Skip the Can, Make Your Own Pumpkin Puree

how-to-make-homemade-pumpkin-pureeI grew-up in a home with everything was homemade- including the pumpkin puree used to make Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. We grew our own pumpkins in the garden. My dad always planted heirloom seed and planted a French variety pumpkin that made the BEST pumpkin pie.

We would grow our pumpkins, puree them and measure out a specific measurement of puree then place in freezer bags and freeze the puree until we were ready to use it. That way all we would have to do is go the freezer, thaw the pre-measured pumpkin and add it to our recipe…and let the magic begin.

Personally, I do not like ANY canned pumpkin. Maybe it’s the feeling of accomplishment eating my own processed pumpkin, I don’t’ know. But, I do know there is a major taste difference in canned vs. processed pumpkin.

If you are worried about a long process to make your own pumpkin puree, don’t fret.  It’s a fairly simple process to actually process your own pumpkin puree.

First, pick out a small sugar pumpkin or French variety. Not the large Jack –o’-lanterns you see in many farmer’s fields. Those types of pumpkins have a very fibrous flesh and are not as sweet tasting as the smaller varieties. The smaller variety only weighs about 4-8 lbs, has a good stem intact and needs to have no soft spots of blemishes. Here’s a list of good varieties for making your own pumpkin puree.

You can find these smaller cooking pumpkins at farmers markets, specialty stores and sometimes even grocery stores.

To make your puree:

Cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise, remove seeds (but save them, they make excellent garnishes for dishes and are great toasted) and stringy fibers, and place cut-side down in a greased baking pan. Add about 2 cups of water. Bake at 350 degrees F until the pumpkin is soft to the touch. Scoop out the pulp and puree in a food processor until smooth. You may have to add a little bit of water in the food processor or blender to get the mixture to puree smoothly. Cool before using or store in freezer bags.

*I like to pre-measure all my puree in freezer bags. This way it’s very easy to go to the deep freeze and grab a pre-measured bag. I also like to add some spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger to some of my puree and freeze in ice cube trays to use for smoothies.

*We make pumpkin soup, muffins, bread, pie, smoothies and more with our puree all-year.

Your are guaranteed to impress family and friends with your next pumpkin creation using homemade pumpkin puree!

She Crab Soup Winning Recipe

thumb_DSC_0249_1024I love a good food competition, especially when I can use high-quality products from my local farmers market.  The Farmers Market of the Ozarks recently held it’s 4th Annual Soup-Off Competition to help raise funds for non-profit organization, Harvest on Wheels, and I decided that a seafood soup would be the perfect entry.

I’m fortunate enough to have the best hook-ups in 417 Land for foodie finds, so I called on Chris Perkins of Express Food and FMO vendor (and who I like to call MY Seafood Guy) for some stellar lump crab meat to bring  this recipe to the top- and he delivered!  I learned that Chris orders in lump crab for many of his restaurants deliveries each week (I think I will now be one of those weekly buyers, bc this crab was out of this world.)

thumb_DSC_0248_1024I took out a couple of bags of frozen broccoli that I put up this year, purchased from Teng Yang of Nature Valley Farm at FMO.  (I always buy in bulk when products are in season, that way I can always enjoy fresh, local foods all year.)

Also for this recipe I used Ozark Mountain Creamery milk, which is produced by the Fry family in my hometown of Mtn. Grove.  You can find their glass-bottled milk in many grocery store chains in the Ozarks.  It. Is. SO. Good.

My family loves this soup and guess what…so did all the customers at FMO last weekend, as I took home the Soup-Off Winning Title.  The competition also helped raise Harvest on Wheels over $350- so I’d call this a win-win for everyone!

thumb_DSC_0151_1024She Crab Soup
Make your soup base:
5 celery stalks, washed and roughly chopped
5 gloves garlic, whole
1 cup white onion, roughly chopped
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
1.4 tsp. sugar
6 T. butter
1.5 cups of vegetable stock
2 cups milk

Add to the soup base:
2 quarts half and half
1 stick of butter
1 lb. of lump crabmeat (if using canned crab meat 4-5 (6 oz) cans)
1 lb. of steamed broccoli florets
1 ½ tsps. Of Old Bay seasoning
3T. dry mustard powder

In a Dutch oven or large stock pot, add the 3 T. butter, onion, celery and garlic and sauté on medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the salt, pepper and sugar. Add 1.5 cups of stock and simmer until vegetables are soft- about 15 minutes.

Puree your vegetables with the stock. This is easiest if you have an immersion blender, but you can also use your blender. I like to leave the puree with a little chunks of vegetables, but the majority of the base should be a smooth texture.

In the same pot you cooked the vegetables in, on medium heat, add three tablespoons of butter and add an equal amount of flour and cook over medium low heat until the mixture is blended, about 1 minute- this is a roux.

Add 2 cups of milk to the roux, whisking constantly. Bring the mixture back to a  oil and heat until the sauce is smooth and thick.

Add to the roux mixture the half and half, butter, and seasonings. Bring the ingredients to a slow simmer for 20 minutes. Be sure and stir the mixture often. Meanwhile, steam the broccoli florets. Chop the steamed florets, coarsely.

After the soup mixture has simmered for 20 minutes, place crabmeat and broccoli in pot and simmer until the mixture is thick enough for your own taste, typically 10 minutes and remove from heat. Check the taste and add salt as needed.

Garnish with white cheese and oyster crackers.

Chicken Corn Chowder

Chicken-Corn-Chowder-4-e1310763839317A new soup I’ve been working on is my Chicken Corn Chowder. This soup really does the trick on a cold day paired with toasty french bread and butter.  From what everyone’s saying, this winter is going to be a cold, long one so you better stock-up on soups.

I start making soups and chili to freeze in October, so our family always has something nutritious and homemade to eat around the house.  This comes in handy with a young family on the go, like ours.

Cook your soups and chili, cool, and then simply place in freezer bags.  Freeze flat for easy stacking in your deep freezer and be sure to label your bags with the type of food and when you made it.

Happy Soup Making!

Chicken Corn Chowder
2 large chicken breasts, cooked and chopped (season the chicken before cooking)
1 cup of red onion, chopped
1/4 tsp jalapeno, mined
6 cups of new potatoes, diced
5 cups water
1/2 stick butter
1 tsp thyme
6 slices of cooked bacon, crumbled
2 cloves garlic
Sprinkle of crushed red pepper
2 bay leaves
2 cans evaporated milk
2 cans of creamed corn
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped green onions to garnish
1 cup shredded white cheddar cheese

Chopped parsley
In a large pot add butter and saute onions  and jalapeño for 2 minutes, add garlic and cook an additional minute.   Add potatoes and water and cook until the potatoes are tender. Add the rest of the ingredients and reheat to a slight boil and continue cooking for 15 minutes. Top with green onions and shredded white cheddar cheese.

Raspberry Jalapeno Freezer Jelly

Jalapeno Peppers from the Garden

Has your garden ever produced so many jalapenos you wondered why you planted four plants for a family of four? When I garden, I go all-out! And plants are like really good potato chips, you can’t just have one. I can’t just plant one variety of a plant…I want another and another and another.

This season we installed raised beds at our house, as we started a three-year backyard project that consists of raised beds, a micro orchard and a small greenhouse. I might even throw in a moveable chicken coop if the hubby agrees to build one.

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We installed only three raised beds early this spring and I have to say that my garden really impressed me with the amount of produce harvested for my family of four. Swiss chard, kale, carrots, beets and spinach were our spring crops, huge variety of herbs, seven tomato plants, lots of pepper plants, more carrots, Swiss chard and beets, cucumbers, and we even harvested a couple pie pumpkins and six delicious cantaloupe and banana melons. Now, our garden has turned to fall with our pepper plants and herbs still producing, lots of spinach and bibb lettuce, carrots, beets and tons of winter squash (spaghetti, acorn and butternut).

Ok, enough rambling on about my three little raised beds (I work around real produce farmers that produce FIELDS of produce) and here I am rambling….Back to the massive amounts of Jalapeno peppers that I was left with this season (and still harvesting from my garden). I decided to try my hand at making jalapeno jelly to not waste any produce from our garden. (I shared with all our neighborhood and there are only so many jalapeno peppers one family can actually consume.)

I did some research on the web and talked to my own farmers about any good recipes for pepper jelly and finally decided to take a base pepper jelly recipe and add my favorite fruit- raspberries- to it. The result- HEAVEN! I think raspberries are the perfect compliment to the hotness of the jalapeno and this recipe is super easy- no canning needed, just lots of freezer space.

This is a freezer jam that is easy and tasty- guaranteed. I’ve put up 30 half pint jars thus far and will be making more this weekend. I plan to use these as Christmas gifts for family and friends. Plus, I just love to share good, wholesome food with friends!

NOTE: Two key things I learned about messing with jalapenos- wear gloves and whatever you do- DON’T TOUCH YOUR EYES! I made this mistake in the middle of my third batch and found myself crying the entire day, not to mention my burning hands that continued to last for THREE SOLID DAYS. (I’ve sliced a jalapeno before, but never so many at once- wear gloves- you will thank me!)

pepper jelly

Raspberry Jalapeno Jelly
6 cups whole berries
1/2 c. minced fresh jalapeno pepper, add more for a stronger heat
1 c. water
1 box SURE-JELL fruit pectin
5-1/4 c. sugar

Have 8, half pint jars washed, rinsed and dried. In a food processor add the berries and plus the processor a few times to crush the berries. Next add the jalapeños and sugar and plus about 10 times. Pour this mixture into a large bowl and let stand 10 minutes, stirring every so often.

While the berry mixture is hanging out, doing it’s thing, bring the water and pectin to a boil over high heat in a small saucepan. Boil this mixture for about 1 minute.

Pour the pectin mix over the berry mixture and stir for 3 minutes, constantly. Fill the jars with the mixture, leaving about ½” of container top. Clean off the edges of the jars to remove any spilled mixture. Cover with lids and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours.

You can use the jam after 24 hours, store it in the fridge for a month or freeze for up to a year. To use after being froze, thaw in the refrigerator.

Uses for Raspberry Jalapeño Jelly

  • Top crackers with cream cheese and jelly
  • Use as a baste for pork chops and chicken
  • Make spicy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • Use a couple tablespoons with a spicy stir-fy
  • Use for a terrific baste for salmon: Mix together bourbon liquor, honey, melted butter and pepper jelly and spread over salmon and cook

What’s your favorite way to use pepper jelly?

Fresh Cherry Pie Filling

cherry pie fillingWhat’s your favorite dessert? I would have to answer- PIE. Some folks are cake people, some are cookie people, and I am for certain a pie person.

I’m a southern gal, so maybe that is where the love of pie comes from…or maybe it’s because nothing is better than a sweet pie filling and a flakey crust.

It only took me 7 years to master the art of making the perfect pie crust, passed on by my Grandma Hart and mother. As for the pie filling, that was much easier to master.

I’m sharing my recipe for Fresh Cherry Pie that has become a favorite of friends and family. Now, don’t expect this to be one of your typical “so sweet it will send you straight to the dentist” cherry pie, mine is sweet, with a little tartness. If you don’t want to mess with pitting the cherries you can buy frozen dark cherries (be sure and thaw and drain the cherries) or I have also used canned bing cherries before. Whenever you purchase canned fruit to make a pie, be sure you buy straight canned cherries, not cherry pie filling. This recipe will show you how to make your own cherry pie filling.

 Fresh Cherry Pie

6 cups fresh pitted cherries, about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 T. fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup granulated sugar
4 T. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. fresh nutmeg
3 T. butter

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine cherries, water, lemon juice, sugar and cornstarch. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes.

Stir in almond extract and nutmeg. Cool slightly. Pour filling into a prepared pie crust, then add the butter on top of the pie. Add your second crust (make a lattice crust or try cutting out mini cookie cutter shapes). Top your crust with an egg wash made with 1 egg beaten and 1 T. water. Brush this mixture on the top of your pit crust, then sprinkle with raw sugar (or regular sugar). Bake in 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes or until the pie filling starts to bubble over.

True Shrimp & Grits…Southern-Style

Shrimp & GritsWe recently returned back from a family vacation to Charleston, SC, where a staple food is Shrimp & Grits; the entire south is called “The Grits Belt,” and every restaurant menu has some version of the historical dish.

This simplistic meal is made of rich, creamy grits and topped with sausage, bacon, tomato, butter sauce, mushrooms, scallions, or even a fried egg.

According to Deep South Magazine, the origins of grits come from the Native American Muskogee tribe’s preparation of Indian corn similar to hominy. Writings from the Gullah Geehee also mention foods that resemble shrimp and grits. The Gullah are descendants of the slaves who worked on the rice plantations in South Carolina and Georgia, where many still remain today in rural communities. The Gullah decedents are found at many of the farmers markets in this region making and selling sweetgrass baskets and palmetto roses. Our children enjoyed watching many families make these handmade baskets during our time in Charleston.  A young boy making palmetto roses at the Charleston Farmers Market thought Cora was so sweet he gave her a rose one day…she carried that rose the entire day.

As many did during hard times, the Gullah would make the most of local resources from the coast, like shrimp, and cook them many ways. Shrimp & Grits was devised from this culture and I have to say- THANK GOODNESS for terrific southern cuisines. I’ve always appreciated good county cooking that you find from different cultures that find unique ways to cook plentiful agricultural resources like meats and vegetables.

Here is my own take on true, southern-style Shrimp & Grits. I would strongly suggest using Royal Red Shrimp for this recipe, if you can find them. Royal Red Shrimp are sweet and buttery, similar to lobster. I’m very lucky to have a stellar farmers market that has a great vendor named Express Foods that provides fresh and frozen seafood- and never disappoints.

Shrimp & Grits
4 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup white grits
2 T. butter
2 ounces white cheddar cheese, shredded
6 slices bacon
1 cup chopped green pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chopped white onion
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 to 1 1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup chicken stock
3 green onions, chopped (both white and green tops)
2 T. chopped parsley
Juice of a lemon, about 1-2 T.

Start with frying the bacon until crispy. Place bacon on plate and crumble. Keep about 2 T. of the bacon fat in sauté pan, turn off heat.

Bring a pot of water to a boil in a medium-sized pot. Add salt, then add grits and stir well. (I stir my grits slowly into the boiling water so I don’t’ get any lumps). When all the grits are incorporated, turn the heat down to a low simmer and cook the grits, stirring often. If you are using quick-style grits you will cook for about 10 minutes or stone-ground grits take around 30 minutes.

Clean and devein the shrimp. Keep about 1/3 of the shrimp whole, but chop the remainder.

Heat the bacon fat and sauté the onion and peppers for about 5 minutes on medium heat. Add the garlic, bacon and shrimp and gently toss together. Let cook for about 2 minutes. (Biggest mistake- overcooking shrimp. Shrimp are cooked when they turn pink.)

Grits should be ready, check and remove from heat. Add the stock to the vegetable and bacon/shrimp sauté pan. Let this mixture boil down for 5 minutes. Add cheddar cheese and butter to the grits and check to see if you need to add salt to the grits.

Ready to serve! Spoon grits into a large bowl. Add green onions, lemon juice and parsley to the shrimp, toss lightly. Spoon shrimp over the grits, serve immediately.

From Farm to Baby

baby-food-21Even our youngest locavores deserve the fresh taste from the farm and all the rich nutrients local food provides, don’t you agree?

Making homemade baby food is a simple process that both you and baby will enjoy!  All you really need is a food processor or food mill, ice cube trays and a little bit of creativity!

From salmon to sweet potatoes, to cabbage and cauliflower – all items are found from your friends at Farmers Market of the Ozarks.  Salmon provides baby with natural DHA and Omega 3 fatty acids, so it’s an excellent choice for a baby food puree and Chris Perkins with Express Foods provide delicious salmon to market. Or check out produce from a variety of our local farmers in the region for the freshest picks from the farm.

Don’t be afraid to put in some seasonings in your homemade baby foods as well. Just as long as you don’t include sugar or salt in the food. Fresh garlic or herbs can help your little ones develop an early palate for good foods.

The older your baby gets the less finely pureed the food will become. Follow your babies reaction though, all babies are different and are ready for chunkier and more dense foods at different times. By the time most babies are 8 months old they can have some table food that the family eats, like potatoes, beans, carrots, cottage cheese, yogurt, and many other items. See more here.

Try to buy vegetables that are in season and local. Much of the produce we buy in stores is at least 14 days old by the time your purchase it in the stores and has traveled over 1,500 miles from farm to the store. If you can’t find it local and fresh- choose frozen.

When pureeing foods, reserve the water the vegetables or fruit was cooked in to add back a little in the puree to mix easier. The water holds many of the nutrients your baby needs.

After you have made your fresh baby food, simply spoon the food into ice cube trays, cover and freeze.  When froze, pop-out the 1 ounce food portions and place in freezer bags.  Label the freezer bags with the type of food and date.  When ready to use, simply thaw in the refrigerator or the microwave in a safe glass bowl.

Remember, just because you don’t like a certain food, doesn’t mean your baby won’t. My little ones ate beets, turnips and a mountain of other vegetables that most kids wouldn’t even touch. Be adventurous when making baby’s food- he/she will thank you.

Here are some baby approved recipes that my kiddos devoured when they were still tots!

Fancy Salmon
2 (3 oz) salmon filets, poached and fully cooked
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 medium white potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp. onion powder

Cook salmon fully and set aside. Boil potatoes until soft. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and puree to desired texture.

Asparagus Delight
1 lb. of fresh asparagus, trimmed
1 head of fresh broccoli, cut
1 tsp. olive oil
1 clove of garlic
1/2 tsp. onion powder

After washing and trimming the vegetables- stem until tender. Add all ingredients in a processor and puree. Add back the cooking liquid to reach the proper texture.

Spinach and Cauliflower Oh My

1 lb of spinach leaves (or use 1 bag of frozen spinach), cooked
1 head of cauliflower, steamed
1 clove of garlic
2 apples, peeled and cooked

Place all cooked items in a food processor and puree. Add back the cooking liquid to reach the proper texture for baby.

Red Cabbage Fun
2 apples, peeled and sliced
1 1/2 cups of red cabbage
3 T. of golden raisins
1 tsp. olive oil
1/2 cup water

Place all ingredients in a pan and boil for 10 minutes and then puree. Add the cooking liquid back to the mixture to reach proper texture.

* As baby gets older, add pureed chicken breast into this mixture to make a complete meal!

Berry Bounty
1 cup of blueberries
1 cup of blackberries
1 cup of strawberries
2 bananas

Simmer the berries in water for 6 minutes, then strain. Place berries and bananas in food processor and puree. When you serve this, you might have to add some cereal to thicken it up. Cereal is great to thicken up fruit purees.

 Pure Peas
1 lb frozen or fresh peas
Olive oil
onion powder

Steam peas for 6 minutes, reserving your cooking liquid.  Puree the peas, oil and onion powder.  Add reserved liquid to reach the proper texture you wish.

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