Keep the Pumpkin, Not the Pie

It’s beginning to look a lot like the holidays. Which means it’s time to mentally prepare for the excessive amounts of time you’re bound to spend in the kitchen these next few months. Because the main course and side dishes will probably consume most of your time, I’ve chosen a few easy desserts made with fall and winter’s best product: pumpkin. These recipes are sure to make your life easier and your get-togethers less boring. After all, plain old pumpkin pie is so last season.

If you need something fast and kid-friendly, try pumpkin cupcakes made using a cake mix.

Mix together a yellow cake mix and the ingredients it calls for, except for water, in a bowl with a can of pumpkin and a half teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice. Pour batter into two muffin tins with paper liners and bake at 350˚ for about 20 minutes. Use canned cream cheese frosting once the cupcakes have cooled. Put a piece of candy corn on top of each cupcake, if desired.

If you prefer pumpkin cake, simply pour the batter into a greased 9×13-inch pan and bake for about 30 minutes. (Search for pumpkin cupcakes at realsimple.com.)

No-bake pumpkin swirl cheesecake will add a touch of class to your after-dinner table and it will save some stress since it’s a make-ahead dessert. And at only 179 calories per serving, you won’t feel like you’ve completely destroyed your pre-New Years’ resolution.

Mix crushed graham crackers and melted butter, then press them into an 8-inch springform pan; cover and place in the refrigerator. While the crust chills, make the pumpkin and cream cheese fillings. Then simply pour the pumpkin filling into the crust and follow with the cream cheese filling. Gently swirl with a knife. Cover and chill overnight. (Visit diabeticlivingonline.com for complete recipe.)

Perfect as a holiday hors d’oeuvres, evening coffee companion or breakfast splurge, pumpkin bread is both easy and delicious. My favorite recipe is Brother Boniface’s Pumpkin Bread, from the January 1998 issue of Southern Living. It’s as simple as mixing all the ingredients together and pouring the batter into two greased and floured loaf pans.

Aside from some of the spices, you probably have most of the ingredients sitting in your pantry. Flour, sugar, baking soda and powder, salt, eggs, oil, water and pumpkin make the base. Toss in some cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and ginger followed by a few pecans, and you’re ready to bake at 350˚ for an hour. Serve with spreadable cream cheese. (Search for this recipe at myrecipes.com.)

Whether you need something for fourth graders or forty-somethings, these recipes are sure to please you and your guests because they are both simple and delicious.

Slow Kitchen Week

We’ve had a crazy week. A crazy month, actually. A bunch of stuff around the house has broken, including a car, so we’ve had to utilize time I would’ve spent cooking or baking looking for a new car, selling our old one, running around looking for an affordable microwave and getting cell phones replaced. Phew!

Since I haven’t had time to cook, we’ve had to eat out a good bit, unfortunately. One way we saved a little money was using a free pizza voucher from a game we bought earlier in the week. We’re trying to add to our game collection for when friends come over or on slow TV nights, so when games are on sale at Target, we grab one. The last two we’ve gotten had a free pizza coupon to promote Hasbro’s Family Game Night campaign.

We also ate at Chick-fil-A one night, but that’s not necessarily a cheap option. A good way to save there is to use a coupon for a free sandwich. They’re pretty easy to come by for us since my school’s football tickets have coupons printed on the back. If you don’t have a coupon, keep your eyes and ears peeled for special promotions. You may have to dress up like a cow, but it’s probably worth a free sandwich—and what a fun date night!

Tonight, we’re going out to eat on William’s parents’ dime, but earlier I made sweet & sour chicken I had kept in the freezer for just this type of situation (I stocked up because the Birds Eye meals were buy one get one free at Publix a few weeks back). It was a frozen meal that I modified (as usual), and was surprisingly delicious.

So my question is, how do you save money when there’s simply no time to cook during the week?

More Coupon Tips

My local news channel recently did a feature story on a woman who is what I call a “coupon fiend.” She has a Web site that lists all the things you can get at local grocery stores for little or no money, using coupons. She went to the store with a single mom who was looking to save on her grocery bill—the mom spent less than $25 for an entire cartful of groceries, and she saved over $100.

And it seems surprisingly easy. She takes advantage of regular coupons as well as store coupons. Many grocery stores will accept other stores’ coupons.

I’m going to start trying this—especially since our budget will be a little tighter once we get a car to replace the one with the dying transmission. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!

Lemon Bread

I’m a huge fan of quick bread because it’s well, quick. Most quick bread recipes don’t call for odd ingredients, either. Because I’ve been on such a huge pumpkin kick lately, I decided to branch out and try something different. It’s also hard to crave pumpkin when it’s been about 80˚ outside. Crazy South Carolina weather…

At any rate, I stumbled upon a recipe for Lemon Bread in my trusty Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book. I had all the ingredients on hand except for lemon peel and nuts, so I simply substituted three tablespoons of lemon juice for the peel and threw in some leftover Craisins for a holiday twist. The preparation took me less than 20 minutes. And the bread’s still in the oven… so I’ll have to post a taste update later on.

Lemon Bread

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup oil (or melted butter/margarine)
  • 2 tsp finely shredded lemon peel
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds or walnuts

Grease the bottom and sides of a regular loaf pan and set aside. Pre-heat oven to 350˚.

Combine dry ingredients into a medium bowl. Then combine the egg, milk, oil, lemon peel and lemon juice in a separate bowl. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture all at once and stir just until moistened (batter will be lumpy). Fold in nuts, then spoon into the loaf pan.

Bake at 350˚ for 50-55 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Product Review: Chicken Penne

I think I’m getting lazy about dinner. Last week I made chili, and then we tried another frozen meal. This time, we had Chicken Penne With Vegetables by Voila!/Birds Eye.

We’ve tried other frozen meals from Birds Eye, but this one was by far the best in my opinion. William wasn’t a huge fan of the peppers, but he loved the chicken and the pasta. I thought the peppers and peas gave the dish a great crisp, fresh texture. I also threw in some frozen carrots for more color (and as a vegetable I knew my husband would eat!)

The sauce in this dish is great. It’s not too garlicky like some of the other Birds Eye meals. The rest of the herbs do the job by complementing the chicken and vegetables.

Compared to the Orange Chicken frozen dinner, this is a cinch. Simply toss the pasta, chicken and veggies into a large frying pan and add the packet of sauce. Simmer everything on high for a few minutes until everything is mostly thawed, then lower the temperature and cover, stirring occasionally. The sauce takes awhile to melt completely.

The entire meal takes about 10-15 minutes to make. I popped some crescent rolls in the oven right before I started the entrée and they were done just in time. Finish everything off with some pumpkin cake, and you’ll be in good shape.

Product Review: Orange Chicken

Recently, William and I tried Wanchai Ferry’s frozen Orange Chicken meal. The preparation wasn’t as easy as I anticipated, but the result was delicious.

First, you add oil to a pan and stir fry it until it’s brown. Then you remove the chicken and cook the vegetables with the sauce for about 3 or 4 minutes. Throw the chicken back into the pan and continue cooking for 5 more minutes. Microwave the rice packet for a couple of minutes, and you’re ready to go.

Since I had been used to the frozen meals you pop in the microwave or simply stir-fry for 10 minutes, I got a little frustrated at the extra work that was involved in the Orange Chicken. It was well worth the extra effort, though.

The chicken turned out perfectly tender, and the breading gave it a surprising crispiness. The vegetables were also deliciously crispy. Broccoli, carrots and mini ears of corn added to the Asian flair. Orange sauce tied these elements together to provide tanginess. My only complaint is that there should have been more rice in the packet. I am a rice fiend, so I had a hard time sharing the perfectly sticky jasmine rice with William.

Grab a Wanchai Ferry meal for a deliciously affordable dinner (about $6) for two in less than 20 minutes.

Think Thanksgiving

Fortunately, I don’t have to host anyone for Thanksgiving—and I probably won’t have to make anything for Thanksgiving dinner, either. But if you’re planning on having hungry friends and family show up at your door, now is the time to begin planning the meal. Here’s a list of helpful magazine articles and easy recipes that can save you from a few pre-dinner stress headaches.

Planning tips:

Trouble-Free Thanksgiving

Turkey basics

Martha Stewart‘s Thanksgiving Newsletter… what else can I say?

Recipes:

List of recipes for turkey, side dishes, desserts

Pumpkin recipes (not all are desserts!)

Decorating:

Tables for $50 or less

Pottery Barn—Not affordable, but you can implement some of their ideas with the items you already have.

HGTV’s ideas

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