Spiced Almond Meringues

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What can I say, I woke up with a sweet tooth today!  When cooking for wellness, satisfying a sweet tooth requires a bit of mindfulness.  With a bit of thought, it’s possible to indulge in something deliciously sweet without ingesting the loads of saturated fat that are lurking in many traditional dessert recipes.  For me, meringues are just the thing… delightful when I feel like a bit of sugar without inviting butter (or worse, shortening) along for the ride.

Ingredients (makes 48 meringues)

3 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 cup white sugar

Directions

picture194Step 1) In  scrupulously clean bowl, beat egg whites, almond extract, and cream of tartar at high speed for 2 – 3 minutes until soft peaks form.  It’s OK if the peaks fall over at this point, when you lift the beater out of the mixture.

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picture195Step 2)  Add white sugar and ground cloves – 1 tablespoon at a time – to egg white mixture.  Beat at high speed for 3 – 5 minutes until mixture is glossy and stiff peaks form.  When you lift the beater out of the mixture now, the peaks should stand up straight.

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picture196Step 3)  Drop tablespoonsful of the meringue mixture onto a greased cookie sheet, leaving 1 – 2 inches between meringues.  Bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for 20 minutes.

Cool on a cooking rack and Enjoy!

Wild Salmon in Parchment Hearts

Shown served with Whole Wheat Molasses Bread and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc!

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In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, there is a lot to love about this meal.  First, wild salmon is a heart healthy delicacy with which Crowded Earth Kitchen recommends indulging as often as your budget allows.  Baked on a bed of fresh baby spinach, dressed with a bit of citrus, and served with a delicious whole wheat bread (see 2/11/14 post), this meal is a nutritional superstar.  Second, baking with parchment is the perfect combination of “really easy but looks complicated,” which makes it a perfect technique for impressing your guests without inducing a pre-dinner, kitchen meltdown.

You need exactly five items to prepare this fabulous entrée.  That’s right, five.  It’s that easy.    Have fun, and let me know how your dinner turns out!

Ingredients (serves 2)

2 Wild Salmon fillets, skinned, 6 ounces each

4 cups fresh baby spinach

1 organic orange

Coarse ground black pepper

Parchment paper

Procedure

picture176Step 1) Tear two rectangles from your roll of parchment paper, approximately 14 inches long.  Fold them in half, and trace a half heart shape on the paper, as shown.  Cut out your parchment hearts.

If you’ve never worked with parchment before, it’s sold right next to plastic wrap and aluminum foil.

picture181Step 2) Open your parchment hearts and anchor them onto your work surface, so they don’t curl up (annoying!) as you are layering your ingredients.  I find that salt and pepper shakers are just the right size for this.

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picture182Step 3) Place two cups of fresh baby spinach on one half of each parchment heart.  It’s OK if the spinach overlaps the center of the heart a bit, but leave 2 inches of empty space around the edge.  You’ll need that space later!

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picture183Step 4) Place a Wild Salmon fillet over the center of each spinach bed.   Sprinkle with coarse ground pepper, and top with two slices of orange.  Now comes the fun part!

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picture184Step 5) Fold your empty heart half over the “stuffed” half, and begin sealing the edges by folding them tightly two or three times.  If you’d like, you may staple the fold, but count the staples (hint:  use the same number for each serving) and either remove or warn your dinner partner before serving!

picture190Step 6) Place filled parchment hearts on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated, 400 degree oven for 20 minutes.  After baking, carefully cut an X shape in the top of each parchment to allow steam to escape.  The steam will curl the edges back, making a lovely presentation!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Whole Wheat Molasses Bread with Orange Walnut Spread

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My Grandpa loves this bread.  I should explain, Grandpa is as German as the day is long, and has sampled his fair share of homemade breads in his eighty-one years.  If Grandpa says this is good bread, you had best roll up your sleeves and get ready to play with flour!

This recipe offers just the right combination of whole wheat flour for nutritional wholesomeness, and white flour for fluffing things up a bit.  Also, the yeast is fed and the bread is sweetened entirely naturally, using blackstrap molasses and honey.  The end result is a bread that tastes rich, slightly sweet, and a little bit nutty (due to the addition of flax).  Bite into a slice and you’ll find its just firm enough to remind you that you aren’t eating something preservative-laden that came out of a plastic bag.  It pairs perfectly with a simple Orange Walnut Spread, below.

Ingredients (makes 2 loaves)

2 1/4 teaspoons (or one envelope) yeast

2 cups lukewarm (not boiling hot) water

1/4 cup soft (not melted) butter

3 tablespoons blackstrap molasses

3 tablespoons organic honey

1 teaspoon salt

3 cups whole wheat flour

2 cups white flour

2 tablespoons flax seed

Cornmeal (for dusting the baking pan, optional)

Directions

picture169Step 1)  In a large bowl, combine yeast and lukewarm water.  Stir, then let sit for a minute or so to allow the yeast to “bloom.”  The surface of the water will look a bit frothy.

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picture170Step 2) While the yeast is blooming, combine butter, molasses, honey, and salt in a separate bowl.  Hint:  If you grease the measuring tablespoon with just a drop or two of cooking oil, the molasses and honey will slide right off the spoon into the bowl!

Step 3) Add butter mixture to yeast and water.  Stir gently until well blended.

picture172Step 4) Add flours and flax seed.  Stir together and dump out the contents of the bowl onto a floured table or countertop.  Your dough will look like a mess at this point, and that’s OK!

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picture173Step 5) This is the fun part… knead your bread dough for five minutes.  Don’t just use your fingers, but really put some muscle into it by using the heels of your palms.  Turn the dough over a few times, sprinkling the table and the dough with flour if it becomes sticky.  After five minutes, your dough should look like this:

Step 6) Grease a large mixing bowl – rubbing the paper wrapper from a stick of butter along the inside of the bowl works well.  Place your kneaded dough in the bowl, and set aside in a warm place for 60 to 90 minutes or until the dough doubles in size.  Hint:  If you turn on your oven for one or two minutes (no longer), then turn it OFF, your oven will be just warm enough to provide a cozy place for your bowl of dough to rise.

Step 7) Need to work out an annoyance or two?  Once your bread dough has doubled in size, give it a few punches to smush it back down.  Then, divide your dough in half and shape it into loaves.

Step 8)  Prepare your baking pan(s).  You can use greased and floured bread pans if you’d like, but I prefer the rustic feel of round loaves baked on a flat pan.  I recommend greasing the largest flat pan that will fit in your oven, and sprinkling it with cornmeal.*  Then, place your rounded loaves on the pan, several inches apart.

*Cornmeal is optional, but it helps keep the bread from sticking to the pan and also helps create a hearty bottom crust.

picture175Step 9)  This step is optional, but will make your loaves look all fancy schmancy.  You’ll need a cookie cutter, a beaten egg, and one of the following: poppy seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, or quinoa.  With Valentine’s Day approaching, I’m using a heart shaped cookie cutter.  Simply place your cookie cutter on your loaf of bread and brush a bit of beaten egg on the bread dough that’s inside.  Holding the cookie cutter in place, sprinkle a bit of seeds or quinoa inside.  Carefully lift the cookie cutter away.  Look at that!

Step 10) Let your shaped loaves rise again, this time for one hour.

Step 11) Bake your loaves at 375 degrees for 35 minutes.  Let cool, and enjoy with Orange Walnut Spread.

Orange Walnut Spread

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This recipe takes all of two minutes to prepare, and is wonderful paired with a hearty bread such as the Whole Wheat Molasses Bread, above.  Children love this spread served with carrot sticks.

Ingredients (makes 1 generous cup)

8 ounces of low-fat cream cheese, softened

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

2 tablespoons orange marmalade

2 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts.

Directions

Step 1) Beat together cream cheese and powdered sugar really well.  I prefer using an electric mixer for this.

Step 2) Blend in orange marmalade and chopped walnuts.

Step 3) Serve in a pretty bowl!

Wellness Teas, Part I

picture101Tea and wellness have been connected in cultures around the world for literally thousands of years.  Across hemispheres, languages, religions, and millennia, people have been preparing and drinking teas to share hospitality, strengthen family and community relationships, grow in their spirituality, treat disease, and fortify their physical health.

The simple act of preparing tea invokes an aura of wellness.  Aromatherapy is inherent in the mixing of teas and herbs, as how can possibly create tea blends without considering their medley of natural aromas?  Relaxation also is inherent in the brewing of tea, as infusing water with the flavors, aromas, oils, and other properties of teas and herbs takes time.  Settle in for a few minutes and join Crowded Earth Kitchen in the quiet and timeless ritual of preparing tea.

Strictly speaking, “tea” refers specifically to the leaves and leaf buds of the Camellia sinensis plant.  Combinations of herbs, spices, and other plants that do not include Camellia sinensis are commonly referred to as “herbal teas,” but are not literal teas.  Nonetheless, herbal teas are often delicious, and can fill important roles in achieving overall wellness.  Today we are featuring two herbal blends, After Dinner Blend and Healthy Blood Pressure.

After Dinner Blend (makes 15 cups)

This mild herbal tea blend is a personal favorite for settling the stomach and aiding in healthy digestion.  It has a slightly earthy flavor reminiscent of chai.  To prepare, simply combine one heaping tablespoon of each of the following five ingredients, readily available in spice shops or the bulk spice section of better markets (pictured clockwise from top):

picture093 (2)Crystallized Ginger

Whole Cloves

Ground Slippery Elm

Whole Cardamom Pods

Peppermint

Combine all five ingredients in a small container (4 ounce jelly jars are pretty, reusable, and just the right size).  For each cup of tea, add 1 teaspoon of the herbal blend to a tea ball or empty tea bag (available wherever loose teas are sold).  Place the tea ball or tea bag in a mug along with 8 to 10 ounces of boiling water.  Steep for 7 minutes.  Enjoy!

Healthy Blood Pressure Blend (makes 12 cups)

Disclaimer:  Crowded Earth Kitchen is not in the business of dispensing medical advice.  If you have high blood pressure, visit an actual MD and follow their advice.  I do, and I do.  I also drink 1 or 2 cups of this tea everyday.  The Omega-3 fatty acids in flax seed are a healthy dietary addition for most people, regardless of hypertension.  Dandelion root is a natural diuretic.  Hawthorn has been used conventionally for cardiovascular health.  Last but not least, hibiscus has shown promise in lowering blood pressure in medical studies.  Please see WebMD.com for more information, and consult your physician with any questions.

If you’re still with me, combine 1 heaping tablespoon of each of the following four ingredients (pictured clockwise from top):

picture096Hawthorne Berry

Hibiscus

Flax Seed

Dandelion Root

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After combining, spoon 1 teaspoon of the herbal blend into a tea ball or tea bag.  Steep in 8 to 10 ounces of boiling water for 7 minutes to create a fruity, ruby red beverage.  Enjoy, and Be Well!

Crowded Earth Kitchen will revisit the topic of tea on occasion, sharing two favorite blends at a time.  If you have a favorite herb or type of tea that you would like to see featured, please comment below!

Janine’s Pink Soup

picture516This recipe is super easy, incredibly delicious, completely vegan, and FUN!  The soup itself is made from a delightful combination of only four ingredients.  The secret to elevating this simple soup lies in the little toasted croutons, which pack a surprising punch of curry.  Enjoy!

picture510Ingredients (makes about 6 cups)

4 red beets

2 white potatoes

2 cups vegetable broth

1 can of light coconut milk

picture512For the croutons:

1 slice of whole wheat bread

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon hot curry powder

Directions

picture511Step 1)  Peel the beets and potatoes with a potato peeler and cut into small chunks.  The easiest way to peel beets is to leave their stems and leaves attached.  Use the stems as a “handle” when peeling the beets.  Remove stems after beets are peeled.

Step 2) Simmer beets and potatoes in picture515vegetable broth, covered, for 10 – 15 minutes until vegetables are soft.  Puree with an immersion blender.

Step 3) Cut bread into crouton-size pieces (any shape).  Toast in a sauté pan greased with olive oil for 2 – 3 minutes over medium heat, until croutons are golden brown.

picture514Step 4) Dip one side of croutons in curry powder, and set aside.

Step 5) Stir coconut milk into soup pot, and ladle soup into wide bowls.

Step 6) Float a few croutons on top of each bowl of soup.

Voila!  So easy!

Orange Marmalade and Spinach-Pomegranate Citrus Salad

picture138Orange Marmalade

(makes 10 half pint jars)

Orange marmalade is a winter delight.  When my garden plot freezes and wears a blanket of snow, I begin looking forward to the brightly colored displays of citrus fruits at my local market.

When I first started making my own jams and jellies, I shied away from marmalade.  Many of the recipes I found were pretty, well, precious.  I wasn’t interested in the many, many steps and copious amounts of time required.  Eventually, I came up with this.  Four ingredients, ten simple steps, and maybe two hours of time.  The end result?  Ten half pint jars of tangy, citrusy goodness – perfect for spreading on toast or muffins, drizzling over a winter salad (see below), or eating right out of the jar with a spoon.  I won’t tell.

Ingredients

picture1344 pounds of organic oranges (about 8 organic oranges)*

1 1/2 cups water

6 cups white sugar

1 pouch (3 ounces) liquid pectin

*Yes, your oranges really, really do need to be organic.  Why?  Because marmalade uses the peel.  Do you want to eat orange peel that has been treated or sprayed?  Neither do I.

Directions

Step 1) Wash your oranges.  No really, WASH your oranges.  Scrub them in hot water for a few minutes.  You’re eating the peel, remember?

picture135Step 2)  Peel your oranges with a vegetable peeler.  This is surprisingly fast, and works well to separate the thin layer of bright orange zest (which you want) from the thick layer of bitter white pith (which you do NOT want).

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Step 3)  Slice your orange peels into thin strips using a paring knife.  My strips ended up being about 1/4 inch wide and 2 to 3 inches long.  The dimensions aren’t terribly important.

Step 4)  Add your sliced orange peel to a large pot.  Add 1 1/2 cups of water and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.

Step 5) While the peels are simmering, remove the white pith from your oranges.  Pull the oranges apart into halves and remove the spongy white center.  Remove the seeds, if needed.  [It is possible to purchase organic, seedless oranges.  Just sayin’.]  The idea here is to have as much “orange” and as little “white” as possible.  As you are working with your oranges, save all the juice.  Working over a baking pan with shallow sides helps.  Chop up your oranges into little bite size pieces.

Step 6) After the peels have simmered for 20 minutes, add the chopped oranges and any juice you’ve collected.  Simmer, covered, for an additional 10 minutes.

picture136Step 7)  Add 6 cups of white sugar to the pot, keep stirring, and bring that pot to a Mad Boil… the kind of boil that is too fierce to calm down, even with stirring!

Step 8)  Once you have achieved a Mad Boil, add your pectin.  Continue stirring and boiling for one more minute.  Remove from heat.  Your kitchen will smell fantastic right about now.

Step 9)  Review Crowded Earth Kitchen’s canning guidelines, and fill your sterilized, half pint canning jars.  Be sure to leave 1/4 inch of headspace.  Place lids and bands on your jars, and process in a boiling water bath for 1o minutes.

Step 10)  Grab a big spoon and your cooking pot, which probably has a few tastes of marmalade left at the bottom.  It would be a shame to let those tastes go to waste, right?  Don’t burn yourself.

That’s it!  Now, let’s do something more respectable with our marmalade than lick the pot…

Spinach-Pomegranate Citrus Salad

(makes 4 generous servings)

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This might be the world’s easiest winter salad.  It’s also a nutritional powerhouse, containing iron in addition to Vitamin C and other antioxidants.  During cold and flu season, we need all the help we can get!

Simply fill a serving bowl with 8 cups of a 50/50 mixture of baby spinach and mixed salad greens.  Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of fresh pomegranate arils.  Peel 2 oranges or clementines, slice, and tuck into salad.  Serve with a drizzle of orange marmalade.

Delicious!

Snow Day with a Pie Pumpkin

Today was one of those decadently lazy days where I had to hibernate indoors because of cold, snowy weather.  “Oh darn.”  Of course, this meant my kitchen adventures were limited to ingredients on hand.  Pie PumpkinSipping my morning coffee, I glanced around my kitchen, and there it was.

The pie pumpkin.

I bought this pumpkin for $2 at a local farm last month.  Maybe it was the clean, crisp air surrounding the quaint stone barn stocked with produce, maybe it was the happily barking farm dog running amuck around my feet, I can’t say for sure.  All I know is, when I saw the big bin of bright orange pie pumpkins, I was inspired!  I brought one home, set it on the counter… and ignored it for a month.

Knowing that pumpkins are stuffed full of nutritional gems (beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, and fiber, to name a few), I resolved to turn mine into something wonderful.  As it happened, my pumpkin was bountiful enough for four somethings:  Pumpkin Custard, Sesame Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Petite Pumpkin Scones, and Indian-Inspired Pumpkin Potato Soup.  Each recipe is included below.  I hope you enjoy them, and I look forward to your comments!

picture121First things first:  how to make your pie pumpkin look like the stuff in the can!

You know what I’m talking about.  For me, the big mystery was turning my pumpkin into something that resembled less of a Halloween decoration and more of a supermarket canned good.  As it happens, it’s really no mystery at all.  Cut, bake, puree.  That is ALL there is to it!

Step 1:  Cut your pumpkin in half and scoop the seeds into a bowl (save the seeds!).Pumpkin in baking pan  Place the hollowed out pumpkin halves in a baking pan, skin side down.  I added a halved yam for good measure.  Adding a yam will increase your yield, and will brighten the color and thicken the consistency of your final puree.  Cover the baking pan with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 60 – 90 minutes or until soft.  The time will vary; check after 60 minutes.

Step 2:  When cool enough to handle, simply scoop the baked pumpkin and yam out of the Pumpkin Pureeskins* and into a bowl.  Scrape the skins well, to get every speck of pumpkin!  Then, puree with an immersion blender.  Voila!  Yields will vary; I ended up with 5 cups of puree.  So easy.  Why I have been buying cans of pumpkin for so long, I will never know.

*Save the skins – just put them in a bowl in the refrigerator and forget about them for a little while.  Trust me on this.  Crowded Earth Kitchen wastes nothing… we will put those pumpkin skins to good use later!

Pumpkin Custard  (Makes 8, 1/2 cup servings)

My kids LOVE pumpkin custard.  Essentially, it’s like eating pumpkin pie without the crust… loads of vitamin-packed sweetness without loads of saturated fat.

This recipe is super easy.  First, combine all ingredients in large mixing bowl, stirring with a wooden spoon until well blended:

2 cups pumpkin/yam puree

1/3 cup white sugar

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon each:  cloves, allspice

1/4 teaspoon each:  ground ginger, cardamom

2 eggs

1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk

Ladle mixture into 8, 1/2 cup oven-safe ramekin dishes arranged on a large baking sheet.  Don’t overfill; custard will rise about 1/2 inch while baking.  Place baking sheet in preheated 400 degree oven.  After 15 minutes at 400 degrees, reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for another 30 minutes.

Remove from oven, and try to let cool before devouring!

Sesame Roasted Pumpkin Seeds (Makes approximately 1 cup, as shown above)

Please don’t throw those pumpkin seeds away.  Mother Nature knew what she was doing when she tucked those seeds inside of your scrumptious pie pumpkin!  Pumpkin seeds are a nutritional powerhouse food, containing protein, iron, zinc, and a whole host of trace minerals in their humble little shells.  I roast the seeds from everything in the squash family – not just pumpkins.  I store them in the freezer, add them to my kids’ school lunches, and use them to garnish winter soups.

Directions:

While your pumpkin custard is baking, separate the pumpkin seeds from the “goo” scraped from the inside of your pie pumpkin.  Give your pumpkin seeds a good rinse in a strainer bowl.  Spread 1 Tablespoon of sesame oil on a 9 inch baking sheet with shallow sides (a 9×13 cake pan would work), and scatter your pumpkin seeds over the oil.  Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon each:  sea salt, coarse ground black pepper, paprika.  Place pan in 350 degree oven (with the pumpkin custard is fine) for 30 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes.  Done!

Petite Pumpkin Scones (Makes 18 scones)

These not-too-sweet scones are just the right size for enjoying with a cup of soup (below) or pairing with a cup of afternoon tea.  Their aroma, wafting from your oven, will make your kitchen smell fantastic!  These scones freeze well, and make a fun lunchbox item.

2 tablespoons softened (not melted) butter

1/2 cup white sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 cup pumpkin puree

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup white flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 tablespoon multicolored quinoa (optional)picture113

Combine first five ingredients in a large bowl until well blended.

Add dry ingredients, and mix just long enough to form a soft dough.  Remove dough from bowl and place on a counter dusted with 1/4 cup of white flour.

picture114  Knead dough for a few minutes, turning over the dough occasionally and adding more flour if the dough feels very sticky.  Shape the dough into a long rectangle, approximately 3 inches wide and 1 inch high.  With a butter knife or a spatula, cut a “zig zag” pattern into the dough so that you will have 18 wedge-shaped scones.

picture117Lightly grease a large baking sheet (10 x 15 inches will work), and place scones at least 1 inch apart from one another.  Brush tops of scones with a few drops of milk, and sprinkle multicolored quinoa on top.  (I like the nutty texture of quinoa; you could substitute a dusting of cinnamon if you prefer.)

picture118Bake for 10 – 12 minutes at 400 degrees.  Delicious!

Indian-Inspired Curry Pumpkin Potato Soup (makes 12 cups)

Remember those pumpkin skins you tucked away in the refrigerator?  Now’s the time to go and get them!  Also, get your scrap container from the freezer… you know, the one with the carrot peels, celery bottoms, onion skins, and other vegetable scraps you’ve been saving.  Wait… you’ve been throwing those away?  Don’t fret.  Take a few minutes to gather a cup or two of vegetable scraps from your refrigerator.  Trim the carrots and celery lurking in your crisper drawer, peel the forgotten onion you just found… anything goes.  In the FUTURE, remember to save all of your vegetable scraps in a freezer container, because Crowded Earth Kitchen wastes NOTHING!

We’re going to start by making vegetable broth.  This process is as easy as it is cheap, making homemade vegetable broth a Crowded Earth Kitchen staple!  Simply add your pumpkin skins and vegetable scraps to a large pot, and just barely cover with water.  If you’re feeling really exotic, you can throw in a bay leaf or some freshly ground pepper.  It’s up to you.

picture119Bring your pot to a boil and simmer, covered, for one hour.  Next, strain your broth through a sieve into a large bowl (or into another pot).  It may be helpful to scoop out the large pumpkin skins with a slotted spoon before pouring everything through a sieve.  Add the vegetable scraps to your garden compost bin, and let’s use that wonderful, vitamin packed broth!  You’ll need 4 cups for this recipe.  If you have extra, freeze it for the next time you need any sort of broth.  I leave my broth unseasoned, and adjust individual recipes as needed.  Bland is fine, at this point.

Combine just four ingredients in a large pot:

4 cups vegetable broth

4 large, organic potatoes, peeled and cubed

2 cups pumpkin puree (Feel free to use up whatever puree you have left here.  Have more than 2 cups?  Add a little more broth.  Have less than 2 cups?  Add an extra potato.)

1 tablespoon hot curry powder (Don’t like spicy soup?  Try making a different sort of Indian-inspired soup by adding 1 tablespoon garam masala instead of hot curry powder.)

Bring everything to a boil, reduce heat, and cover.    Simmer until potatoes are soft.  Puree with an immersion blender and enjoy!

I’m pleased with the four different ways in which I put my pie pumpkin to good use, and hope you are inspired to pick up a pie pumpkin of your own!  Crowded Earth Kitchen welcomes your feedback… please post your comments and questions below!