Just before this past Halloween I stole a party from a friend and invited people over for pumpkin treats and pumpkin carving. It was a byop party, so I only provided pumpkins for my husband and myself. I ended up with about seven pumpkins on my porch.
In an attempt to create a themed party I thought long and hard about the various things you can do with pumpkin. I scoured the interwebs and looked through cookbooks. I finally came up with a plan: caramel corn - while not pumpkiny, it is a fall classic; pumpkin cupcakes, pumpkin curry empanandas, and a pumpkin pie martini.
The day started out well, it was pleasant enough outside, and I cleaned and cooked while my husband worked on various things. It was when I was making the caramel corn that the weather changed, and I realized I had made a tragic mistake. As I was stirring the corn I noticed that it wasn't very crisp, and wasn't getting any better. I thought that perhaps I hadn't cooked the caramel long enough, so I turned the oven up, just a bit and cooked it a little longer.
It was when I was giving up that I realized it was raining outside and told myself how stupid I am. You may not be aware, and my husband thinks it's silly, but you can't make candy in the rain. I don't know exactly why, but I have a theory. If you have ever bought brown sugar, which comes in the stupidest packages, you will notice that in a few weeks it's a hard little brick. The reason powdered sugar contains corn starch is to keep the sugar from absorbing water from the air. Sugar pulls moisture in from the air. Normally you keep your sugar in an airtight container, When it rains outside, the air is fully saturated with water. It's very humid. If you don't believe me that's fine, but you should try making candy in the rain and deal with the resulting mess. The best days to make candy are cold dry winter days.
At this point you might be wondering what I did with my grainy caramel corn. I served it anyhow. It tasted good, but wasn't as crisp as I would like, but I followed Julia Child's directions, and pretended like I meant for that to happen. Caramel clusters! yeah, that's it!
If you're going to make caramel corn I have one piece of advice for you. Use butter. Don't use margarine at all. Butter. Don't try to fancy it up, it's really good all on it's own.
The pumpkin empanandas were delicious, being that I cooked up a bunch of leeks in butter added canned pumpkin, buttermilk and garham masala. I also was a big cheater pants and used canned biscuits instead of making my own dough. I had enough to do without that.
My big success was the pumpkin martini. Let's talk for a minute about the so called 'pumpkin spice' crap that you see all over the place. Starbucks does it, you can buy liquor that is pumpkin spice, or candy, anyhow these things aren't pumpkin anything. They have a commonly used spice blend in them. Pumpkin pie spice is used in all kinds of things, it should just be called sweet mixed spices. I use it in zucchini bread, carrot cake, pancakes, green tomato cake, etc. etc. The word pumpkin is confusing, there's no pumpkin, or pumpkin flavor, in your pumpkin spice latte.
Anyhow when I looked on the interwebs for directions on how to make a pumpkin pie martini, I got a couple of suggestions: make pumpkin pie spice liquor, use Goldschlager, and the worst one yet: take canned pumpkin pie filling, mix it into your vodka and strain. Gross. I can't even imagine the nast that you would have to serve in a clear glass if that's what you did!
I went my own road and flew into a rage of cocktail making frenzy. I know, and some of you might, that canned pumpkin is not actually made from the pumpkin that pops into your brain when you hear the word. It's a similar gourd, but not the same. It's actually closer in taste to a butternut squash than to the pumpkins we see in the store. The reason for this is pumpkins in the store are grown for looks, and not taste. I even have my doubts about the flavor of sugar pumpkins. I think the canned pumpkin tastes much stronger than that from a 'pumpkin'.
Keeping this in mind I bought a butternut squash and went about the business of making my own cocktail. You will have to mix and taste to find the perfect combination, just as I did.
I am currently trying another batch made with sugar pumpkin, only because I'm wondering if I can up the pumpkin factor. Also I couldn't find a butternut squash at the store (weird I know). I don't think the color will be as good, and I think the flavor will be milder. The pumpkin has a lot more water in it than the butternut squash, so it didn't roast up so dry, and I think that was one of the reasons I got a good concentrated flavor, no added water.
It is important that you cook your chosen squash or gourd. The reason is, that you get that great cooked pumpkin taste when you roast the pumpkin. Fresh pumpkin, and gourds, have a distinct smell and taste. The reason pumpkin pie filling is so good on it's own is because it's cooked (come on, you know you always grab a spoonful.)
Pumpkin Pie Martini
3 quarts of decent quality vodka (a big bottle)
1 butternut squash
1 whole nutmeg, cut up
7-9 allspice berries
1 pinch cardamom seed
9 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick or cinnamon oil
3 clean quart jars and lids
2 C. organic sugar
1 C. water
Baily's Irish Cream
Place all the spices into one jar and cover with 3-4 cups of vodka. Close lid and shake. Cut up the butternut squash, don't worry about peeling it. Remove all the seeds and roast at 450 for about 20-30 minutes or until the squash is tender and bit dry on the outside. Cut up the squash a bit and put into two jars. Cover with vodka. Place all your sealed jars into a dark place and shake them every day for two weeks. Strain and put into new jars. Let these sit for one week in a dark place. In a pan place the sugar and water and bring to a boil. Cool completely. Now comes the good part, using a tablespoon mix together varying amounts of the two vodkas, sweetener and Baily's until you get something that tastes like a pie. At this point write down how much of it you used. I would recommend that you put no more than one part vodka and one part Baily's together, as the Baily's will curdle if you use more vodka than Baily's. My proportions were: 1 part squash vodka, 1/3 part spice vodka, 1/3 sweetener. This I mixed and called the base mix. I then mixed a shot of this with a shot of Baily's. Garnish with nutmeg.
Note: I used cinnamon oil at the end to adjust the spice mixture, to ensure that it had enough of that ... cinnamon flavor infused.