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[Laura's Culinary Adventures] Homemade Pumpkin Puree

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It has been far too long since I've been experimenting in the kitchen, I think! After a month or so of various ailments (canker sores, a nasty cold, and being just plain busy), I'm so glad that I can dive back into my culinary adventures. And since we're in the midst of October, what better test subject than a glorious, orange pumpkin?

Yes, I'm one of those people who, the minute I see one leaf turn slightly yellow or red, heads over to the nearest coffee shop to pick up a pumpkin spice latte. I can't help it. Fall is my favorite season; simultaneously crisp and lush, and such a welcome reprieve after the humidity of summer.

But despite my love for all things autumn, I  had never baked with pumpkin myself - unless you count that one time when I was in the house when a friend was making homemade pumpkin pie. But since I only came around once it was time to enjoy eating the pie, I don't think it really counts.

Anyway, I was starting to feel ashamed of my lack of experience in the pumpkin-baking department, so I thought I'd start with the basics: homemade pumpkin puree. Of course, you can always buy it canned at the grocery store...but what's the fun in that? Nothing beats the fresh, real thing. It's easy, and can be used in tons of different recipes: pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin smoothies, pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin butter, pumpkin soup, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin get the idea.

Need more incentive? Pumpkin, besides being lovely and colorful, is full of antioxidants, Vitamins A, C, K, and E, magnesium, potassium, iron...and again, the list goes on.

I'm assuming you don't need any more convincing at this point, so let's get to the recipe!

Homemade Pumpkin Puree

- 1 medium-size dense pumpkin, roughly 2-5 pounds (the lighter the pumpkin, the drier it is on the inside. Choose one heavy for its size.)

- Shallow baking pan (you may need more than 1, depending on the size)

- Scoop/spoon

- Blender or food processor (optional)

First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and cut the pumpkin in half from top to bottom. To make this easier, you can cut off the stem first; personally, I just cut around it.

Next, you get to put on your pumpkin surgeon hat. (No medical degree or actual hat required.) Using a scoop or a spoon, scoop out the innards - seeds, stringy bits, and all - and put them into a bowl. Be sure to save the seeds for roasting so less gets wasted!

Once the seeds and stringy bits are safe in their own bowl, cut each half of the pumpkin into three and put them face-down on your shallow baking pan. So it doesn't get too dry, pour some water in the pan until it's coated with a thin layer. Then put it in the oven, set the timer for half an hour, and wait! I've seen lots of recipes that advise setting the oven to a lower temperature and baking it for longer, but in my experience, that's totally unnecessary.

When the half hour is up, test the softness by sticking a fork into the pumpkin. If it's ready, it should go in easily; if not, it may need some more time (and possibly some more water). When it's done, take the pan out of the oven and let the pumpkin sit until it's cool enough to handle - and then scoop away at that gorgeous yellow! I'm not aware of any recipes involving pumpkin skin, so just dispose of that as you go.

If you mash up the remaining pumpkin with a fork or potato masher (I just used my hands, actually), you'll have a perfectly serviceable puree. I left mine like this, since I knew I was going to be cooking it further in my pumpkin butter (coming tomorrow!) However, for some recipes, you may want a more smooth puree, so put it through a blender or food processer if that's the case.

That's it! Pumpkin puree should be refrigerated and used within a few days - or, to keep it longer, you can freeze it. Now that I know how easy it is, I think I'll be freezing some big batches so I can trick myself in the depth of winter into thinking it's lovely October again...

Have you ever made pumpkin puree? What recipes did you use it for? Inquiring pumpkin lovers want to know!

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