Cooking with Kids : Pumpkin Cookies

Pumpkin is our ingredient of the season. So far we’ve used it to make some pumpkin butter, pumpkin popsicles, and a quick weeknight pasta.

Welcome back to our new Cooking with Kids series, where Alex is the true star, and these pumpkin cookies are the runner up. If you haven’t seen our first Cooking with Kids post, it’s worth a glance, especially if you’re just starting out on this whole kids-in-the-kitchen adventure. Today’s post will not go into as much detail about how to make the cooking fun for your little one, instead, I’m just putting all of our past tips into practice and sharing a few ideas related specifically to this recipe and baking cookies in general. As a point of reference for any moms out there, Alex helped with these cookies when he was 29 months old (just shy of 2 1/2 years).

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This is a recipe that I first saw on Design Mom. I made a batch for a party last fall, and predicted then that they would become a fall favorite. This year’s batch turned out just as delicious and well-received by everyone in the house, that they’ve retained their position as “favorite fall cookie”. The cookies are delicious little fluffy cakes of pumpkin, and if kept in an airtight container, they will stay moist for at least two weeks (surprisingly a few cookies made it that long in our house!). The original recipe includes instructions for a glaze, I didn’t make it this year, opting for a plain cookie, but made it last year and loved it. I’ll include it below in case you’re craving the extra touch of sweetness.

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(Paleo) Pumpkin Popsicles

Pumpkin is our ingredient of the season. So far we’ve used it to make some pumpkin butter, and cheated by using butternut squash to make a quick weeknight pasta.

Luc is able to eat solid foods now and teething in a major way, so I was inspired to make a round of pumpkin popsicles that he could enjoy with the rest of us because we have plans to ride the popsicle train well into fall! As for the paleo aspect of this treat, we aren’t paleo, and that was a complete surprise to me until I stumbled upon the info when trying to decide if I should drink the little bit of the mixture that didn’t fit in the molds or would that be crazy (answer : it’s not crazy, all the paleo folks are whipping up almost this exact mixture and calling it a smoothie).

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Butternut Squash Pasta

Pumpkin is our ingredient of the season. Today I went crazy and threw out the pumpkin for a butternut squash. Hope you don’t mind!

Today’s recipe for butternut squash pasta is absurdly easy, and it’s something that I find myself making every fall to usher in the season of squash. Come fall, I always have at least one butternut squash on the counter, so that’s what I used today, but this dish would be just as delicious if made with a sugar pumpkin. If you currently have a few squash on the counter, roast two squash today, eat one with your pasta, and use the other for our roasted root and squash soup.

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It’s been years since I’ve lived with roommates, and while sharing space has plenty of downsides, one thing I always loved was sharing the kitchen during meal times. I didn’t live in many situations where we actually shared meals (we were all on different schedules and often had different diets), but being in the kitchen while roommates were cooking often exposed me to new ideas, flavors, dishes, and stories. We all know it, time spent in the kitchen together is special, and it’s no surprise that guests/roommates/family will often congregate in the kitchen. This dish came from one of those random roommate moments in the kitchen.

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It was my first year living in Boston, there was a fall chill in the air, and my roommate had just roasted a squash. He didn’t have a particular dish in mind, but while the squash was roasting, he was also boiling pasta. The squash came out of the oven, a lightbulb went off in his head, and he combined the two. I don’t remember what else was in his dish, but I remember taking a bite and loving the combination of perfectly cooked pasta caked in the sweet squash with a dash of salt.

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Over the years, I’ve made some version of this dish every fall, and I’ve started to fall into a routine. I always slowly sauté the onions in some butter and olive oil until they are translucent, super soft, and amazingly sweet. After the roasted squash is added to the onions, I season it with a bit of dried thyme and garlic powder, and I use water from the cooking pasta to get a sauce consistency that is thin enough to easily mix with the pasta, but thick enough to stick in every nook and cranny.

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Once the sauce is ready, I stir in the cooked pasta and season it with salt. Before serving, there’s one more, absolutely crucial step : add a bit of freshly grated parmesan. The nutty and salty flavor of the parmesan does something amazing to the squash and pasta combination. It adds a deeper flavor (maybe it’s a touch of umami?) that rounds out each bite, and will have everyone at the table finishing their plate.

And speaking of finishing plates, now that one of my roommates is a toddler and the other just got his first teeth, I love making healthy food that they devour. As all moms know, you can’t go wrong with pasta, but you don’t necessarily love giving them plain noodles. This, my fellow moms, is a winning vegetable main course with my boys (granted, baby Luc can only eat the squash).

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We don’t have a formal recipe today, that would just ruin the experience of the casual weeknight meal shared by roommates hanging out in the kitchen after too many hours in the library.

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Pumpkin Butter

Pumpkins are our ingredient of the season. In the past we’ve sampled pumpkin brews, used them to make mini pumpkin pies, and have added the seeds to not one, but two, salads.

After seeing Sarah’s request, I couldn’t help but make pumpkin butter as the first recipe for our new ingredient of the season. I have made apple butter many times, this was my first attempt at pumpkin, and rather than use the crockpot, I decided to try an oven-based recipe. I’ve since learned that while they are both butters and methods equally easy and produce delicious results, pumpkin butter cooks up much faster than its apple counterpart! I used this recipe for guidance, but made a few modifications as discussed below.

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For this recipe we’re skipping the canned variety and starting with a raw pumpkin. If you’ve never bought a pumpkin for baking, you want to pick up one of the smaller “sugar pumpkins” and not the big pumpkins used for carving jack-o’-lanterns.

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Ingredient of the Season : Pumpkins

Every season we like to pick one ingredient and find a variety of ways to love it and use it. You can find our complete ingredient archive here.

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When we think of autumn, our minds wander to all our favorite fall activities.  Hayrides, long walks, apple picking, pumpkin carving and of course Halloween.  With pumpkins popping up everywhere during the fall and pumpkin spice flavor exploding in popularity, we thought it would be fun to share all the different ways Katie and I use pumpkins.  We promise it’s a total coincidence that Starbucks launched it’s pumpkin spice latte today and honestly we have to laugh at the insane ways the food industry is using pumpkin spice flavoring these days.  This autumn you can expect to see some delicious pumpkin recipes, hold the cinnamon and nutmeg though, we’re talking breads, curries, soups and other spicy and savory dishes, okay and maybe a pie or two.  Before we head straight down pumpkin street, let’s talk cucurbits.

Pumpkin Harvest Display

History

Cucu who? Pumpkins are a member of the cucurbit or gourd family.  Most cucurbits grow on vines and are believed to be native to the Andes and Mesoamerica. Pumpkin seeds dating back to 7000-5500 bc were found in Mexico.  Pumpkins were first cultivated in America before being brought to Europe by early settlers and they remain an important source of food, livestock feed and oils around the world today.  Pumpkins of our ancestors didn’t look like the common big, round and orange varieties of today, but more like long necked squash.

Native Americans utilized pumpkins for food and materials, roasting them over fires and drying long strips to weave into mats.  Pumpkins, along with beans and corn are commonly referred to as the three sisters because of the planting style of Native Americans.  The first pumpkin pie came about when settlers cut off the top of a pumpkin, removed the seeds and added some spices, milk, and honey and baked it over hot coals.

The word pumpkin originates from the Greek word pepon meaning large melon.  The French nasalized pepon transforming it into pompon.  The English morphed pompon to pumpion and American colonists changed it to pumpkin.

Today China leads the world in pumpkin production with India, Russia, U.S.A. and Egypt falling in behind.  In the United Sates, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and California are the top pumpkin growers with Illinois producing far more than any other state.  Around 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are grown on 75,000 acres annually in the United States and that number is growing.  Most pumpkins are processed into canned pumpkin.

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Biology

As you know, pumpkins are not just big, round and orange.  Pumpkins come in all shapes and sizes although you may have thought they were other kinds of squash.  There are green, yellow, red, white, blue and even striped pumpkins. If you’ve ever visited a pumpkin patch, you’ve likely seen big, small, round, tall, flat, smooth, ribbed and warty varieties. While some pumpkins are excellent for culinary uses, others are best left for decoration.

There are four main species of pumpkins that we eat: Pepo, Maxima, Moschata, and Mixta. Traditionally, carving pumpkins and baking pumpkins are of the Pepo species.  When you think of Pepos, think deep, bright orange with a hard woody stem. Maximas on the other hand have a spongy, cork-like stem and can grow to be very large just like Pepos.  Maximas keep fairly well, while Moschatas keep extremely well.  Moschata stems are smooth with deep ridges and they usually have orange skin.  Moschatas are sweet and work well in most recipes.  Mixtas are usually cream colored or pale yellow.  Mixtas aren’t as sweet as Moschatas and Maximas and thus are usually baked with maple syrup or brown sugar to compliment their flavor.  While there are only four main species of pumpkins, there are over thirty (and that’s being conservative) varieties of pumpkins!  Side note: the guest house I’m staying at in Nepal is called Harvest Moon and guess what? That’s a common pumpkin variety!

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Upon flowering, pumpkin vines initially produce only male flowers, but eventually grow both male and female flowers and are completely dependent on bee pollination for proper fruit production.  Similar to day lilies, the vine’s flowers only last for one day.  If the female flowers aren’t properly pollinated, they’ll begin growing, but usually stop within a few days.  Upon proper pollination, the ovary will grow rapidly and after a few weeks the fruit will mature.   Most plants tend to grow faster at night than during the day, and the same is true for pumpkins.  This video shows the dramatic difference in growth during the day and night of one pumpkin, check it out! While we may tend to associate pumpkins with vegetables, we al know they’re technically fruits because of the seeds, oh those glorious seeds.

There is actually a bee known as the eastern cucurbit bee that is common wherever cucurbits grow.  These bees, Peponapis pruinosa, are found throughout northern Mexico and most of the continental United States.  These pollinators specialize in squash, pumpkins and other cucurbits and have a competitive advantage over honey bees.  The eastern cucurbit bees begin collecting pollen earlier in the day and are slightly larger and faster.  Curiously enough, most pumpkin growers are unaware that these bees exist and have an advantage over the honey bees that farmers rent annually to pollinate their crops!

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Uses

Unfortunately in the United States, it seems like the only uses are carving and canned pumpkin, but we’re about to change that, right?  Most of the world tends to eat their pumpkins and we can’t blame them.  We’re excited to test out and share some ideas for main dishes, deserts and pumpkin seed snacks with you.  Katie is a pro when it comes to making apple butter so we can only hope (hint hint) that she tries her hand at pumpkin butter.  We may even try to make a pumpkin stock with the guts, who knows it’s a new season, things could get interesting!  We’ll also take full advantage of some pumpkin products and bring you a few new fall cocktails.

Beyond the kitchen, pumpkins can be turned into useful decorations like bowls and utensils.  Have you ever seen an African Calabash? They’re beautiful! I can guarantee we will not reach that level of mastery this season, but we’ll definitely carve, paint and otherwise decorate some pumpkins.  Pumpkins are also a hit in the beauty department. With a little more research, we may be ready to try our hand at pumpkin face masks, exfoliants and body butters.

As Americans, we must admit we love a good jack-o-lantern and a nice display of pumpkins next to our haybale, I mean, who doesn’t?  When those pumpkins are past their prime though we make certain to throw them into the woods where wild creatures can munch on them or on the compost pile where they’ll help enrich the soil.  Birds are fond of the seeds too and if you live in the city, zoos often collect old pumpkins to feed to their critters!  If you have a surplus of pumpkins, they truly do make great animal feed.  Apparently feeding pumpkin to chickens in the cooler months will help stimulate and prolong egg production, if we had a roost we would totally try this out.  If you do, let us know if you witness a difference.

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Nutrition

The bottom line? Pumpkins will keep you feeling full while also providing some essential vitamins and nutrients.  Pumpkins have three grams of fiber per cup, which is one of the reasons they fill you up and keep you feeling full long after lunch.  One cup of pumpkin has two and half times your daily recommended serving of Vitamin A, which aides in low light vision.  Pumpkin is low in cholesterol, saturated fat and sodium.  Pumpkin is a good source of Vitamin E, B6, and C. It’s also a good source of iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper and thiamin.  You can see the role those vitamins and minerals have in our daily life here.

And let’s end with a bit of fun.

Facts:

  • Pumpkin is the name of a movie starring Christina Ricci and it got a horrible review on IMDB.
  • Peter and Cindi Galsier take the prize for the largest pumpkin grown in America weighing in at 2058 pounds.
  • Beni Meier holds the Guinness World Record for his 2096 pound pumpkin grown in Switzerland.
  • Apparently there is a whole world of punkin chunkin that I didn’t even know existed. There are different machine classes, but maybe you were already aware of that?

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Pollinator Power Salad

Continuing to celebrate Pollinator Week, today we have a recipe for a salad that is jam-packed with good ingredients, and every single one, from the mustard in the dressing to the pumpkin seeds, required pollination to help them grow and reproduce. As you’ll see, the salad looks absolutely beautiful and represents everything that is good about summer. But before you dig in, say thanks to every pollinator that played a role in bringing this food to your table.

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As we mentioned on Monday, about 75% of the food we eat required pollinators to grow and produce seeds. That seems like a lot, but when you look at this salad, it’s so easy to see how that’s possible. In making this salad, I used information from this USDA document to determine which foods required pollination. As you’ll see, I got a bit creative with this salad, but if you have a family of cautious eaters, you can look at Table 1 in that document and find ingredients that suit your household. For example, I didn’t even put tomatoes, which are such a common salad ingredient, in this dish, but they are on the list!

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No Bake Mini Pumpkin Pies {Vegan + Gluten Free}

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Thanksgiving is a time of indulgence and as much as I love to nibble on holiday goodies, I hate the guilt that comes along with it. There is no reason you can’t make a concerted effort to eat clean, whole foods during the holidays.  In some cases it takes a little bit more effort, but with these mini no-bake pumpkin pies, it takes considerably less!  Pumpkin pie has been my favorite Thanksgiving dessert for as long as I can remember and while I love the original, I’m cheating on it with this new no bake, vegan and gluten free alternative.

This recipe substitutes out the eggs, half and half, butter and sugar for nuts, raisins, and natural sweeteners.  It’s also a recipe that can be made a day or two ahead of time so that you have more time to relax with your friends and family.  While it’s not technically raw because the pumpkin puree is cooked, this recipe doesn’t require any baking, which is pretty handy since your oven will probably be busy with other delicious eats.  Join me in feeling great about this year’s holiday dessert choices; your guests and your waistline will thank you.

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 Crust Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 4 cups walnuts
  • 4 cups raisins
  • Pinch of salt

Topping Ingredients:

  • 1 15oz can organic pumpkin puree
  • 2 cups cashews
  • 2/3 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon clove
  • 1 teaspoon all spice
  • pinch of salt

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 The how:

  • Pulverize 4 cups walnuts in food processor or high powered blender.  Add 4 cups of raisins and blend until they combine with the walnuts and form a dough.
  • Grease two 12 count muffin tins with coconut oil.
  • Firmly press dough into each cup (about a half inch) and sprinkle each with a tiny bit of salt. Place in the freezer.
  • After 2 hours run a butter knife around each muffin tin and pop the crusts out so that they’ll be easier to remove when the pies are completely finished.
  • Blend the pumpkin puree, cashews, melted coconut oil and maple syrup until combined. While blending, add the cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, all spice and salt. If you like your pumpkin a little sweeter, feel free to add more maple syrup.  (The consistency should be nice and creamy, if it’s a little thick, add some coconut oil, if it seems runny, add some cashews. If you followed the recipe exactly, it will be just right.)
  • Spoon a dollop of topping onto each frozen crust. However the filling settles is how it will freeze so take the time to smooth or swirl it, whatever you prefer. Allow the pies about two hours to freeze.
  • Remove them from the freezer 15 minutes before serving. Use a butter knife to easily pop them out of the tins. Top with a piece of walnut if you wish.
 *Recipe makes 24 individual sized pumpkin pies.

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See that? Easy as pie. Now go pop these in the freezer so you have something to nibble on during the parade tomorrow 🙂

 

 

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Butter Lettuce Salad with Roasted Beets, Pumpkin Seeds and Citrus Parmesan Dressing

This salad’s citrus dressing combined with the flavor of roasted beets and the crunch of the pumpkin seeds creates a flavor that’s sure to please, making it a super healthy alternative for lunch or dinner.

Do you ever dine out and wonder why restaurant salads seem so much tastier than those prepared at home?  It’s because the chef had a certain vision and flavor combination in mind instead of chopping up every veggie in the fridge. I know I’m guilty of the latter eighty percent of the time, but not with this one!  The fewer the flavors, the more you actually recognize, taste and appreciate them.  I wanted a salad that had a warm feeling, hence the roasted beets, while simultaneously waking up my taste buds, which is where the citrus dressing comes in.  Butter lettuce is a great vehicle for the beet and pumpkin seed power couple.  Even though there are only four ingredients, this salad is packed with vitamins and minerals that have some pretty powerful effects and there’s even some protein in the mix.  If you prepare the beets ahead of time, you can throw this together in five minutes, making it perfect for lunch or a colorful appetizer before dinner.

Quick tip before you begin:

  • Roasting beets takes some time, so I usually do this step the night before.  I like to roast a bunch of beets at once so I have them in a pinch.  You can store roasted beets for up to a week in the fridge.

Ingredients:

  • Head of butter lettuce
  • 4 small beets
  • ¼ cup pumpkin seeds
  • 4 stems Cilantro
  • 2 oranges, juice and zest
  • 1 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbs parmesan cheese
  • 2 shakes of salt and pepper

Equipment:

  • Sheet pan
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Pairing Knife
  • Skillet

 

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F.  This is a flexible temperature; if you’re cooking something else you can throw them in at that temperature. Cut the leaves off of the beet near the bulb and then scrub them clean. Wrap each individual beet loosely in aluminum foil without drying them off first.  Place them on a baking sheet in case they drip.  Check on the beets after 25 minutes by sticking a fork through the center.  If it goes in easily then they’re finished.  The bigger they are the longer they’ll take, but most beets are cooked completely after an hour.  Once the beets are finished roasting, take them out of the oven and unwrap them to cool.  Once they’re cool enough to be handled, peel them by rubbing them gently with a paper towel or using a pairing knife.  The peel should separate quite easily; if it doesn’t then the beets probably need to be a roasted a little longer.
  • Next you want to roast the pumpkin seeds.  Put them in a small skillet over medium heat.  Shuffle them back and forth every two minutes or so until they’re lightly browned.  The seeds quickly turn from roasted to scorched so keep an eye on them, it should only take about five minutes.

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  • While you’re roasting the pumpkin seeds, wash the lettuce and chop up the beets.  Pull the leaves off of four or five stems of cilantro and add them to the mix.  Top with the warm seeds and your salad is complete.

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  • Now it’s time to mix up the dressing.  Juice two oranges and add a little zest to the juice.  Mix in the olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, cheese (leave it out if you want to keep it vegan) and a few shakes of salt and pepper.  Whisk it with a fork and give it a taste.  Adding a bit more of anything your taste buds think it lacks.

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  • Pour some dressing over the salad and then cut it with a knife and fork.  I think this is the best way to mix all the flavors together, which is why I don’t rip up the lettuce leaves while prepping the salad.  Take a big bite and enjoy your fresh and healthy meal.

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A note about our star ingredients: If you’re not a beet lover, I’m begging you to give them another chance.  Beets are high in vitamins like A, B and C and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, fiber, phosphorus, and iron just to name a few.  I’m always looking for ways to get more iron since I eat a veggie heavy diet (otherwise meat is a great source of iron) and that’s where beets and pumpkin seeds come in handy-they’re loaded with iron.  Back to the beets, they contain betaine, which is used to help treat depression and tryptophan, which relaxes the mind similar to chocolate.  Beets are also an aphrodisiac because they contain high levels of boron, which is directly related to the production human sex hormones, so eat beets and get busy.  If all that isn’t enough, I don’t know what I’m going to do with you, but if you come over for dinner be prepared to eat it or beat it!

Now about those pumpkin seeds, you can substitute in another roasted seed or nut, but I chose pumpkin seeds because they’re a good source of vitamin B, E and K and they have loads of iron, magnesium, phosphorus and copper.  Like beets, they also contain tryptophan which helps produce serotonin.  Pumpkin seeds are also high in zinc, which means they’re a natural protector against osteoporosis.  They also add some protein to the salad.  The list of benefits goes on, but I don’t want to overwhelm you, just go ahead and pat yourself on the back for treating yourself to this salad.

While you’re chowing down, think of all the great benefits of beets and pumpkin seeds and know that you did something great for yourself today.  Even if making a salad is the only thing you did besides sitting in bed, typing posts and dreaming up new recipes.  If you’re one of those who thinks a salad won’t cut it for the entire meal, that’s cool and that’s me most days, just whip it up as an appetizer!

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