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Autumn is all about the pumpkin. Carved or cooked, round, tall, big and small, pumpkins grace produce stands, garden centers, farmers' fields and front porches. But is it the bright gourd's orange glow or the idea of the pumpkin flavor that has folks joyous about the season? This time of year it's on everyone's lips because this seasonal super food is great on so many levels, from the actual goodness of the gourd and the crunch of the seeds to the spice that makes it all delectable. I'm thinking it's the spice.

Pumpkin pie spice — that symphony of warm spices of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, nutmeg and mace that, while all wonderful on their own, come together to create that enticing flavor and aroma that so many of us can't resist. I have never had the pleasure of a pumpkin-spiced latte because I choose to save my calories for pumpkin waffles, muffins and pies. But the idea of pumpkin-spice rubbed roasted veggies, a pumpkin bisque or gratin, a bowl of chili or pumpkin spread appetizer convinces me that this flavor sensation is equally as delicious in savory dishes as it is in sweet treats.

In her new book, "The Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookbook," author Stephanie Pedersen celebrates this aromatic blend, which can add a whole new dimension of flavor to everything from cocktails and condiments to appetizers and desserts and hearty stews and soups.

On its own, pumpkin is packed with fiber, with only 50 calories per cup of mashed pumpkin while the seeds offer about 1.7 grams of dietary fiber per ounce, according to nutrition and fitness expert JJ Virgin, author of "The Virgin Diet." And the National Institutes of Health says that a cup of cubed pumpkin contains almost twice the recommended daily intake of vitamin A, which promotes good vision and also helps form and maintain healthy skin, teeth and bones. But the flavor is, well, bland and boring. Enter the spices to make the pumpkin become a special occasion.

And beyond making that healthy meal even more fragrant, there's additional health in that blend of spices to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, help regulate blood sugar and give a boost to your immune system.

No doubt you have a tin of pumpkin pie spice in your spice cabinet; you probably bought it last year to use in that Thanksgiving pie. In fact, Pedersen notes that 54 percent of all pumpkin pie spice sales worldwide occur in November. Well, it's time to replace that tin or, better yet, make your own blend to have on hand because once you realize how this spice adds a punch to teas, cookies, canned soups and coffee cakes, you'll never want to be without. And don't relegate it to the back of the spice drawer, because you'll be using it all year long.

KLawson@detroitnews.com

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Create Your Own Pumpkin Pie Spice

Instead of buying premixed pumpkin pie spice, you can create your own to add to sweets, cereals or smoothies. Penzeys Spices in Beverly Hills carries a wide assortment or visit penzeys.com or spicejungle.com.

From "The Spice & Herb Bible" by Ian Hemphill

4 tablespoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

3 teaspoons ground allspice

2 tablespoons ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground mace

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom seed (optional)

4 teaspoons ground coriander seed (optional)

Combine well and store in airtight container away from extreme heat, light and humidity for up to 1 year. To impart a delicious, sweet spice flavor, add 2 teaspoons of mix per 1 cup of flour when blending ingredients for cakes, pies, cookies and pastries.

Makes 10+ teaspoons.

Beef Pumpkin Stew

This is a classic beef stew given a twist with pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice. This is an ideal autumn or winter dish, served alone or ladled over quinoa, couscous, polenta or mashed potatoes. Recipe from "The Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookbook"

3 pounds stew beef trimmed into 1 1/4-inch chunks

Salt and fresh ground black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 sprigs fresh thyme

3 bay leaves

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/3 cup dry red wine (such as merlot)

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks

1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes

1/3 cup beef or chicken stock

1 pound pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4-inch chunks

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (I like the homemade Basic Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend recipe, for this)

Season the beef generously with salt and pepper.

In a large, heavy frying pan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil, add the beef, and braise it until browned on all sides (about 8 minutes total).

Using a slotted spoon, remove the beef to a plate.

Pour off most of the fat from the pan, return to the medium-high heat and sauté the onion, thyme and bay leaves until the onion begins to brown (about 6 min).

Add garlic, cook 1 additional minute.

Pour in the wine and vinegar and stir to dislodge any flavorful browned bits on the bottom of the pan.

Transfer the contents to a slow cooker with the meat, carrots, tomatoes and stock.

Cover and cook on low setting for approx 5 hours.

Add the pumpkin or squash chunks and pumpkin pie spice over the top of the beef, recover and continue to cook the stew for 3 more hours. The beef and pumpkin should be very tender.

Remove and discard thyme sprigs and bay leaves; skim off the fat. Serves 6.

Per serving: 459 calories; 19 g fat (7 g saturated fat; 37 percent calories from fat); 14 g carbohydrates; 7 g sugar; 130 mg cholesterol; 390 mg sodium; 55 g protein; 3 g fiber.

Pumpkin Crostini

This recipe is a crowd pleaser and is easy enough that even any preteen children nearby can put it together. From "The Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookbook"

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, roasted and minced

1 cup pumpkin purée

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Salt and black pepper to taste

Optional garnishes: pine nuts, chopped pecans, chopped bacon, parmesan cheese

1 baguette, about 24 inches in length

Couple tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor fitted with the chopping blade, pulse together all ingredients except the garnishes, baguette and second addition of olive oil. Pulse until all ingredients are combined. Don't over-process — you do want a bit of texture.

Adjust the salt and pepper if necessary.

Make the crostini: Slice a baguette in ¾-inch slices and spread out flat on a rimmed baking sheet. Lightly coat the top of each bread surface with a small amount of olive oil. I used a pastry brush.

Broil in a broiler for about 30 seconds or until the tops start to turn light brown around the edges. Stay close and watch carefully — you don't want the toasts to burn!

Place a dollop of spread on each bread slice. Dress with optional garnishes, if desired. Makes about 2 dozen appetizers.

Per serving: 70 calories; 3 g fat (0.4 g saturated fat; 39 percent calories from fat); 10 g carbohydrates; 1 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 126 mg sodium; 2 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Spicy Pumpkin-Coconut Bisque

Light, deeply nutritious, delicious, and just exotic enough to be exciting, this pumpkin soup is fantastic. And easy! It freezes well, too — if you happen to have any leftovers. From "The Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookbook"

1 tablespoon butter

1 large onion, chopped

1 or 2 large garlic cloves, minced

2 cups strong chicken or vegetable broth

2 (14 ounce) cans pumpkin puree

1 (14 ounce) can regular coconut milk

2 tablespoons orange or lemon juice

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

2 teaspoons chili powder

Optional garnish: chopped chives, parsley, cilantro or pumpkin seeds

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Stir until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the broth to the onions and garlic. Cook 2 to 3 minutes.

Stir the pumpkin puree, coconut milk, orange juice, ginger, pumpkin pie spice and chili powder into the liquid. Bring the soup to a simmer and cook until heated through, 5 to 7 minutes.

Working in batches, pour soup into a blender until the blender's pitcher is no more than half full. Puree soup until completely smooth, returning pureed soup to pot. Continue until all soup is blended. Alternately, use a stick blender to puree the soup in the pot.

Warm the pureed soup over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook another 10 minutes. Add garnish. Serves 4.

Per serving: 376 calories; 29 g fat (24 g saturated fat; 69 percent calories from fat); 30 g carbohydrates; 9 g sugar; 8 mg cholesterol; 572 mg sodium; 7 g protein; 10 g fiber.

Spicy Waffles

Pumpkin waffles are a staple in many upscale diners. This fluffy version can be made with sweet potato puree or thick unsweetened applesauce. From "The Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookbook"

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 pinch salt

2 large eggs

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 cup canned pumpkin puree (or sweet potato puree or thick, unsweetened applesauce)

1 2/3 cups dairy or coconut milk

4 tablespoons butter or coconut oil, melted and cooled

Optional toppings: Sautéed apples, cranberry sauce, jam, honey, maple syrup, powdered sugar, applesauce, chopped nuts

Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice and salt in large bowl.

In a second bowl, add eggs, sugar, pumpkin, milk and butter; beat well. Gently fold in the flour mixture. Cook according to your waffle iron directions. Top with your choice of ingredients. Makes 8 waffles.

Per serving: 216 calories; 9 g fat (5 g saturated fat; 38 percent calories from fat); 29 g carbohydrates; 9 g sugar; 74 mg cholesterol; 342 mg sodium; 5 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Morning Spice Muffins

From "Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookbook"

11/3 cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup sugar

1½ teaspoons baking soda

1/3 teaspoon salt

1½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

2/3 cup coconut oil

2 large eggs

1¼ teaspoons vanilla extract

11/3 cups grated peeled apples (about 1 large apple)

1/3 cup shredded carrot

1/3 cup raisins or chopped dried fruit

1/3 cup flaked coconut

1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 12 muffin cups with paper muffin liners.

In a large bowl whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice.

In a separate bowl, mix oil, eggs and vanilla.

Blend wet ingredients into dry and gently stir until ingredients are combined. Fold in the apples, carrots, raisins, coconut and nuts.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Makes 12 muffins.

Per serving: 224 calories; 16 g fat (12 g saturated fat; 64 percent calories from fat); 18 g carbohydrates; 6 g sugar; 74 mg cholesterol; 241 mg sodium; 3 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Pumpkin Spice Madeleines

Best enjoyed soon after making. From foodpress.com

2 eggs

1/3 cup sugar

½ teaspoons each cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and ground clove or 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

3 tablespoons pumpkin puree (canned or fresh)

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ cup melted butter

½ cup all purpose flour

Powdered sugar for dusting

In a large mixing bowl, add 2 eggs and 1/3 cup granulated sugar and whisk for 10 minutes until it triples in volume and becomes very pale (can also use a stand mixer with whisk attachment).

Add the ½ teaspoons of ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground clove, ground allspice (or 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice), baking powder, pumpkin puree and a pinch of salt to the whipped eggs. Whisk for 5 minutes until all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed.

Pour in the melted, cooled butter and whisk for several minutes. Add the all-purpose flour and continue to whisk until it has properly absorbed into the wet ingredients. Do not over-mix. Transfer to a piping bag and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

While the batter is chilling, generously butter the nonstick Madeleine molds.

Once the batter has chilled, pipe the batter into the molds and place them into a 400-degree oven for 15 minutes. The edges of the cakes will start to turn a dark golden brown and the center might have a small lump once the cakes are almost finished.

Remove the Madeleines from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before removing from the molds. Lightly dust the top with a little powdered sugar. Makes about 10 Madeleines.

Per serving: 113 calories; 6 g fat (3 g saturated fat; 48 percent calories from fat); 13 g carbohydrates; 8 g sugar; 56 mg cholesterol; 102 mg sodium; 2 g protein; 0.4 g fiber.

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