Leftovers

Pumpkin Plops for Pups

This post is about grandkids and grandpups.  I am always on the lookout for simple but fun things to do in the kitchen with my granddaughter, Kaedynce, and grandson, Bryce. I also love my grandpups.  I have three of those, Chloe (a.k.a. Boss Bitch), who belongs to Kaedynce; Buddy, Bryce’s birthday dog, and Mac Daddy, whom my daughter, Amy, and son-in-law, Solo, rescued.  Chloe is a beagle who has no idea how small she actually is, and she is the boss of any group she joins.  I love her spunkiness and sometimes wish I were more like her!  Buddy is a Yellow Lab, only 9 months old, and he’s the size of a small elephant with the loving disposition of a Lab. Bryce wants to train him to be a search-and-rescue dog.  Mac Daddy is a Yorkie/Silky mix.  He’s absolutely the cutest dog I’ve ever seen and also one of the sweetest.

(I’m not playing favorites here.  I asked for pictures of all three dogs, and this is the only one I got before post time.  But isn’t Mac Daddy the cutest little guy?)

Recently, a Facebook friend of mine, Debra, dehydrated some cooked sweet potatoes as a treat for her dogs. She used a jerky gun to extrude the sweet potatoes into a square shape.  I got to thinking, why not make something like that for the grandpups with the grandkids?  I don’t have a jerky gun, but with some advice from Debra and the dehydrating group, I came up with Pumpkin Plops for Pups.  Of course, the only thing original about this is the title.

I used to make Thanksgiving pies from homegrown Halloween jack o’lanterns until I learned that field pumpkins are not nearly as sweet or flavorful as pie pumpkins.  I started growing pie pumpkins for Thanksgiving pies, and just a few field pumpkins for carving.  But the waste of the field pumpkins after Halloween always bothered me.  Oh, yes, they were composted, of course, but still.  Last year, I had chickens, so I didn’t feel as guilty, and this year, I planned to give our two jack o’lanterns to the chickens again.  But then I saw Debra’s post about her dog treats, and the light bulb blinked on.

It really couldn’t be any easier. I had two jack o’lanterns that Dennis carved during the family carving party.  (During which Buddy, by the way, ate quite a bit of raw pumpkin.)  I named our jack o’lanterns Drunken Jack and Happy Jack.

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I cut the faces off the jacks (the cut sides tend to mold quickly, although these weren’t bad), and gave them to the chickens.  They also got all of Happy Jack, because I didn’t need him. It made a funny picture.

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I cubed up the rest of Drunken Jack and filled my 6 quart soup pot.  I put a little water in the bottom of the pot to keep the pumpkin from scorching and got it boiling, then turned it down to a simmer.  I stirred the pot occasionally, bringing the more cooked cubes up to the top and turning the more raw cubes on top down to the bottom.  It only took about 45 minutes to get the peel on the large cubes soft enough to puree.

I didn’t peel the pumpkin for two reasons.  One, that’s a lot of work my hands can’t take, and I didn’t want to put too much pain, time, or effort into an experiment I wasn’t sure would work.  Two, I thought the peel would provide more body to the plops and fiber to the pups.

When the flesh and peel were soft, I scooped the pumpkin out of the pot and into a colander set over a large bowl.  I wanted to drain as much water out of the pumpkin as I could before dehydrating, and I wanted the pumpkin to cool down before I pureed it.

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Once the pumpkin was cool, I put it in the food processor in batches.  It took a while to get the peel broken down enough for my purposes, but eventually, I could only see small specks of bright orange.

The grandkids arrived after school, and the plopping commenced.  Early on, I’d thought we might be able to use frosting piping bags to create little poop-shaped plops (in which case this post would have been titled “Pumpkin Poop for Pups”).  But as soon as I scooped the pureed pumpkin out of the food processor bowl to fill the piping bags, I could tell it wasn’t going to hold a shape.  It was still too watery. But that was okay.  I thought the kids would have fun with the piping bags, and they did.

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We each had our own fruit leather tray.  Bryce gave creating a log-shaped poop plop for Buddy a good try!  Kaedynce was more dainty with her plops, but she was attempting to create a medium-sized plop for Chloe.  I made little plops for little Mac Daddy.  When our trays were full, they went into the dehydrator at 115 degrees.  Bryce, little logician that he is, read the guidelines on the control panel of the dehydrator and told me that vegetables should be set at  135 degrees.  Kaedynce, older and wiser in the ways of the kitchen, replied that pumpkin was not a vegetable, but a fruit. “Doesn’t matter,” Bryce said.  “Vegetables and fruit should dry at 135 degrees.” There might have been a squabble, but Nana intervened.  “My friend, Debra, recommended 115 degrees, so that’s what we’re going to do!”

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(If you want to try this but don’t have a food dehydrator, you can do it in the oven.  Set your oven to the lowest setting. The pumpkin plops can be placed on parchment- or waxed paper-covered cookie sheets.  When the oven and cookie sheets are warm, turn the oven off, turn on the oven light, and leave the oven door closed for 18-24 hours before checking. If the plops are still wet, heat the oven up again, and repeat above procedure until plops are leathery.)

The plops were very watery, so I was very surprised to see that they were dried to the leathery stage after about 18 hours.  I was also surprised to see how much they shrank!  They were so small, Buddy could have eaten them all in one gulp!

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I decided to try another batch with the leftover cooked pumpkin from Drunken Jack.  I’d intended to give the leftovers to the chickens, but the bowl was still sitting on the counter the morning after the initial test run.  I buzzed the pumpkin cubes in the Ninja blender this time, and it was faster and made a smoother, thicker puree.  Then, instead of using a piping bag, I used a tablespoon to create big plops, smoothing down the tops with the back of the spoon to a relatively even thickness.  I knew these would take longer to dry, but I thought maybe after shrinkage they would be substantial enough for big Buddy. They still only took about 18 hour at 115 degrees.

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As always when dehydrating food, it’s a good idea to put the dried food into a glass bowl, cover it with a tea towel, and let it sit on the counter for 24 hours to let the moisture left in the food equalize.  Then if it’s dry enough, you can store it in a plastic bag or glass jar.

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Pumpkin Plops for Pups was a success, in terms of a fun activity for me and the kids, and in terms of creating wholesome little treats for the grandpups.  The kids and I intend to make dog biscuits one of these days, if we can just find a bone-shaped cookie cutter.

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Leftovers, Recipes

Roasted Vegetable Stock

I love finding ways to use scraps.  I’ve written about using apple scraps for vinegar making and pectin stock, and meat scraps and bones for meat broth or stock.  I’ve also explored ways to use dried tomato skins leftover from canning tomatoes and making salsa.  This week’s post is also about using scraps to make something delicious.  I referred to roasted vegetable stock with brief directions in last week’s post, so it occurred to me to devote a little more space to it.

For years, I threw my vegetable peelings and trimmings in the compost pile, or when we had chickens, into the chicken bucket.  And those are good ways to use vegetable waste.  But you can do something else with them before they go to the garden or the chickens.  You can make stock.

I remember reading, a long time ago, about pioneer women who kept stockpots simmering on their wood-heated cookstoves all the time.  The stockpot was never empty because any sort of meat or vegetable scrap went into the pot along with water to replace whatever might be used or might evaporate.  This was common practice when the woodstove was kept going nearly all the time for cooking and baking and heating purposes.

With the advent of electricity and gas for cooking, the simmering stockpot has fallen out of favor.  Most of us buy stock or broth in cans or cartons, rather than make it ourselves.  But it is so easy to make, takes very little time, and adds a flavor to soups, stews, beans, rice, etc. that you just won’t get out of a can or carton from the store.  And you don’t have to read a label on homemade stock to see if there’s anything in it you don’t to consume, like monosodium glutamate, a common additive in canned and boxed stocks.

You might not think a few carrot peelings, onion scraps, and celery bottoms and tops would amount to much, but if you follow this simple procedure, I guarantee you won’t believe the flavor of the stock you’ll get: fully vegetable with a rich roasted taste.  When you use it in a dish, this stock adds such deep flavor, it’s hard to believe it came from vegetable scraps.

When you are making salads or soups or stews, or whatever you’re cooking which requires you to prepare the holy trinity of vegetables, simply save your carrot ends and peelings (scrub the carrots first with a brush), clean celery trimmings, and onion tops (not bottoms because dirt can hide in the root ends) and any tough outer layers, and freeze them in a gallon-sized zip top bag.  When the bag is full, you have enough vegetable matter to make stock.  You can make stock out of other vegetables too.  You might want to have a bag of onion and pepper trimmings, or some other combination.  Think about the dishes in which you might want to use the stock, and bag up your vegetable scraps accordingly.

Then, when you have at least a full gallon-sized bag (it’s hardly worth it to do it sooner), thaw your vegetable scraps.  Drizzle a tablespoon of oil (I never use “vegetable” oil any more because it is mostly soybean oil, so I usually use olive oil) onto a large cookie sheet, and spread your thawed scraps out.  Drizzle a little more oil on top of the vegetables, not more than a tablespoon, and toss them to spread the oil around a little.  You may need a second sheet to get them spread thinly enough, depending on how big your baking sheets are.  Sprinkle the vegetables with about a ½ teaspoon of kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon of finely-ground pepper.

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Roast your scraps at 425 degrees until they are deeply browned but not charred.  (If a few pieces char, try to pick them out.  They do not add a nice flavor to the stock.)  Stir them and spread them out again after roasting for 10 minutes.  Stir again every five minutes until the vegetables are really nice and brown.  It might take up to 30 minutes or even longer, depending on how wet your scraps are.

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Scrape the browned scraps into a large stockpot and just cover them with water.  Adding seasoning at this point is a matter of personal preference.  I like my stock very lightly salted so that I can be sure it won’t add too much salt to whatever dish I’m using it in.  You can always add salt, but you can’t take it back once it’s in the pot.  To about two quarts of water, I add one teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper.  The stock will taste under-salted at first but as the liquid reduces, the salt will remain and the salt flavor will intensify.  You can add more salt if you wish, but be careful, because whatever dish you are using the stock in will likely have its own seasoning requirements, so you can get too much salt in a dish if your stock is fully salted.

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Bring the stock to boiling and then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for at least an hour.  The longer you cook the stock, the richer the flavor will become as it reduces, but of course, you don’t want it to boil down to nothing!  If you want a reduction, you can strain off the stock, pressing well on the scraps to get all the liquid out of them, then pour the stock back in a clean pan to boil down by half or more.  This will make a highly concentrated stock that you would use in a dish that doesn’t require much liquid but needs strong flavor.  If you want to make a reduction, you need to be very careful about how much salt you add to the stock at the beginning of the cooking process because none of it will go away, and your reduction will become saltier and saltier as the liquid evaporates.  I don’t typically make reductions because most of the dishes I use stock in require more liquid than a reduction provides.

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When you’re satisfied with the color and flavor of the stock—and remember, unless you are making a reduction, it won’t taste salty, so what you’re looking for is intense vegetable flavor—you can strain it through a wire mesh strainer or a cheesecloth-lined colander.  I strain mine into a 2-quart measuring cup to make it easy to pour into freezer bags after it has cooled.  You can use the stock right away, refrigerate it for a few days, or freeze it.  It can also be canned, but I don’t bother because I don’t make that much at a time, and I know I’ll use it up fairly quickly.  I freeze my stock in 2-cup measurements in quart zip-top bags, laid out flat on a cookie sheet, so they stack nicely in the freezer when frozen.  Sometimes, I gather four or five quart bags together into an old, washed, gallon-sized bag, to keep them together and make it easier to find them in my over-stuffed freezer.

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Most vegetable stocks are light in color and flavor.  Because the vegetables in this stock are roasted brown, this stock has more color and more flavor than what you’ll buy in the store.  This will affect the color of whatever dish you put it in, so if you’re going for a light-colored dish, you won’t want to use this stock.  If you’re going for richness and flavor, this stock is a winner.

I made two quarts of roasted vegetable stock two weeks ago, and I have already used three bags of it.  I used one bag in my Bear and Mushroom Fricassee with Creamy Polenta, one bag in another batch of my Spicy Sausage and Lentil Soup last week, and one bag in Bear Stroganoff with homemade sour cream, which will probably be the subject of next week’s blog.  I only have one bag of frozen stock left, and I’m itching to make more.

Of course, after the stock is strained, you can still feed the scraps to your chickens or pigs or add them to the compost pile.  I think that’s something to feel pretty good about.  Waste not, want not.

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