Ask Martha: How to make pumpkin purée, what whisk to use when and more.
Q: Can I make pumpkin purée from my jack-o'-lantern pumpkin? If not, what variety works best? — Randi Vicenzi, Edgerton, Wisconsin
A: Jack-o'-lantern pumpkins are great for decorating, but their flesh is too fibrous and watery to be used in pies, soups and other dishes. Instead, try small, round sugar pumpkins or flat, pale-colored cheese pumpkins, both found at farmers’ markets. They contain less moisture and have a creamier texture when roasted and puréed. An added benefit of any pumpkin: You can roast the seeds for a tasty, nutritious snack, too.
Heat oven to 400 F. Halve a 3 1⁄2-pound sugar or cheese pumpkin and roast, cut-side down, until soft, about 1 hour. Scoop out flesh and purée until smooth. Transfer to a cheesecloth-lined colander set over a bowl, squeezing to drain. Refrigerate, covered, at least 4 hours; transfer to an airtight container and freeze up to 6 months.
ROASTED PUMPKIN SEEDS
Heat oven to 300 F. Toss 2 cups pumpkin seeds (with pulp) with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil; season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Spread mixture on a rimmed baking sheet; bake, stirring occasionally, until seeds are crisp and pulp is caramelized, about 1 hour. Let cool completely.
Q: There are so many different whisks in stores. How do I know which I should have? — Kathleen Sullivan, Columbus, Ohio
A: The three most commonly used whisks in the kitchen are the French-style, balloon and flat types. Here, the important differences, plus a few others you may find useful, depending on what you love to cook or bake.
FRENCH WHISK: If you’re choosing only one, this all-purpose whisk is your best bet. Though it can be used to whip air into ingredients, its relatively straight and narrow sides make it ideal for emulsifying mayonnaise and vinaigrettes.
BALLOON WHISK: Its bulbous shape and rounded sides allow for better aeration, making it the most efficient whisk for foods that require volume (think egg whites and whipped cream).
FLAT WHISK: Also known as a roux whisk, it’s good for stirring in a shallow vessel, as with pan sauces and gravies. It works well for separating eggs and lifting poached ones from their cooking liquid, too.
DOUGH: Moves easily through thick batters.
SPRING COIL: Great for small quantities.
BALL: Easy to clean
COIL: Adjusts to vessels to pick up every last bit
Q: How do I train a rescue dog? — Angelle Greenlee, Atlanta, Georgia
A: Many rescue animals have suffered some trauma and may be prone to misbehaving during stressful situations. Ask the shelter about your dog’s upbringing: Is she a victim of abuse? How is she with people, children and other pets? The answers may help you understand what situations might cause your new pet anxiety. Consistent training is key, as is getting your entire family onboard. Always stay calm, speak in a firm but soothing tone and positively reinforce all good behavior.
Q: Can I make my own pumpkin-pie spice at home? — Emily Belfiore, Westbury, New York
A: Yes! The beauty of doing it yourself is that you can tailor it to your preferences. Below is our recipe, but feel free to experiment with additional ginger or cinnamon for more warmth, or extra cloves for added earthiness. Whatever you choose, store the mix in an airtight container out of direct sunlight at room temperature for up to six months.
In a small bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon, 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1 teaspoon ground allspice and 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cloves. Makes about 1/4 cup.
Q: Which persimmons can I find easily in the fall? — Margaret Austin, Richmond, Virginia
A: The two most commonly found varieties in the United States are fuyus and hachiyas. Fuyus are squat and round; choose them for ripeness as you would a tomato. They are mildly sweet and excellent in salads or on a cheese plate. Hachiyas have a long bottom. Unripened hachiyas are too tannic to eat, but once ripe, the fruit becomes very soft and is great in baked goods.
Q: How do I dry chile peppers? — Erich Schoeller, Riverside, California
A: Try stringing your chiles into a Mexican “ristra”: Thread a large piece of twine or fishing wire through a big-eyed needle; knot the bottom. Pierce ripe chiles of a similar size just above the base of their stems. Hang the ristra in a hot, dry place for at least 2 weeks and up to 6 months. (If humidity is an issue, dry chiles in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet in a 200 F oven for 8 hours.)
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