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A dollop of whipped cream tops a serving of Impossible Pumpkin Dessert.

What's your favorite dessert?" I asked my daughter. She was a preschooler at the time.

"Pumpkin pie!" she exclaimed.

Her answer surprised me. I was expecting to hear brownies or chocolate ice cream.

"Really, pumpkin pie?" I asked.

"Yes, but we can't have pumpkin pie now," she said. "It's only for Thanksgiving."

I guess our holiday traditions had led her to think we had restrictions on pumpkin pie.

"We can have pumpkin pie at other times," I responded.

In fact, I began gathering supplies for a pumpkin dessert. Pumpkin is a healthful food to include on our menus in a variety of ways throughout the year.

Pumpkin is low in calories and high in fiber, with about 50 calories and 3 grams of fiber per cup. It is an excellent source of beta-carotene, a pigment our bodies use to make vitamin A. This vitamin helps keep our skin healthy, helps with night vision and works as an antioxidant nutrient that may have some protective effects against certain types of cancer.

At this time of year, plastic and real pumpkins greet us on many doorsteps. The large jack-o'-lantern-type pumpkins are best used as decorations. Their flesh is stringy and the texture may not be appealing in your recipes.

Be inspired by all of the pumpkin decorations and "pumpkin spiced" restaurant foods to enjoy some pumpkin on your home menu. You can begin with canned pumpkin or a fresh pumpkin.

If you want to make a recipe using a fresh pumpkin, look for pumpkins that are smaller and rounder. Many times, grocery stores will include a sign by the display or a sticker on the pumpkin that says "pie pumpkin" or "sugar pumpkin."

To prepare a fresh pumpkin for recipes, first rinse it under running water and scrub, if necessary, with a vegetable brush. This step prevents contaminants that might be on the outside of the pumpkin from being transferred to the flesh during cutting.

Next, cut the pumpkin in half, discard the stem and remove the stringy pulp. Remove the seeds and save, if desired, to make a crunchy snack described later.

To bake the pumpkin, place the halves "face down" on a greased baking pan, cover with foil and bake for one to 1½ hours (depending on the size of the pumpkin) in a preheated 375 F oven. Remove the flesh from the skin and mash or process in a food processor and use in your favorite recipe.

Alternatively, you can cut the pumpkin into chunks and boil or microwave the pumpkin until soft.

What about those seeds? Fiber-rich roasted pumpkin seeds are easy to prepare. Rinse them, then blot them dry with paper toweling. Mix each cup of seeds with about 1 tablespoon of your favorite cooking oil, then sprinkle with the seasonings you like best. You can make them sweet or savory. Roast the seeds in a 300 F oven for about 50 minutes, turning every 10 minutes, or until they are light brown and crunchy.

We have several pumpkin recipes on the front page of our website (www.ag.ndsu.edu/food) this month. Try making two-ingredient pumpkin spice muffins by mixing one can of pumpkin puree with a box of spice cake mix, placing the batter in muffin tins and baking for about 20 minutes. That's it — just two ingredients. You can sprinkle the tops lightly with sugar before baking, if desired. Or try some savory pumpkin soup or pumpkin bread pudding.

Remember "impossible pies" from several years ago? They're still tasty and easy to make. A slice of this dessert has 100 fewer calories than a piece of pumpkin pie with a regular crust.

Impossible Pumpkin Dessert

½ c. all-purpose flour

¾ tsp. baking powder

⅛ tsp. salt

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. ground allspice

½ tsp. ground ginger

½ tsp. ground nutmeg

¾ c. white sugar

3 Tbsp. butter, softened

2 large eggs, beaten

1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)

1 (12-ounce) can nonfat evaporated milk

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Optional topping: 1 Tbsp. brown sugar and ¼ tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray or grease a 9-inch pie pan and set aside. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and spices. In a large bowl, beat together the sugar, butter and eggs. Mix in the pumpkin, milk and vanilla. Add the sifted ingredients and beat until smooth, then pour into the prepared pie pan or square pan. Bake at 350 F for 50 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

If desired, after 25 minutes of baking, sprinkle the top with the brown sugar and cinnamon mixture. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream if desired.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 210 calories, 6 g fat, 6 g protein, 33 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber and 190 milligrams sodium.

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