Saturday, October 24, 2015

Easy Pumpkin Stuff

It's October, and it's New England (well, it is where I am, anyway). And you know what that means: It's time for Pumpkin Stuff!! Pumpkin spice coffee, jack o'lantern crafts, all kinds of pumpkin recipes. Many of the pumpkin-themed suggestions I see popping up on Facebook and Pinterest call for exotic ingredients, high degrees of artistic skill, and/or way more time than I have to spare. So here are a few easier options for Pumpkin Stuff that are still fun, delicious, and/or awesome.

Pumpkin Spiced Latte

I've seen a few recipes that call for fresh pumpkin or hand-picked espresso beans, but this one is pretty straightforward: sugar, pumpkin from a can, vanilla, cinnamon, milk, coffee. Easy peasy! You can make the full recipe for a crowd or cut it in half for just a couple of servings.

6 cups milk
4-6 cups strong coffee
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
2 cinnamon sticks

Pour the milk and the coffee into a crockpot and stir together. Blend together remaining ingredients except cinnamon sticks and add to crockpot, stirring well to mix. Toss in the cinnamon sticks. Cover and cook on high for 2 hours.

Pumpkin Muffins

Sure, you could make fancy scones that require 27 different ingredients, at least 6 of which are not currently in your pantry. Or you could go for these awesome pumpkin muffins, which call for only two ingredients. TWO. Which happens to be the same number of words in the phrase "win-win." Coincidence? I think not.

1 box spice cake mix (yellow or white cake mix also works, in a pinch)
1 can pumpkin

Stir together ingredients until a thick batter forms. Pour into greased muffin tins. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

Pumpkin Soup

I love pumpkin soup. I sometimes make it as a first course forThanksgiving dinner. But that recipe involves adding a a few things and simmering for a while (stirring constantly, of course), digging out random spices that I don't keep on hand, adding a few more things and simmering some more (did I mention stirring constantly?), and pureeing 3 ounces of soup at a time. Ain't nobody got time for that on a regular basis. So this is the quick and easy (but just as delicious) version for whenever you feel the urge for pumpkin soup.

1 can pumpkin
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup cream (light, heavy, or half and half)
2 tbsp maple syrup (real is best)
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or make your own with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves)
1 apple
1 tbsp butter
a few strips of cooked, crumbled bacon

Whisk together all ingredients except apple, butter, and bacon in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes, still whisking. Peel, core, and cube the apple, then fry the cubes in butter till soft. Top each serving of soup with apples and bacon.

Pumpkin Pie

My mom made the BEST pumpkin pie. I don't know where she got her recipe from, but it made too much filling for one pie and not quite enough for two, so whenever she made pumpkin pie, she'd pour the excess into ramekins and serve it as "pumpkin custard." Now, I don't dislike pie crust, but to me it's really only necessary because it holds the pie together, so the custard was always my preference over the pie. So pumpkin pie without a crust to have to either make OR eat? I'm in.

1 can pumpkin
1 can evaporated milk
2 eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice (or, as above, make your own with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice)
1 tsp vanilla

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with an electric mixer. Add all remaining ingredients except evaporated milk and beat together. Beat in evaporated milk. Pour into a glass pie plate and bake at 425 for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350 and bake for an additional 40-50 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a cooling rack before serving.

Jack O'Lantern

The trick to easy pumpkin carving, I've found, is a good set of tools, which includes a sharp butcher's knife for cutting the top off the pumpkin; a large, relatively sharp-edged metal spoon for scooping out the guts; and some small, single-ended saws with handles, designed for pumpkin carving. However, even with good tools, it's hard to involve young children in the fun of pumpkin carving. So in our house, Mom or Dad cuts the top off the pumpkin and does the actual carving, but the kids help to scoop out the guts and they draw the carving design. I have each kid draw their pumpkin face on construction paper, then either I cut it out or they cut it out (depending on their scissor skills), then I have them tape each piece onto the pumpkin until it's how they like it, and I trace around the shapes and carve the pumpkin. With a younger child, drawing simple triangles or rectangles may be the limit of their design skills. So if they want to make a scary jack o'lantern, make a big rectangle for the mouth and let them stick in wooden toothpicks for lots of creepy, pointy teeth!!!

Pumpkin Party Favors

Having a Halloween party and you want to send your guests home with a cute goodie bag? These are cute and easy to make. All you need is orange tissue paper, green floral tape, some small candies, and whatever random object around the house is a roughly 9-inch diameter circle (dinner plate, cake pan, tea kettle, etc.). Lay two layers of tissue paper on the table and trace then cut out a 9-inch(ish) circle. Lay the candies in the center, then gather the edges and twist together to form a stem. (If you want to be fancy, you can make neat pleats to gather the paper, but I think it works just fine to simply squish the edges together.) Wrap the stem with the tape and voila, pumpkin cuteness!

Note: To make this into a kids' craft project, you can substitute coffee filters for the orange tissue paper and let the kids sponge paint them orange and yellow (see here for details).

Pleated Pumpkin

This pleated pumpkin wall hanging is great because it's easy to adapt to various ages. If your kid is old enough to fold neatly and cut out shapes, let them do the whole thing themselves. If your kid has a hard time cutting along the lines, let them draw their face and you can cut it out for them. All this craft requires is construction paper, a stapler, scissors, and school glue or glue sticks.

Fold two pieces of orange paper accordion-style, then staple each into a fan. Then staple the two straight edges of the fans together at the ends to form a circle. Cut out a stem from green paper and a jack o'lantern face from black paper, and glue each piece in place. You can put a face and a stem on each side and hang it with a string, or use loops of tape to stick the one-sided version to a wall or door.

Hot Pumpkin Pie Cocktail
(modified from this source)

And because everything is better when you wrap it up with a nice cocktail, here's a terrific pumpkin cocktail that doesn't require you to buy a whole entire bottle of some weird flavored vodka or liqueur that you'll never use again. This recipe makes 3-4 servings, but you can double it for a larger group.

2 cups milk
1 cup Bailey's Irish Cream
1/4 cup vodka
2 tbsp Tuaca (vanilla liqueur) or 1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 can pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or make your own, as above)
Whipped cream

Bring milk, Bailey's, vodka, and Tuaca (or vanilla) almost to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce heat and add pumpkin and spices. Stir quickly to incorporate. Serve warm, topped with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Happy Pumpkin Season!

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