Thursday, November 13, 2014

Adventures in Cooking Creatively by Robin Janney

For the past three years, I've been living in a situation where I had no choice but to learn how to cook creatively.  Now, I'm not talking about making centerpieces out of fruits and vegetables...I wish!  I would love to have a talent like that and the need for it!  For the life of me, I can't find a free photo of a cool centerpiece.  Google "carved carrots" sometime and you'll find plenty of "food porn" to look at.

No, what I'm talking about is a lack of cooking fuel, in our case propane, and the need to learn to cook everything on electric appliances.  Stuff like the microwave, slow cooker, deep fryer, and an electric griddle.  One thing I haven't bought yet has been a hot plate, instead relying on an old electric frying pan.

I don't do a lot of soups or stews, instead I make pasta dishes in my slow cooker.  Ever since I went to a Pampered Chef party that had crock pot lasagna as a dish, I've been making my own.  Ok, I only made the lasagna once.  It was pretty good.  But I make a lot of spaghetti and goulash in my slower cooker.  Using both the tomato sauces and Alfredo sauce so we don't get tired of the tomato.  Not to mention that we have to watch our tomato consumption anyway because of our acid reflux! The one dish I seem to have a lot of trouble with is macaroni and cheese.  I haven't figured out what I'm doing wrong there.  I usually end up with paste.  :/
The Great Pumpkin they are not...

And it can get a bit monotonous at times.  I alternate using beef burger, tuna, hot dogs, sausage, in my pasta dishes.

This past month, I had a fit of nostalgia for the time I remember making homemade pumpkin puree with my mom one year.  I just remembered how nice our kitchen smelled while they simmered down, and how good the pies and pumpkin breads that holiday tasted.  I thought maybe I could do the same in my slow cooker.

So what do I do, I go to one of our local farmer's stand (Farmer's Fred - if you live in the area, check them out!!) and bought four smallish pumpkins.


What was I thinking?

Because I do things in about 5 minute stretches in an effort from tearing my foot tendons any further, it took my 6 hours to cut up and process 1 pumpkin.  Of course, I was overlapping at the end of the first day...cutting up the next pumpkin while the first one cooked.
I had no idea what lay ahead of me...

This is 1 of the two pumpkins
pictured at the start...
I only put in 1/4 of the second one.

The worst part was cutting the pumpkin up.  My butcher knife gave me grief while trying to cut the stem off.  Cutting it in half after that was a bit troublesome too, but I managed it with a bit of seesawing the blade and pumpkin.

It got a bit easier after that.  The halves cut in half a lot quicker.  And scooping out the guts was no problem.  After that, I cut the sections into smaller and smaller pieces before cutting of the rind and the spongy inside where there were a few strings attached from the guts.

As you can see from my picture, I cut them into really small pieces. Probably the biggest reason why it took me so long.  As it was, it took over an hour for the pumpkin to be tender enough for me to drain it.  The third batch I did, pieces slight larger as I was getting tired of pumpkin, took almost an hour and a half!  I still haven't cut up the fourth one yet.  There's always tomorrow!

Because I kept the lid on while this was boiling, it didn't create that house filling aroma I remembered from my youth.  But then are our memories ever accurate?  I could very well be romanticizing this!  But once I drained the pumpkin and smashed it, I sure did get a face full of that steamy goodness.  It was enough to help  me overlook the fact I had lightly scalded the backs of my fingers because I had the pot angled wrong.

Nice!  And yummy!
I used an old potato masher, and then because I don't have a food processor, I pulled out my electric mixer and ran the beaters through the smashed pumpkin.  I'll admit to sampling the pumpkin both before and after mashing it.

And this was the easiest part.  All I did was scoop out a cup of the puree and slap it into a plastic bag.  I laid them flat as I pushed the air out so that they would freeze quickly and stack nicely.
I have about 15 or so of these in my freezer!  :D
 Even though I am about pumpkined out, I'm still going to go ahead and process that last pumpkin.  Because it makes me feel soooo good to have those little baggies in my freezer.  Even though I can't do anything with it right now, it's just a satisfying feeling to know that it's there.  I did this, even though I could have taken the pumpkin to a friend or family members house and shortened the cooking time by using their stove, I was able to do it on my own.  It might have taken me longer using my slow cooker, but that's ok.

I am glad that I have the electric appliances that I do, and that I've learned how to make so many things in them for me and my husband.  Many people don't even have this much!  If I'm feeling crazy enough, I might try applesauce next.  Maybe.

What's the most creative you've had to be to cook a  meal or dish?

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