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Beyond Halloween Five wonderful uses for pumpkins

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I was watching a Food Network broadcast of a pumpkin carving challenge. It was amazing how these artists create such life-like, scary and detailed masterpieces, and it got me into the mood for some pumpkin carving.

This year, however, I'm also going to consider using my pumpkins for more than just decorating. Here are some ideas for turning your pumpkins into something delicious and festive:

Yummy roasted pumpkin seeds

All you need is pumpkin seeds saved from scooping out the innards of a pumpkin with the pulp removed, some olive oil and sea salt.

Directions Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Arrange pumpkin seeds in a single layer on a sheet pan covered with aluminum foil. Bake for approximately one hour, stirring seeds every 10 minutes to ensure they do not burn. Once completely dry and lightly browned, toss with a bit of olive oil and sea salt. Allow to cool and store in an air tight container for up to two weeks. Roasted pumpkin seeds are delicious as a snack, perfect for a party, and a good topping for salads.

Pumpkin butter

I have only had this once as a sample at a Fall foliage fair, and it was fabulous. Homemade pumpkin butter is delicious on toast, waffles and pancakes. To make your own, start with fresh pumpkin puree, then add spices and flavorings.

For the pumpkin puree, cut a pumpkin in half and remove seeds and strings. Place the cut side face-down on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes or until fork-tender. After the pumpkin cools, scrape out the soft flesh, discarding the skin. Place the cooked pumpkin in a blender or food processor and blend till smooth if the mixture is too thick to blend, thin it out with a bit of apple cider or water.

Or, get the Libby's canned version if you're too lazy.

For the pumpkin butter, take 2 cups pumpkin puree, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup apple cider, 3 teaspoons pumpkin pie seasoning, juice of half a lemon and a half teaspoon salt. Place all ingredients in a pot. Stir and cook for 20 minutes or until the consistency is like applesauce. Be careful as the mixture will pop and bubble. Let cool and enjoy.

Pumpkin fizz

Falling Leaf Fizz just happens to be convenient and a perfect way to treat yourself it also works well at dinner for a dessert drink to share with others, and you can use up any leftover pie ingredients or in this column's recipe for pumpkin butter.

Ingredients: 1 part Grey Goose La Poire vodka, 4 parts of sparkling wine, a dash of simple syrup, 1 heaping teaspoon pumpkin butter, a pinch of pumpkin pie spice and dried apple chip for garnish. Directions: Place vodka, pumpkin butter, spice, and syrup in the bottom of a champagne glass. Stir well and then top with sparkling wine and garnish.

Pumpkin Fizz is also a beverage served at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It is one of the sweets Fred and George Weasley bring from Honeydukes to celebrate Gryffindor's victory over Ravenclaw. It seems to be a little like a pumpkin-flavored sherbet.

Pumpkin soup

This creamy pumpkin soup is a great for any fall night and good enough to serve for Thanksgiving dinner.

Ingredients: 6 cups chicken stock, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 4 cups pumpkin puree, 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley, 1 cup chopped onion, 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, 1 clove of garlic minced, 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream and 5 whole black peppercorns.

Directions: Heat stock, salt, pumpkin, onion, thyme, garlic, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes uncovered. Puree the soup in small batches (1 cup at a time) using a food processor or blender. Return to pan, and bring to a boil again. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for another 30 minutes, uncovered. Stir in heavy cream. Pour into soup bowls (such as a pumpkin serving bowls) and garnish with fresh parsley.

Pumpkin bowl or serving dish

Using smaller pumpkins (best to use baking pumpkins that you get in the grocery store) as serving bowls is a festive way to add a special touch to any party. If you're serving a soup course especially if it's pumpkin soup give this idea a try. Medium pumpkins can also be used as a serving dish for a dip at a party.

To prepare a pumpkin to use as serving dish, first cut off the top and scrape out the seeds and strings. Using your hands or a brush, lightly coat the inside and outside with olive oil. Then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees. This will remove the raw flavor from the inside of the pumpkin and give the outside a nice color and shine for presentation.

These and more recipes for fall treats can be found on AllRecipes.com, Cocktails.about.com, and Foodnetwork.com

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