Dinner Roll French Toast Bake

So, as you guys know, I showed you my favorite dinner roll recipe for Thanksgiving. While some of you might have made them, some might have just bought them at the store, frozen or not, and used them for Thanksgiving. Well, I had a whole gallon bag of them left over, and they come out big, so they were some rolls to be reckoned with! But, all my hard work of prepping those rolls with lots of tender loving care, I didn’t want them to go to waste, so I decided to make a french toast bake out of them.

Before we get started, let me tell you from personal experience before I decided to do this blog… not all French Toast Bake is created equal. I’m not certain what you guys look for in french toast, but I like mine soft, custardy and french toast like. I do not, I repeat, do not like DRY french toast. What’s the point of that?? Might as well just throw some bread in the toaster, pour syrup on it and call it good. So if you like your french toast dry and flavorless, this recipe isn’t for you!

The recipe I provided is for a 9 x 13 baking dish. If you want just an 8 x 8 serving, simply half the recipe. I used dinner rolls, but you can use any bread that is dense and thick crusted such as french bread or brioche. The reason for this is, if you use regular ole bread, it’s going to get squishy and fall apart.

Ingredients

8 cups baked yeast dinner rolls, cubed (or bread of choice)

2 1/2 C whole milk

1/2 C heavy cream

8 large eggs

1/2 C white sugar

1/2 C packed brown sugar

2 tbsp Watkins All Natural Pure Vanilla Extract 1oz

1 1/2 tbsp cinnamon

1/2 tbsp nutmeg

4 tbsp butter, melted

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First Cuts on Top

Begin by preheating your oven to 350. I then got out my cake pan and just put the 4 tbsp of butter (not melted) in the cake pan. I find that melting butter in my microwave, even 5 seconds at a time, ends up in butter explosion so I put it in the pan and then put the pan in the oven to let it melt. Same way I do it when I’m going to cook cornbread because.. mmm hot butter before you pour in the corn bread makes for a nice, buttery crunchy bottom on your cornbread. But, if you do melt your butter in  your baking dish, don’t put it into the oven until your bread has started soaking.

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Cut Down Side

I took my dinner rolls and cut them a certain way just because of how they were shaped, but the end result is cubes. So I cut it three times long wise right down the middle, then I flipped it on its side and cut it once down the center. Then I simply cut it up into cubes since we have effectively cut the roll into ‘breadsticks’. If you’re using smaller dinner rolls, don’t worry about cutting three times here and one time there. Just cut them until you have bread cubes the size of a game dice.

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Once the bread is cubed, I put it in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl I combined ALL the rest of the ingredients. First I add the milk and cream, and then the eggs, and whisked it all together until it was well combined. I used 9 eggs because I couldn’t see leaving that one lonely egg in the carton by itself and things worked out just fine. I figured three eggs per cup of moisture (cream and milk base), is about right anyway for a good custard. I then added in my white sugar and brown sugar and vanilla extract and mixed it in as well. Finally, in went the cinnamon and nutmeg and, guess what, another whisk until the spices aren’t just floating on top. We don’t want some bread pieces with spices and others bland.

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Custard Mixed Up

Pour the custard over the bread cubes and fold it in until all those little cubes are completely coated. There’s going to be free standing custard of course. Now, this is where most people get that DRY french toast… they don’t let it soak up any custard, so you get bread bites, or slices, depending on how you do your bread, with bits of cooked custard between the pieces and ew… that’s not appealing! I let mine sit for about ten minutes. Not all the custard is going to be sopped up by the bread and that’s what we want, bread that is nice and soft with custard with some liquid left over to fill in the gaps when we cook it.

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Bread Cubes Soaking

If you didn’t melt your butter in  your dish like I did, simply pour your melted butter in the bottom of your baking dish and now you’re going to pour your custard in. Go slow so you don’t slap hot butter over the side and burn yourself. Also, we don’t want to waste the butter either by having that splashing action because.. it’s butter…delish! If you DID melt your butter in your baking dish, make sure you take your dish out of the oven when the butter is melted and slightly browned. Don’t let it sit in the oven while your custard is soaking into the bread. 10 minutes MIGHT be too long depending on the type of oven you have and then you are left with butter crunchies and no melted butter.

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Butter Ready to be Melted in the Oven

Smooth your bread cubes/custard mix gently into the baking dish until evenly spread. Now place it in the oven, uncovered, and bake it for about 45 minutes. Your french toast bake should be set up, not watery, and the melted butter will be bubbling around the edges of the dish

Soimg_1156.jpgme people like to, as I put it, over complicate their french toast bake by putting some type of sugary crumble on top of it, but I prefer to let my maple syrup do the talking rather than having a sugar overload and making this a ‘dessert for breakfast’ type of thing. This french toast bake was not overly sweat at all and, after I sliced it and put it on the plate, was nice and slightly bouncy from the custard and crunchy on top which was amazing. I simply drizzled my maple syrup over the top and served it up with some maple sausage.

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Finished Casserole


Post Thanksgiving Slump

It’s that time of year. You know what I’m talking about. The Post Thanksgiving Slump. Too much turkey. Too much rich food. Too much house cleaning. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. It’s like the week leading up to Thanksgiving is spent preparing for family and friends and food comas, and the week after is spent jumping right into the next holiday by shopping all these ‘special days of discount’ WHILE going through your turkey coma.

If you don’t have these issues, you’re so lucky! Because me, I am so tired, (doesn’t help that I moved furniture yesterday trying to find that niche for my tree) and I’m definitely TIRED of turkey! I ate Thanksgiving leftovers twice a day for four days in a row. I don’t ever really do that, eat it for both lunch and dinner. In fact, I usually make turkey soup or something else of that nature rather than sticking to the ole turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce routine. I think the reason I did this year is because this is possibly the last year my dad will be cooking his dressing which is delicious. He’s older, not in great health, and it just wears him down, like it does to all us young, healthy folks, to prepare Thanksgiving food. Maybe that’s why I was such a glutton. But, I will keep my fingers crossed, that next year will be a better year in regards to his health, and he’ll still insist on cooking certain things!

So, I have some posts that I need to work up, regarding Thanksgiving food before we just fly into Christmas, but I don’t want to swamp you guys either with post after post after post because then you might get bored with reading and then where will I be? I do have to say that I didn’t get everything on my list done, not because I didn’t make it but because I was in the Thanksgiving Spirit of cramming all my cooking into a short period of time that… drum roll please……I FORGOT TO TAKE PICTURES! Gah! Where was my brain?! Likely still sleeping because I can tell you, after cleaning and cooking NINE pies, I did not want to get out of bed on Thanksgiving morning. DID NOT! I really did have to lie there, still snuggled up, warm in my blankets, convincing myself that 24/7 gas station burritos and homemade pies just wouldn’t cut it for the family.

Anyway…I just wanted to keep in touch with you all, maybe even get a little feedback on how often you’d like to see posts, be it weekly, bi weekly, twice a week, three times a week, whatever your heart fancies. Stephanie has been going on this Youtube kick and is even taking classes online about promoting herself, and I ‘overheard’ (aka, was sitting in the car with her as she was streaming some guy talking about it and was forced to listen to it) that most readers don’t want to see something more than once a week because you feel spammed. You don’t want to see your email boxes full of ‘hey guys, there’s a new post’ letters. Me, I’m the type when it comes to food, the more the merrier, but it’s not all about me. It’s about my readers too, and it’s also about drawing in more people who might be interested in reading about food or small town living or whatever it is that they find tickles their fancy with this blog. So think about it. How often do you want to see something new? Drop me a comment, a letter, a hate mail….let me know!

And for all my devoted subscribers and even to those who have yet to get the courage to hit the ‘follow’ button, I will get those Thanksgiving foods out to you, for next year of course, or if you’re traditional and do turkey for Christmas, you’ll at least have some extra ideas and maybe throw in my family traditions with your own.

Now, back to our Post Thanksgiving Slumps. At least for the day.

 


Buttery Homemade Dinner Rolls

So, this recipe came out of the November 2010 issue of Food Network Magazine and I did this recipe and loved it SO MUCH that I still have the magazine to this day. This recipe is credit to Alex Guarnaschelli who was the host of Alex’s Day Off TV show and they were called ‘Parker House Rolls’. I guarantee you that if you have a big family get together, you’ll want to make this recipe twice. I doubled mine, but I did TWO different sessions of bread making. I did not double the ingredients into one bowl but instead made it two separate times. You’re supposed to get 24 rolls out of the lot… but that depends on how you cut them which you’ll see when we get to that part.

Tools you need:

  • Large bowl for your dough to sit and rise in
  • Large bowl to mix your dough in
  • Small bowl to bloom your yeast in
  • Mixer with a bread hook (I’m old fashioned and I just use my hands!)
  • Measuring Cups
  • Whisk
  • Big heavy spoon for mixing the bread until you knead the bread
  • Bellemain Heavy Duty Aluminum Half Sheet Pan, 18″ x 13″ x 1″
  • Reynolds Kitchens Parchment Paper (Smart Grid, Non-Stick, 50 Square Foot Roll, 3 Count)
  • Saran Premium Plastic Wrap, 100 Sq Ft if you’re making these ahead of time
  • OXO Good Grips Silicone Basting & Pastry Brush – Small

    Ingredients

    1 Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast,0.25 Ounce, 3 Count (Pack of 2)
    1/2 C sugar
    7 1/2 – 8 C all purpose flour
    12 tbsp (1 1/2) sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled (I always use salted!)
    2 C whole milk room temperature
    2 large eggs room temperature
    1 tbsp Morton Coarse Kosher Salt 35 oz. by Morton Salt

    So first, we’re going to bloom the yeast. This means we’re going to activate it and get it to ferment the sugar and the flour, which makes that delicious yeasty smell we all love in bread as well as make the bread rise and have a soft, non chewy texture.

    In your small bowl, sprinkle the yeast packet into the bowl and add 1/2 cup warm water. This should be the temperature of a nice warm bath. I always make mine nice and warm without being HOT because as soon as the water goes into my cold glass or stainless steel bowl, the temperature drops and it cools pretty quickly. Hot water will actually kill the yeast so remember, WARM is the key word.

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    Yeast and Water and Sugar

    Set aside while you prepare your dough mixture.

    Mix the melted butter and the milk together in a large bowl. The reason the milk needs to be room temperature or even slightly warm is because, as soon as you put this butter in, it’s going to harden back up and be seriously clumpy and we want them to just come together nice and flawlessly.

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    Adding in the Bloomed Yeast to the Milk Mixture

    Add your 2 eggs, one at a time, mixing each well until incorporated. We’re then going to take our blooming yeast flour in the small bowl and add it to our milk mixture, stirring it in until its well mixed and we have a thick soupy mixture which may be slightly lumpy. I had one batch come out somewhat lumpy and one come out smooth, but it made no difference in how well the bread rose, so don’t be too worried about it.

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    Adding Flour Two Cups at a Time

    Now, I add my 6 1/2 cups of flour, but since I don’t have a fancy mixing machine with a bread hook and I’m doing this by hand, I mix it in, 2 cups at a time, using my heavy spoon to stir it.

    By the time I drop in the last 2 1/2 cups of flour and stir it somewhat, I give up the ghost, put my spoon aside, use my WASHED hands, and begin to knead the dough by hand. This is, after all, the ultimate fun part of making bread! I just fold it, and knead, fold it and knead until it’s all well mixed. If the mixture is too sticky, add a little more flour. I just sprinkled it on, a tablespoon or two at a time, because I can add more easier than I can take it away if it’s too dry.

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    Kneading Dough

    With our empty large bowl (you should have 2 large bowls for this), we’re going to butter the empty bowl. (I used olive oil cooking spray). We then transfer our nice smooth dough into the greased bowl and we’re going to cover it with a towel and set it aside for 2 to 2.5 hours so it can rise, doubling its side. I use this time to wash my dishes and I even ran an errand or two since I had the time!

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    Ready to Transfer!


    Welcome back from your two hour stint of errand running, dish washing or, if you were lucky, napping! Let’s check in on our ‘baby’.

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    Dough Rising Beneath Towel

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    Risen Dough

    Seems it’s sleeping peacefully, growing into a delicious mountain of fluffy dough beneath the towel.

    Yep! There she is! Twice her size and ready to grow up and become some tasty dinner rolls!

    If you are ready to cook these rolls right now, you need to preheat the oven to 375 degrees. If you’re not going to cook them but are making them ahead of time, just don’t turn the oven on!

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    Dough Rectangle

    We’re going to flour our kneading surface, dusting it, not dumping out two cups of flour to mix into the bread. Just enough ‘snow’ to keep it from sticking. I knead my bread on my bar top since it’s butcher block, but feel free to knead it on a counter top. I always, always wash the counter first, using a disinfectant wipe first, then a clean wash rag and water to wipe it off after the disinfectant wipe, then I dry it with a clean towel. We are preparing food on it after all.

    Once your kneading surface is floured and you take a peek at that big ball of fluffy dough that should be peeking up out of the bowl, we’re going to simply dump the dough onto our floured surface and we’re going to use our fingers to press it into a rectangle that is 16 x 8 and about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch thick.

    This part here determines how many rolls you get essentially. I don’t EVER measure my rectangle, I just eyeball the thickness of it, because that is what really determines if the rectangle is big enough or not, you know. If you have a big ole fat pile of dough that is four inches thick, then clearly you didn’t make your rectangle big enough. Don’t use a rolling pin because we don’t want to completely squash out all the nice fluffiness of this dough.

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    Cut in Half Lengthwise

    Once you have your rectangle formed, get a knife (I used my big ole butchers knife), and you’re going to cut one time down the middle, lengthwise. Don’t saw with your knife, but instead, press with the blade so you don’t stretch the dough. Now you’ll have two strips of long dough.

    Next, we’re going to cut 11 times width wise, which means we’ll have 24 total strips, 12 on one side, 12 on the other. Now um… so I’m not necessarily a perfectionist when it comes to cutting the strips so I actually cut like 9 on each side instead of 12, so i had huge fat rolls. That was because I didn’t do some pre marks on this first rectangle. On the second dough I did, I cut long wise down the middle, then I marked where I’d cut by just lightly pressing my knife in the dough so I’d come out with 24 strips total, but, of course, I want to show you my ‘mistakes’. But really, it’s not a mistake! It just made a nice big fluffy roll that would feed two people instead of one, unless you’re like me and you can eat what two people can!

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    My Poorly Cut Strips

    We’re going to take each strip, and fold the dough unevenly in half. So the first little side, I took in 1/3 of the way to the middle, and the other side, I took the rest of the 2/3 way. Now we’re going to place our rolls in three lines of 8, that is, if you cut the 24 strips like you were supposed to and I didn’t, on our parchment paper lined cookie sheet. I will admit, I uh..cut a piece of parchment from the roll, put it on the cookie sheet and while I was in the middle of rolling a strip, the parchment rolled back up, shot off the cookie sheet and did a nosedive to the floor! See!

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    Oopsie!

    This is the behind the scenes things you DON’T see on cooking shows. I also failed to mention I had a flour explosion which landed in my shoe while I was kneading the first batch of dough! So.. back to the rolls! We have three lines, placing the rolls, seam down, right next to each other, on the cookie sheet, leaving an inch gap between the three separate rows.

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    Rolls on the Sheet

    If you’re going to go ahead and bake these, put them in the over at 375 for 18-20 minutes. If you’re going to save them for a later date, wrap them, air tight, with saran wrap, on the cookie sheet and just freeze them. If you freeze these and want to bake them, you take them out of the freezer and bake for 25 minutes at 325 and then 10 minutes at 375, per the directions in the magazine. What I like to do is take them out of the freezer the night before and put the sheet in the fridge so they can defrost. Then, say half an hour to an hour before I want to cook them, I’ll take them out of the fridge and remove the plastic wrap and let them sit on the counter to plump up. Basically the longer they sit and the warmer they get to room temperature, the more plump they’ll be. Then I bake them at the regular baking time of 18-20 minutes.

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    Saran Wrapped Until Thanksgiving!

    The rolls are done when they are a golden brown and are pulling apart at the seams. Take the hot rolls out of the oven, melt a little butter and brush the tops before serving. DELICIOUS!

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    My Little Snack For Dinner

    These, if you’re into the whole bread making thing and spending a day doing it, make an EXCELLENT way of having fresh rolls for a month really. If you keep these in the freezer, and make several batches on disposable cooking sheets (especially if you only have so many good ones lying around), you can say goodbye to heating up the store bought frozen ones, plus these are, by far, cheaper to make from a dollar point of view. I use to make sheets of them to give to my friends who weren’t so baking savvy but loved these rolls, which is also a nice thing to do if you love baking bread! Mind you, I took 8 rolls from my sheet and baked them this evening, since my family was eager to try one tonight, so there’s my 8 little rolls ready for the oven just above and below… the finished, delicious fruit of our labor! Buttery Dinner Rolls!

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    Buttery Dinner Rolls


Mashed Potato Soup

So I haven’t posted in a while thanks to being infected with what I lovingly refer to as the plague. No, it wasn’t really the plague but to me it felt like I should just crawl into bed and say my last goodbyes because I had a horrible case of the stomach flu.

This… my friends…is a food bloggers worst nightmare.

I didn’t want to think of food. Smell food. Dream of food. Be offered food. Nothing. I couldn’t even eat ice chips and manage to stay happy. But, yesterday, still feeling as if I’d fought a good fight and every last ounce of my energy was drained, I got out of bed, did the dishes, did the laundry and put lunch in the crock pot, which I will get to in a later post. Needless to say, lunch became dinner and we had mashed potatoes left over.

I was watching my girlfriend peel potatoes as I cut them up and I was like, ‘Uh, we’re feeding three people, not ten. I think that’s enough potatoes.’ So then we had the debate of left over potatoes, how she’d take some to work, yadda, yadda, yadda…

See, I got all kinds of crazy a couple months ago when I realized how many leftovers we were throwing away and I finally put my foot down and said I wasn’t going to be cooking until there were no leftovers.

Anyway, no one eats leftover mashed potatoes in this house. So today, I’m making a mashed potato soup, and my version is going to be bland so that I can eat it, but I’m going to tell you how I make my potato soup so you can jazz it up to where its supposed to be and not have the sick food bloggers choice of ‘easy foods’ while her tummy gets better.

Ingredients for my Mild Version

2 C mashed potatoes
3/4 C milk
1/4 C heavy cream
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
dash of salt

 

Ingredients for My Normal Version

2 C mashed potatoes
1 leek, diced
2 tbsp butter
1/4 C milk
1/2 C Chicken Broth
1/4 C heavy cream
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
dash of salt

 

If you have left over mashed potatoes, this is what we’re working with, and the recipe works for potatoes which have been whipped or even left lumpy. Either or. However, do be aware if you have lumpy potatoes, you’ll have to decrease your liquid amount so that it doesn’t come out really runny. If for any reason you find that you’ve made your soup too runny and you have some instant potatoes on hand, add a tsp to help thicken it up. There’s no shame in correcting things, not to mention, you’re not likely to have leftovers with this soup!

So first things first, we’re going to peel off the outer couple layers of the leek if you’re doing the jazzed up version of mashed potato soup. I know that the leeks I get at the store are always double dirty, so I’ll peel until I don’t have to worry about slicing up some dirt from who knows where and tossing it into my soup. A leek is like a giant green onion though milder in flavor and we don’t cut up all the green. We cut up only the tender white part and the white transitioning into the green part. It should be soft, not like the tough green of the end leaves. I cut my leek in half like splitting a log, then I dice those halves.

Next, we put our two tbsp butter in a pot, heat it up to melt it, and we throw in the leek and saute until its nice and tender and mostly translucent. I’m sorry, since I’m on the whole ‘I’m sick’ thing, my bland soup has no leek and therefore, I have no picture, but trust me, you can do this!

Once our leek is nice and cooked, we’re going to add the chicken broth and our leftover potatoes and we’re going to simmer this, nice and slow and low so that we can give those potatoes some of that flavor infusion. Give this about 15 minutes. I did not add chicken broth to my bland soup because I find that anything meaty, in my condition, doesn’t settle well, but cooking my potatoes (if I use fresh raw ones and not leftovers), in chicken broth, gives it a certain wow factor! I also cook my vegetables for other soups in chicken broth rather than water. Who doesn’t want that extra layer of flavor?

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Mashed Potatoes in Milk/Cream Base

Next, we add our seasonings, cream and milk and stir it in well, simmer until it’s nice and hot, assuming you’re adding cold milk and cream, so another 15-20 minutes.

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Adding in Our Spices

Then you dish out your finished potato soup, top it with some shredded cheese and some chopped up, cooked bacon if you want, and now you have a delicious little meal to use those poor, lonesome mashed potatoes for! And I do promise, once I cut up a leek and so on, I will provide you more pictures!


Tough Love

As you are aware of now, this blog is not only about cooking and eating in a small town but also living in one.

I’ve always been a firm believer that living in a small town, while it doesn’t completely shield you from bad things, that it buffers them somewhat. Maybe that’s a bit naive, to think that we’re at least cushioned some from the hard blow of life’s realities, but I suppose I consider it to be some measure of faith and hope as well. Regardless of where we live, anything is possible, be it good or bad, and deep down I’m aware of that, but wouldn’t it be hard to face every day waiting for the bad rather than praying for the good? I think it would.

Anyway, going on this whole tangent of good and bad things brings me full circle back to what I was actually going to talk about. Why put it up here? Because sometimes we need outlets, non judgmental ones, and I know for certain my computer isn’t going to say something witty or rhetorical or what not when I sit down and start typing, so it’s easier to let things just flow from my fingertips. I wanted to talk a little about my experiences of being a parent.

I had my first child three months before I turned 19, so I was a young parent, but don’t be judgmental. Just because I was young doesn’t mean I didn’t have any sense of responsibility. I had already graduated from high school, which I did at 17, and already taken a full semester of college. Boy, you should have seen me in modern dance class, 8 months pregnant trying to reach my toes to stretch or doing our dance final which was a routine three other girls and I had to choreograph and perform.

Anyway, I went to college, I worked, and I hardly ever went anywhere without my son. This meant watching all my friends go to parties, to get togethers to watch movies, hearing about their boyfriends and love lives because I had none. Just because I had a child at a young age didn’t mean that I was irresponsible in love. I really did, at one point, love my sons father. I didn’t actually start questioning it until a couple days after I told him I was pregnant that he told me he’d called the local churches to inquire if any couples trying to have children might want a baby, all this without my knowledge. Yes, I was a little scared to be a mom at 18, scared to tell my parents and lose their love, and scared to be a failure, but I was still excited at the pregnancy and, truth be told, I had never loved anything more than I loved this little bean, this child, that I hadn’t even seen yet.

I knew his name before he was born and I went through pregnancy without my partner, my ‘love’, because I’d left him. I had wonderful parents though, who were supportive, but anyone who has ever been through something like this knows what it feels like to not have the emotional support of that special someone, to know what it’s like to not have the father or partner present. Even if I wasn’t 18 but was instead 25, an age where it’s ‘acceptable’ to be a ‘responsible parent’, I still would have felt less than, or unworthy, for attending childbirth classes without the dad to be in tow. Oddly enough, it is validation that you, as a mother, is respected and loved in the way a partner and mother should be.

Needless to say without going through every little dirty detail about it, I sacrificed and gave a lot in order to be a good parent to my son. You see your baby and you instantly have hopes and dreams. You want the best for them. You want them happy. You want them to have a good life, to find someone who loves them as much as you do, to get married, have kids, find a career, go to college.. the works. Nothing is too good for your child!

My first born is now 19 and he’s had a hard life from about 13 on, due to circumstances he’s made for himself. He hung out with the wrong people, he did the sneaky things and a lot of it has come back to bite him. You know how it is, having that ‘same conversation’ over and over with your child about being a responsible adult. About having a life. About finding direction because heaven knows you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink. I know that I’ve had that conversation for what seems like a billion and a half times and every time I have that conversation,  he gets angrier. Angry at me for pressuring him and wanting the best for him, and angry at himself for, what I am certain, is not living up to my expectations even though the pressure I put on him isn’t about my expectations, it’s about my desire for him to grow up and truly transition from boy child into man and be an independent and successful man in society.

Let me tell you… having this conversation for the billionth plus times, it’s hard because you know in these moments that your child feels resentment, maybe even hate against you because ‘why can’t you just let him live his life’. He feels down on himself for being a failure and not good enough. He feels trapped, or frozen in a rut. You can see all these things when you look at his face, read his body language and meet his eyes. No matter what you say, he will never, not in this moment, realize the amount of love and admiration and care that is pouring out of you, towards him when you tell him these things.

This is where the whole love hate relationship comes in. Children may not realize it, but many days, they’re going to hate to be loved and parents will come to the realization that loving a child isn’t all unicorns and rainbows. It’s a hard, difficult process sometimes and many days, you will wake up knowing that, in that moment, your child actually hates you. Hates you for making him feel less than worthy even though, from the moment you knew he existed, you loved him unconditionally, without reason or answer as to how you could love someone so much.

I think, when we always heard the term ‘Tough Love’, we assumed that it was tough on the kid be because we were being hard on them and therefore it was Tough Love, not ‘soft, gentle, squishy love’. But Tough Love is tough on the parents to.

In the end, as I have always truly believed, love is love. And love is one of the hardest, dirtiest, most painful and yet most desired, most rewarding and most cherished things that we crave. And because this Love is so chaotic and unpredictable and beautiful all at the same time, we have to be prepared for both the good and the bad and we have to be prepared to stand firm when it comes to loving and to being loved. In the end…it’s all we can do; stand firm and look into the eye of the storm knowing that we’re going to take a beating but, after the storm, rain makes the flowers grow.

 

 


Butter Pecan Pancakes

So I decided I was going to do breakfast for dinner and have pancakes and bacon. Now mind you, I like pancakes and when I crave them I enjoy them, but I’m the type of person who eats part of a pancake or a few bites of a pancake and then that craving is satisfied. I know my kids will eat pancakes no matter how plain or fancy they are, but this time I decided to dress them up and instead of going with plain, I was going to do chocolate chip pancakes since I’d never had anything but a plain pancake anyway, only to find out that I had no chocolate chips. (Yes! This is surprising because I use to be the ‘Cake Hoarder’ and have boxes of cake mixes and other baking things crammed into my pantry!) So, I saw a bag of pecans there and I was like, oh.. my girl friend likes butter pecan, being from the south, so I’m going to make butter pecan pancakes! Not only that, but now I’m going to get fancy and make my first homemade caramel to put on top! Talk about getting ambitious for breakfast for dinner.

Pancake Ingredients

13/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 beaten egg
1 1/2 c milk
3tbsp oil or melted butter
1 tsp Watkins Imitation Caramel Extract
1 tsp Watkins Baking Vanilla
1/4 c chopped pecans

What I did, essentially, was make a basic pancake mix and then I tossed in some caramel extract. If you haven’t ever tried caramel extract in your baking, it’s fantastic!

I don’t know if I had mentioned this before, but I have a pretty sensitive sense of smell when it comes to cooking and so a lot of times I’ll put random things into a recipe and if it smells awesome, or smells like what I want it to taste like, I feel pretty confident about it! I once made her a butter pecan cake with butter pecan butter cream for the USMC birthday to take to work and it was a total hit and again, a recipe that I ‘made up’. Let this serve as a reminder…. Don’t be afraid to experiment! Always start out with small adjustments because sometimes more isn’t better it’s just more, not to mention, it’s easier to add ingredients when it comes to cooking than it is to subtract them!

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Pancake Batter with Pecans

In your mixing bowl, combine your dry ingredients; baking powder, baking soda, sugar, flour and salt, mixing them together so they’re all evenly incorporated. And yes, this was technically my second food adventure in this blog and my pictures.. well.. I forgot to take pictures of my dry ingredients in one bowl and my wet ones in another but.. come on, you should know what a bowl of flour and stuff looks like now, right? I know, I know.. bad Kathryn! Be forgiving of me!

In a separate bowl, mix together your oil, milk, caramel extract, vanilla extract and egg. Once this is done, we’re going to pour our wet ingredients into our dry ingredients and mix well. It’s perfectly normal to have lumpy batter!

Last but not least, we add our chopped pecans and stir them in.

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Chopped Pecans

Now we’re going to heat up our skillet or griddle on medium to medium high heat. Make sure you grease your griddle. I use Pam Organic Olive Oil Cooking Spray 5oz between pancakes so they’re not tempted to stick. Bubbles will form on the pancake surface then pop when they’re ready to be turned. Give it a flip, let it cook for a couple more minutes or until golden brown and rinse and repeat until you’ve cooked all your batter!

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Ready to Flip Pancake

Now I butter up my pancakes, because I don’t think you can ever have too much butter, and I also added maple syrup, and then my caramel sauce. (I did throw a few extra pecans in my caramel sauce but next time I’ll leave it plain. It was a bit of pecan overdose for me!)

I’ve included the caramel sauce recipe below if you want to make it, otherwise these babies are delicious just as they are!

Caramel Sauce Ingredients

1 cup granulated sugar
3 tbsp water
3/4 c heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp butter cut into pieces

Get all your ingredients within reach of the stove top because we don’t just walk off and leave this and expect the sugar not to burn, so prepare or beware!

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Bubbling Sugar

Combine the sugar and water into a stainless steel sauce pan. The thicker the bottom on it, the better just because it helps to distribute the heat more evenly, which is important when making things like candies and sauces. Make certain the water and sugar are both mixed well but mix them gently so that you don’t kick sugar up on the side of the sauce pan, otherwise it’ll make sugar crunchies.

Now we’re going to leave it on medium heat so it comes to a gentle simmer. There’s no need to stir this, because again, you’ll kick sugar up on the side of the saucepan. Let it simmer until it’s this rich amber color. You don’t want it dark. Think of the little chewy caramel squares you eat, how they’re that light tanned color. That’s the yellowish color we want our caramel to be.

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Amber Sugar

Once the amber color has been achieved, remove from the heat. Carefully add your butter, heavy cream and vanilla. You don’t want to splash hot melted sugar on you. Now we’re going to whisk, whisk, whisk, until the caramel is nice and smooth and creamy. My butter went in after I whisked in the cream but that was just how it worked out when I was cooking as you see in my picture. If you happen to have any lumps or inconsistencies still, put it back on the burner on low heat and continue to whisk until you get that smooth consistency.

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Adding My Butter

Once your caramel is done, you’re going to transfer it to a heat safe container.

Now, we just enjoy it over our pancakes, ice cream, or any dessert, though I am more inclined, (once it’s cooled mind you), to just eat it with a spoon!


Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

If you saved your pumpkin seeds from our delicious roasted pumpkins we did, we get to eat them to. Waste not, want not, right? So we’re going to toast these delicious little seeds for a snack the whole family can enjoy. (Or you can stash them in little baggies for yourself!)

We start off by washing the seeds with water and picking out any left over pumpkin bits. Place them in a bowl with a paper towel and path them dry. Spread the seeds on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 for about 40 minutes to dry them out some and give them some of their toasted quality

Now that your seeds are dried out and ready for the second cooking to give them that toasty crunch, you can toss them in your seasoning. I have listed just a few choices, but really the sky is the limit when it comes to imagination and our creative palates.

Olive Oil and Salt

Garlic and Parmesan

Cinnamon and Sugar

Red Chili Powder and Honey

Ranch Seasoning and Butter

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Washed Seeds

Place the dried seeds in a bowl and toss them with the seasoning of your choice. This is where you can get really creative depending on your personal tastes. The thing to remember is, in order to get dry seasonings to stick, and your seeds to toast up and get crispy, is that you need an oil, like olive oil which I prefer, or even butter, (We all drool when it comes to adding butter to something!) or even something sticky like butter and honey together. Just keep an eye on your seeds so that sticky honey doesn’t overcook and become hard or burn.

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Seeds on Cookie Sheet

I put 2 tbsp of butter and half a packet of dried ranch dressing in mine. My butter wasn’t soft enough so I stuck the bowl in the oven just for a minute or two to melt it before I stirred it all together.

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First Roasting

Spread your seeds back out on the cookie sheet and put them in the oven for about 10 more minutes until they’re nice and toasty. Remove from the oven and if you think you need a little more pizazz, toss them again in your seasoning bowl to pick up some of that leftover yum. Careful with your seasonings, as I did use ranch and 20 minutes in the oven with ranch was just a little too much for the packet stuff so I’ve bumped the time back to 10 minutes. None the less, they still taste delicious! My eleven year old said, “Mmm, tastes like bacon!” So, it’s hard to mess them up unless you just completely cremate them. Let them cool for about 10 minutes before eating then enjoy!

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With Butter and RanchLet them cool for about 10 minutes and enjoy!

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Toasted Ranch and Butter Pumpkin Seeds

 


Sour Cream Pumpkin Bread

Since we’ve got all this wonderful, homemade pumpkin puree made from our Halloween pumpkins, we’re going to use some of that today and make something which is super delicious.. Sour Cream Pumpkin Bread! Sound strange? Not at all. The sour cream gives this a nice, dense, smooth texture that is wonderful just as is or that toasts up really nice, the extra little crispy crunch on the outside to die for!

If you didn’t make homemade pumpkin puree like I did in my previous blog, don’t worry. You can use the regular 15 ounce can of pumpkin puree, but you’ll have to double the recipe or figure out what to do with the other half of the can since it’s about 2 cups total in the can.

Ingredients

1⁄2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1⁄2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 cup pumpkin puree
1⁄2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon ginger

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Wet Ingredients with Creamed Butter and Sugar

To start with, preheat the oven to 350 on bake. Then we’re going to cream our butter and sugar together until it’s nice and silky smooth. Once that’s done, we’re going to add the rest of our wet ingredients, being the eggs, vanilla, pumpkin puree and sour cream. Mix it all together until it’s all smooth like a nice pumpkin pudding.

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Dry Ingredients Before Sifting

In a separate bowl, we’re going to combine all our dry ingredients. You can sift the flour with the spices which does actually help, especially to keep you from getting little chunks of spices in a few random bites, or if you’re confident enough, (or without a sifter like me), and you can simply whisk them all together to incorporate them so that they’re distributed evenly through the bread.

Now, we’re going to gradually add our dry ingredients to the wet ingredients until it’s blended well. Mmm! Smell those lovely spices! I love fall spices!

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Adding Flour Mix to Wet Ingredients

Let’s get our loaf pans prepped. I grease and flour everything I bake in, be it a loaf pan for bread or a cake pan for cake because we want to completely avoid the disaster of having to chisel our food out of their containers when they’re done baking. For this, I lined the bottom of my loaf pans with a rectangle of parchment paper, then I just sprayed the sides. This will help immensely in getting your bread out of the pan when it’s baked.

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Bread Batter All Mixed

Pour the batter in the pan, leaving about an inch available at the top for when it cooks and rises. Then put the pans into the oven and bake the bread for an hour. It will be this nice, rich brown color and smell AMAZING when it’s done.

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Bread Batter in Lined Pan

Remove your bread from the oven and let it cool before you take it out of the pans. If they don’t slip right out, use a butter knife and just slip it around the perimeter of the bread to help separate the top of the bread from the pan sides and once it comes out of its container, remember to pull the paper off the bottom. That won’t be very appetizing to eat if you forget!

I like to serve mine warm with a pat of butter. I think we all agree, butter makes everything even more delicious!

 

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Finished Bread


Oh My! Sweet Potato Pie!

Hello my foodie friends! Today we’re going to make Sweet Potato Pie. For those of you who absolutely loathe sweet potatoes, I beg you to give this a try. I have never, at any point in my life, appreciated sweet potatoes. I don’t even remember why I baked a pie for the first time, years ago, using these orange fleshed tubers. But I can tell you that I don’t regret it and I make it every year, without fail because my mother might never forgive me if I didn’t.


Ingredients

1 (1 pound) sweet potato aka 2 cups of cooked sweet potato
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (9 inch) unbaked pie crust

We’re going to start off by getting our sweet potatoes prepped. Notice, I said ‘potatoes’. That’s because the first potato I have is less than a pound, and the other is a little over a pound, so today I’m going to double the recipe (and the leftover pie output), but I’m going to coach you through a single recipe.

So, we scrub the potato which should be a pound. Remember what I said when we did the pumpkins? We don’t want any of the nasties left on our cooked food product, so we always scrub the outside. We’re then going to take a fork and poke holes in the potato, all around it.

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Poking the Potatoes

Once that’s done, we’re going to lovingly wrap it up in foil and put it in the oven to bake at 400 degrees. It should only take about 45 minutes, but that depends on the thickness of your potato.

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Foil Wrapped Potatoes

It could take up to an hour for those ones that are short and squat rather than long and lean. At 45 minutes, poke your potato through the foil. Your fork or other poking device should slide through the potato without any resistance. If you find the potato fighting back, put it in the oven and cook it a little longer.

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Cooked Potato Cut in Half

Once the potato is done, we’re going to take it out of the oven and open the foil. Careful. The foil will be hot and the potato even hotter. I’m then going to use a knife to just cut it into a couple more pieces so it will cool faster. We don’t even have to touch the potato for this part really. Now we’re going to let it cool for about 20-30 minutes which means we can get back to that TV show we might have on.

After the potato has cooled, we’ll peel it and then cut the potato into pieces. Sweet potatoes have stringy meat like the pumpkins so let’s put it in our food processors or our Ninja blenders and whip it up into a puree which will gives us a nice, smooth pie. I’ll admit, I blended up my potatoes and then I threw in the butter and blended it some more. The potato puree came out nice and smooth and creamy! Once that is done, we’ll transfer our potato puree to the mixing bowl and if you didn’t put your butter into the food processor with the potato, that’s okay, go ahead and mix it in before moving on to the next step.

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Peeled Potatoes

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Potato Puree

Now we’re going to add in the in sugar, milk, eggs, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla and mix it well until everything is nice and smooth and all those spices are incorporated.

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All Ingredients

I’m using frozen pie shells because I’ll admit, I don’t have time, or the pie dishes, to make fresh pie shells because I bake, at minimum, half a dozen pies for my Thanksgiving dinner alone. This is so mom and dad have something to take home for their leftovers.

I always use the deep dish pie shells because I’d rather have a slightly under filled pie than leftover pie guts because the shell is full. I defrost my pie shells by letting them sit on the counter until they’re nice and soft, then I prick just a couple holes in the bottom of the pie shell with a fork so we don’t get any bubbles that Frankenstein our pie into having a weird growth of pie shell in the middle.

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Unbaked Pie

We now pour in our sweet potato guts and we put it on a cookie sheet, just in case it boils over, and put it in the oven at 350 for 55-60 minutes or until a knife in the middle comes out clean. My pies are always going to be slightly jiggly. Don’t worry. They will set up when they cool, so don’t get all crazy trying to get them to not jiggle in the oven to the point that you’ve burned them.

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Baked Pie

Now that our pie is done, we enjoy it with a dollop of homemade whipped cream.


Roasting Halloween Pumpkins

I’m putting this out there because we all have left over pumpkins that we haven’t used from Halloween. You know the ones, the uncarved ones that we never got around to doing anything with other than just making lawn ornaments out of. Not to mention, my friend Olga said to me a couple weeks ago, “I’ve never roasted a pumpkin.” So, today, on one of my lazy days, I’m going to show you one way to roast a whole pumpkin. That’s right! You don’t have to use the little pie pumpkins from the store which are ridiculously expensive and yield just enough pumpkin for one recipe which fills two pie shells. You can roast a whole pumpkin, blend it all up and freeze it and save whatever you’re not using right this minute for future pumpkin breads, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pies or whatever it is you want to use pumpkin for!

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Our Pumpkin Victim

This technique is going to be just roasting the whole pumpkin. No cutting it up, no slicing off wedges. Jack-o-lantern sized pumpkins are tough to cut. Why risk losing some fingers when you can cook it and it will practically cut itself up for you?

First thing we do is pull any stickers off the pumpkin, and by stickers, I mean the ones the stores put on them for price tags. After that, put your pumpkin in the sink and scrub it all nice and clean. Don’t cook a dirty pumpkin because you risk contaminating your cooked product with whatever is on the outside of the pumpkin. Imagine how many hands have touched the pumpkin, what’s been on it, or anything else just… gross and germ infested has happened to it! This pumpkin is going to be your food so, wash it well. I always tell people to do this before you cut up watermelons and cantaloupe or anything of that nature. Hundreds of people have touched that food product while making their store selections, so scrub it off. I use a little dawn dish soap, since it’s non toxic, and I scrub scrub, scrub.

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Pumpkin Washing

After your pumpkin is washed, I stab some holes in it using a steak knife. This allows steam to leave the pumpkin so we don’t have pumpkin explosion. I stab four or five in the top, then  I go around the outside wall of the pumpkin. I think I stabbed 4-6 in the outside wall. Don’t get too overzealous because as your pumpkin cooks, it’s going to soften up, and be hard to handle if you’ve compromised the pumpkin wall too many times.

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Pumpkin Poking

Then, we put the pumpkin on a cookie sheet or in a glass dish and we’re going to place it on the bottom rack of the oven, heated at 400 degrees. (Notice, I didn’t do this because I’ve never had issues getting it out of the oven with some hot mitts, not to mention my cookie sheets are a little flimsy so I’d risk dropping it more than someone who has a nice sturdy cookie sheet!)

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Pumpkin Cooking

 

Close the door up and let it bake. All pumpkins take different times, simply because they all have different ‘wall thickness’. But, I start by leaving mine in for 45 minutes and then I’ll check it. Usually when it’s getting nice and soft, the top will start to cave in because of the holes I poked. Feel free to get a fork and poke your pumpkin on the side. We want it soft like any squash we’d cook, be it spaghetti squash, or yellow squash. If it’s still not soft on the sides, put it back in another 15 minutes.

After the pumpkin is done, we’re going to remove it from the oven and let it sit about 20 minutes. This is just so we don’t have a pumpkin that is so hot to handle that we burn our little fingers off dismantling it. After the pumpkin has cooled some, I cut the top off. Work slowly, since again, we’re compromising the pumpkin wall and once the top comes off, the other parts might just fall open, so be sure you have plenty of counter space and you don’t have any little kiddo’s standing around waiting to see you murder their jack-o-lantern. The insides are still going to be quite toasty and could burn their hands. Now that the top is off, let your pumpkin sit until its cool.

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Steamy Hot Roasted Pumpkin

Once cool, the insides should scrape out really easily and the skin is super simple to peel off as well. So now we dismantle the pumpkin. I like to cut mine into wedges now and scrape off the seeds, saving those for later for roasting, then I peel off the skin and I cut the pumpkin into cubes.

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Roasted Pumpkin

There will be a part of the pumpkin, where it was sitting on the cookie sheet that is darker and even burnt looking, but trust me, this is not burnt pumpkin! This is roasted and the part that has the most flavor. Don’t throw it away, just cube it up with the rest of the pumpkin.

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Cubed Pumpkin

I’m just going to throw it all in a bowl for now. After the pumpkin is dismantled and the peeled cubes of cooked pumpkin have been sat aside, we’re going to blend it. You can use a food processor for this or, if you’re lucky like me, use your Ninja blender! I’m not certain if it’s because I am using a blender instead of a food processor, but I added a little water as I blended up my pumpkin so it would all get incorporated. Don’t be scared to add water to it if you need to, just do it a little at a time. Remember, we can add more but taking away is harder.

This pumpkin puree will be more loose than the stuff you see crammed in cans. Not to mention it won’t be brown or neon orange usually. That’s perfectly fine. Don’t expect it to look like the over processed stuff in cans. There might even be a little standing liquid on the top of it once it settles in the bowl. This is normal. The reason I put all the puree in the bowl is because I had to do three different batches of puree since my blender can only hold so much. Because we did three batches, some batches will have more roasted portions of pumpkin than other, so I put it all in one bowl and stirred it up, that way the flavor is evenly distributed.

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Our Fresh Pumpkin Puree

Now, we just put what we don’t want to use of the pureed pumping into freezer bags, get out as much air as we can, and then we freeze it. I recommend using quart bags, and freezing it in 2 Cup measurements. Put it in the bag, flatten the bag so it defrosts easier, and freeze it. It takes 2 cups of pumpkin puree to make one pie. When you buy the canned pumpkin, the regular size cans, it makes one pie, but when you buy the big can and it tells you hey, you can make two pies with this, it’s really only about 3 1/2 cups of pumpkin, so you don’t get quite as much delicious pumpkin by using those big cans. you’re actually short 1/2 a cup of pumpkin. This one normal sized Halloween pumpkin made about 24 cups of puree.

In the future, when you’re ready to use your puree, it’s all pre-measured and just needs to sit out to defrost. I don’t recommend microwaving it as you’re just kinda cooking it again. Let it defrost naturally on the kitchen counter or even transferring it from freezer to fridge 2 days before.