Saturday, November 20, 2010

I Hope They Let Us Come Back

We're at Target. Jack is walking, Matteas is in the cart. He scoots his bum forward so that his legs stick out as far as possible, and notices that the bar between his legs does some interesting things to his pants.
"Mom, look at my pa-china!!!" he shouts, grinning from ear to ear.
"Meatteas, you don't have a vagina, you have a penis."
"Yes I do have a pa-china! Look at my pa-china!!!" he insists.
"Fine, you have a pa-china, just stop shouting about it."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Worth the Wait

I didn't mean to do that. Be gone for over a month, that is. I was on the East Coast for ten days, then I was trying to get back into the swing of home life, and then it had been so long that the pressure of "what do I blog about next?" only increased. At least, in my own mind. So what is the deeply significant topic that brings me back to this space? Pie. Pumpkin pie, specifically. I'm not a huge pie fan usually, least of all pies that have vegetables in them, but what I am a fan of is tradition and this time of year, tradition calls for pumpkin pie. I continually find that my best recipes are born out of a challenge to improve something I don't like, and this pie is one of my favorites because it has been a point of conversion for a lot of people who've eaten. Almost every time I serve it someone at the table says(after a second slice) that they usually hate pumpkin pie, but this one is delicious. I've gotten a few requests for the recipe this week, and seeing as how Thanksgiving is a week from today I thought I'd put it up here in a timely fashion. I kind of sort of adapted this recipe from Cooks Illustrated, but I've changed it so much that I feel it kind of belongs to me now. The parts I took from Cooks Illustrated were combining pumpkin with sweet potato, and reducing the mixture with the spices on the stove to remove some of the water and concentrate the flavors. The step of baking at 400 degrees to start and then reducing the heat to 300 after 10 minutes is also a Cooks Illustrated trick. The rest of the recipe I came up with after making about eight pumpkin pies, each of them different from the last. Cooks Illustrated calls for canned pumpkin and canned candied yams(say that ten times fast), but I strongly feel that if you're going to eat pie it should be the best pie possible. You can't get the best pie possible from a can. I've tried. It always tastes vaguely of skunk farts. Maybe you're the sort of person who enjoys that kind of funk, but if not, welcome to a better way. Life-changing Pumpkin Pie 1 sugar pie pumpkin, roasted 1 medium-sized sweet potato, roasted 1 tsp. cinnamon 1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg 2 tsp. grated fresh ginger 1/2 tsp. salt 1/2 cup brown sugar 3/4 cup heavy cream 1 tsp. vanilla 2 eggs, well beaten Prepare your favorite crust(see bottom of post for suggestions). Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds, then lay the pumpkin halves cut-side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Poke the skin a few times with a fork for ventilation. Wrap the sweet potato in foil and put it on the baking sheet next to the pumpkin. Roast until the pumpkin and potato are soft and gooey, about 25 minutes for the pumpkin and 35 minutes for the sweet potato. When cool, remove the skin. Slice into large chunks and puree in a food processor, or blend with a hand-held mixer until smooth and no lumps remain. This process yielded 2 1/2 cups of pumpkin/sweet potato puree. Transfer the puree to a medium sauce pan and add the ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is reduced to 2 cups. I'm not positive exactly how long this took because while I was doing this part Matteas knocked over a huge pillar candle, spilling about 1/2 cup of hot green wax on the carpet. While I cleaned that up he peed in the corner of the living room, so then I cleaned that. I think it was about 20 minutes. Use your own household disasters to gauge the time. You can skip this step, but consider the fact that by doing this you're removing 1/2 cup of water, water that doesn't have a lot of flavor. Removing the water also makes for a firmer, silkier texture. In any case, what you want to end up with is 2 cups of pumpkin/sweet potato puree. Remove from the heat and add the salt, brown sugar, cream and vanilla. When the mixture is well incorporated, add the beaten eggs and combine well. Pour into prepared pie crust and bake at 400 degrees for ten minutes, then reduce the heat to 300 and bake an additional 40 minutes. Let cool to room temperature before further cooling in the fridge. Go ahead and top it with whipped cream when you serve it, but honestly, it doesn't even need it. The texture of this pie is rich and silky-smooth, the flavor buttery and perfectly spiced. It's downright voluptuous, which I didn't know a pie could be. For the crust, I pulsed the following in my food processor: 1 cup oats 1/2 pecans 1/2 cup flour(spelt works great) 3 TB sugar 1 cube frozen butter, cut into chunks 2 TB ice water Pulse the oats and pecans together until they form a coarse flour. Add the sugar and pulse to combine, then add the butter and pulse about ten times. Begin adding ice water 1 TB at a time and pulse a few times until the mixture holds together when you pinch it. Press about 2/3 of the mixture into an ungreased, glass pie pan and bake for 10 minutes on 400. You will have a lot of pie crust mixture left over, but I loved the flavor; a crunchy, nutty shortbread crust that was a perfect compliment to the spicy pumpkin. It was also easy to work with and didn't require any rolling-out or extra fussing, which I appreciate. Another great pie crust shortcut is to grind up those crunchy Nature Valley granola bars, the really hard ones that come with two bars in a shiny green wrapper, and add melted butter. I've also used ground graham crackers or gluten-free ginger snaps. They all work. Note: I've also substituted the heavy cream with soy milk and coconut milk for my dairy-intolerant dinner guests. The coconut flavor does come through, but it wasn't something I objected to. Using all soy milk tasted just fine, and I imagine that full-fat almond milk would be lovely as well.