difference in the results I’m getting.

For this bread I used the Golden Pumpkin Bread recipe on page 167 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf by Jennie Shapter (2002), omitting the pumpkin seeds. The nearly-fluorescent orange colour was created by using the homemade pumpkin puree that I canned last fall. Some of the pumpkins that I cooked up after Halloween were white-skinned (probably Casper pumpkins), and their flesh was a more brilliant orange than the usual orange-skinned pumpkins you get around here. I also bought a variety of pumpkin that had skin that was a deep reddish orange, with a very intensely-orange flesh. The resulting bread was lovely and moist while still being light, with a slight tang of pumpkin that goes well with hearty dishes like casseroles and soups.

This loaf, although it doesn’t look spectacularly interesting, but it had a lovely, subtly-sweet flavour. It was based on the Apple Butter Bread recipe found on page 172 of The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking from Better Homes and Gardens (1999). To take advantage of my recent batch of strawberry-rhubarb butter (which I will share the recipe for soon), I used that instead of apple butter, and omitted the apple pie spice/allspice. This bread isn’t as moist as the pumpkin bread, but is more moist than your average white or brown bread. As per the cookbook’s suggestion, I have tried it with honey for breakfast, which was absolutely divine. I haven’t tried it as part of a grilled cheese sandwich with cheddar cheese due to my issues with dairy, but I predict that the flavour combination would be amazing.

Last but not least, my favourite bread machine experiment so far has been Marbled Pesto Bread from page 142 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf. For this bread I used the Roadapple Ranch garlic scape pesto that I wrote about previously. The bread recipe required using the machine’s dough cycle, which means that the bread is then baked in the oven. It’s the economical version of using a stand mixer for bread dough, really, except that it also proofs the dough. The dough is rolled up kind of like a jelly roll, but with pesto instead of jelly. The final results were delicious! My husband has not stopped raving about this bread since I made it — and I’m pretty sure he ate most of the loaf. We didn’t serve this bread with anything; it was perfectly good all on its own, even without butter. I’m definitely making this one again once the days cool down a bit so I don’t roast myself by using the oven.

Dairy-Free Pumpkin Spice Cashew Spread Recipe

I’m still working through a batch of pumpkin puree that I thawed and then didn’t end up needing. One of my favourite pumpkin-based recipes is Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese Spread by Pinch My Salt. The original recipe is simple — no cooking required, it’s as easy as throwing everything in a blender and pushing a button. Sadly, since I now have to avoid dairy products, any recipe based on cream cheese is out. So I made my own slightly-more-labour-intensive dairy-free version, and I think it tastes just like pumpkin pie.

My first version of this recipe was made with tofu, but that was a wash — despite the spices, it still mostly tasted like beans. My successful version is made with cashews as the base, which means it definitely contains nuts and is not school-safe. That’s okay, my kids can have dairy, I can send them to school with the cream-cheese-based version. My version also doesn’t use premixed pumpkin spice, but instead all of the individual spices that are usually found therein, allowing for a bit more customization. The recipe is vegetarian, and could be made vegan if you source your ingredients right (many brands of sugar, including brown sugar, use bone char as part of the filter process).

I like both versions of the spread as a dip for a freshly-cut-up cold, crisp apple. It also works well as a spread for bagels, toast, or a topping/core for muffins or cupcakes.


Pumpkin spice cashew spread with sliced gala apples

Dairy-Free Pumpkin Spice Cashew Spread
Yields about 1 1/2 cups

Pour into a heat-safe container:
1 cup roasted unsalted cashews
Cover the cashews with boiling water and leave them to sit for a minimum of 1 hour, up to 4 hours. Cashews should be plump and soft after soaking.
Drain water and place cashews in a blender.
Add to the blender:
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp corn starch
3 Tbsp nutritional yeast
6 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves
1/8 tsp allspice
1/2 cup water
Blend mixture until smooth.
Pour mixture into a cooking pot. Stirring constantly, cook until the mixture just begins to simmer. This recipe will burn to the bottom of the pot very quickly, so stirring constantly is essential. Once the mixture has reached a simmer, remove it from the heat. Scrape the mixture into a container with a lid that seals, then refrigerate until cooled through. Serve.