Apologies, loyal blog reader(s?), for the crickets that have been chirping around here lately! I took a work-induced blog hiatus last week, but I’m (sort of) back now, assuming this week doesn’t have any surprises tucked away that might further derail me!
So, if you live in MN, you will have noticed that it’s now fall. If you don’t live in MN, now is the time to come visit. We get approximately 14 days of beautiful weather every year and we are in the thick of it! (Don’t get me wrong, I do love winter here, too, but if I told you come visit and play in the snow with me, you’d think I was crazy. Everyone loves crisp fall weather, though!).
And all this fall weather gets me thinking about two things: pumpkins and knitting. Not at the same time, of course…I’m not making pumpkin cozies or any such nonsense over here, rest assured!
So let’s talk pumpkins for a moment. Pumpkin bread, to be exact. It turns out I don’ t have a great recipe for pumpkin bread. Yeah, I can stir a can of pumpkin puree into some flour and spices as well as the next able-bodied Midwesterner, but I always find pumpkin bread kind of…lacking oomph. It seems that pumpkin bread too often falls into the trap of being over-moist spice cake with lots of cinnamon and very little pumpkin flavor. I like spice cake quite a lot, but I love pumpkin, so when I have my taste buds set for pumpkin and I get spice cake, it makes me rather frowny.
I went in search of a different kind of pumpkin bread recipe this weekend. Partly inspired by the first appearance of the pie pumpkins in the grocery store, I’ll admit! I searched around and finally settled on a recipe on the Food Network (not my favorite resource for recipes, I’ll admit…some seem very under-tested in my experience). Anyhow, it was an Alton Brown recipe for pumpkin bread, and it looked very promising. No massive dose of pumpkin pie spice, a reasonable-ish amount of sugar (a little high, but not obscene by any means), and it called for 3 cups of shredded fresh pumpkin! How can you not get super pumpkin flavor out of that?! So I gave it a whirl.
I’ve never before used fresh uncooked pumpkin flesh. Squash, yes, pumpkin, no. I first attempted to peel my pumpkin with a veggie peeler. Ha! Fat chance that would have ever worked! I got frustrated and whacked the pumpkins in half with the cleaver and discovered they were encased in at least 1/4″ thick shells. Holy bananas. I scooped out the seeds and pondered my predicament.
I decided the only logical way to get at the flesh was to whack the pumpkin into small wedges (like a cantaloupe) and then fillet the flesh off the shell with my boning knife. Yes, kids, so far we have, in the dramatis personae of this kitchen saga, an 8″ cleaver and a boning knife. Yes, we are still working with pumpkins.
Once I had the pumpkin into about 2″ wedges, I attempted to neatly fillet the skin off the shell. I had high hopes for the attack with the boning knife, since it is really really sharp (it’s the sharpest, most prized knife in the kitchen, folks, because a dull boning knife is a one-way ticket to the emergency room*).
* More on that later.
The flesh was waaay too hard to fillet off nicely, it turned out. (I should mention, these pumpkins were about the size of large grapefruits, so I’m working with very steep curves here). I was actually afraid of breaking my boning knife (it’s thin, which is grand for flexibility, but that also means it’s not as bomb-proof as my other knives). So I switched to a much sturdier paring knife and started again.
Remember how I said dull knives are a one-way ticket? I may or may not be a bit lax on keeping my paring knives razor sharp. I know that I should hone them before each use and after every wash, but, well, we use them so darned often that I’m usually either in a hurry or too lazy to keep up on them. This will backfire in 3…2…1…Not four seconds into my first wedge with the paring knife, the pumpkin slipped and all the force I was applying to the paring knife whooshed past the stubborn squash and planted the paring knife firmly in the inner joint of my left thumb.
I kind of stared at it for a moment, not really believing that I’d finally cut myself in a serious fashion (I have either a very good streak of luck or amazing kitchen karma up to this point, as this is my first serious kitchen wound ever). Then I realized it hurt a lot and was bleeding everywhere, and told John he needed to take me to Urgent Care. I managed to wrap my thumb in about a million paper towels, had the wherewithal to turn off the oven, and off we went.
Urgent Care (which is thankfully open till 10pm on Saturday nights) was really a pretty pleasant experience once I stopped freaking out because the receptionist didn’t seem to believe I was quite possibly bleeding to death (John talked me down and got me checked in and somehow un-ruffled the receptionist’s feathers). They got me into triage and a nurse cleaned the cut, and the doctor stitched it up (3 stitches!), and I was home all in under 2 hours.
We stuffed the pumpkin wedges in the fridge (well, the un-bloody ones, anyhow) and gave up for the night. But I wasn’t done. I couldn’t let the pumpkin win!
The next day, we tried par-baking the pumpkin wedges for 10 minutes while we toasted the seeds. Then John attacked the wedges with a spoon (for safety) and scooped out all the flesh, which we then pureed. It sort of worked, but I would not recommend it. Actually, I’d recommend baking the pumpkin slightly longer, like maybe 15-20 minutes before scooping. But the longer you bake it the closer you get to puree instead of using raw flesh, which kind of defeats the point of using this recipe in the first place.
Anyhow. Pumpkin thusly shredded, we powered on and mixed up the batter. The roasted seeds went in, too (as per the instructions), and it came together swimmingly. Tasted good, too! It filled a 9×5 inch loaf pan (which was slightly larger than what the recipe called for), then disappeared into the oven for an hour, where it proceeded to overflow onto my pizza stone. Joy. Nothing like the smell of smouldering burnt sugar to reassure you that all is well with the world despite the fact that your thumb is being held together by nylon thread and bandages.
But I digress. We took it out when the bread tested done and let it cool. The verdict: meh. All that work and woe and agony! All for meh. John doesn’t like the seeds in the bread (I agree that unshelled, they’re just weird, but I think if you sprang for shelled pepitas, the seeds would be a nice touch…but also, why would you buy pumpkin seeds when you’re already scooping seeds out of the pumpkins you’ll be shredding!). It’s also quite sweet, and I really can’t tell what difference the shredded pumpkin made versus a recipe that uses canned. Which is disappointing. Not to mention the mess on my pizza stone. I guess I’m a little disappointed that the recipe turned out so badly when it started off so promising.
Anyhow, the pumpkin bread is edible, and we’ll be having it for breakfast all week, to be sure, but for now, I’m still on the hunt for a stellar Pumpkin Bread recipe.
My stitched-up thumb will be on the mend (ha! on the mend…) for at least a week, I’m told, so I’m planning a pretty low-key week around these parts. I have a kid shirt cut out I might try to sew, and I have some knitting I’ve been itching to pick up again, but we’ll have to see how the thumb feels about all this. I might just end up spending my free time on the couch watching Disney movies and letting John make me brownies.