Sunday, November 21, 2010
If you, like me, have a pumpkin pie lover in your midst, then this is a very special time of year. The Girl requests a pumpkin pie for her birthday every September; and, since Thanksgiving isn’t all that far behind, she doesn’t have to wait too long before it shows up on the dinner table again. It’s one of the easiest things in the world to make, but eating pumpkin any time other than the fall just feels wrong to me. Kind of like eating soup in the summer, or popsicles on Christmas Eve. It’s not illegal, just wrong.
I’m going to confess something now: I like pumpkin pie. I really do. Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without it. But it always struck me as, well, kind of plain. That is, until my friend Elsiann Wilson contributed her pumpkin pie recipe to our family cookbook many years ago. Elsiann’s version is lighter on the pumpkin than the usual pie filling and includes a delicious crunchy topping. There’s nothing plain about it, apart from the fact that it’s just plain awesome.
The only changes I’ve made to Elsiann’s original recipe are increasing the amount of nutmeg by half (because, as we’ve established, I’m a nutmeg nut) and specifying pecans, rather than chopped nuts, for the streusel topping. Pumpkin and pecans belong together. It’s a scientific fact. They’re like the Donny and Marie of holiday sweets–one without the other is okay in small doses, but together, they make their own special magic.
This recipe makes two pies. If you have a pumpkin pie purist at your holiday gathering, just leave the topping off one pie and double up on the other. More crunch to love.
Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Streusel Topping
2 unbaked pie crusts
For the filling:
1 15-oz. can pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cans evaporated milk
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. nutmeg
For the Topping:
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/2 stick butter
1/3 cup chopped pecans
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Mix all the filling ingredients well. Divide the pumpkin filling between the two pie shells and cover the exposed edges of the pie crusts with aluminum foil. Bake for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 325 degrees and continue baking 45 minutes longer.
While the pies are baking, use a pastry cutter to combine the sugar, flour, butter and pecans. 10 minutes before the pies are done, sprinkle the streusel over the filling and remove the aluminum foil. Bake the remaining 10 minutes, until the crusts are golden brown.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
The last two entries in our Side Dish Parade arrive side-by-side because they go so well together: sweet glazed carrots and tart cranberries. They’re both incredibly easy to make and require just a few ingredients. Both can be made the day before Thanksgiving and chilled overnight; just re-heat the carrots in the microwave (or on the stovetop) before serving.
I often serve these glazed carrots as part of our tradition Orange Meal on Christmas Eve (story forthcoming, never fear), but they’re a terrific addition to the Thanksgiving table as well. And if you think you’re not a fan of cranberry sauce–many people operate under this delusion–consider the possibility that your assessment of this situation might be due to the disgusting, overly sweet, gelatinous tube-o-goo that often passes for cranberry sauce. I don’t blame you for not liking it if that’s the only version you’ve ever tried. But please, humor me and try this version before you make a final decision with regard to your feelings about the berry of the bog.
Because this version is downright amazing–especially if you leave the vanilla bean in the dish of cranberry sauce overnight and remove it just before serving. Then give your sauce a good stir and prepare for the onslaught of accolades.
Next up: Thanksgiving desserts!
2 T. butter
1 lb. baby carrots
1 cup apple cider
1 tsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
Melt the butter in a saucepan; add the carrots, apple cider, brown sugar and fennel seeds. Stir to combine, then allow the cider to come to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer until the carrots are tender, and 10 to 12 minutes, and the cider has thickened. If you’re serving the carrots immediately, transfer them to a serving bowl and sprinkle them with the chopped parsley. If you’re making them a day ahead, cool the carrots, cover with plastic wrap, and chill overnight. Before serving, warm the carrots in the microwave or on the stovetop. Sprinkle with the parsley before serving.
Orange-Vanilla Cranberry Sauce
12-oz. bag whole cranberries, rinsed and picked over for stems
1 cup orange juice
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. grated orange peel
1 vanilla bean
In a large saucepan, combine the cranberries, orange juice, sugar and orange peel. (Cranberries are tart, so feel free to increase the sugar to a full cup if you’d like a sweeter sauce.) Heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved, then turn up the heat and allow the orange juice to come to a boil. Using the tip of a sharp knife, split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds inside; add the seeds and the split vanilla bean pod to the cranberry mixture. Simmer about 10 minutes, until the cranberries start to pop.
Chill the cranberry sauce–it’ll thicken as it cools–and leave the vanilla bean pod in the mix until you’re ready to eat.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
As far as I’m concerned, Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be the holiday I love without the traditional Green Bean Casserole. It’s a very close second to my favorite Corn Souffle. But I’m not a big fan of the canned cream of mushroom soup that’s typically used as a base for the white sauce in this side dish, so I make my own instead. It’s surprisingly easy–and it tastes much, much better than anything you can plop from a can into a bowl.
The Girl is not a fan of mushrooms, so I don’t include them in our version of this recipe. If you’re a fan, slice up half a cup of mushrooms (or more, if you’re a bona fide shroom fiend) and add them to the casserole dish with the green beans. The Girl is, however, a major fan of Durkee fried onions–she asked me to buy two cans this year, so she could snack on one and I’d still have the other for Thanksgiving. I use the onions in both in the casserole and as a topping. Left to my own devices, I think I might substitute panko bread crumbs and some Parmesan as a topping. You can decide for yourself which version sounds most appealing.
A final note: please, please, please use fresh green beans in this casserole. Canned beans are salted beyond all reckoning, not to mention downright slimy. And something happens to green beans when you freeze them–frozen green beans taste like grass after they’re thawed. You can leave them whole, like I do–just cut off both tough ends with a knife–or snap them into smaller pieces. Either way, fresh green beans don’t take long to prepare and their taste can’t be beat.
Green Bean Casserole
2 lbs. fresh green beans, ends cut off
2 T. butter
2 T. flour
1 can evaporated milk
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste
1 can Durkee fried onions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Blanch the green beans by dropping them into the boiling water and letting them cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Drain and rinse the beans in cold water. They should be bright green, but still very crisp. (Don't worry--they'll finish cooking in the oven.) Set the beans aside while you make the white sauce.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter and whisk in the flour until you have a thick paste. Let this cook until it's thick and bubbly, 3 or 4 minutes. Slowly whisk in the evaporated milk, then the regular milk, then the sour cream, making sure to keep everything smooth. (At this point, if the sauce looks too thick, add a little more milk--but do this sparingly. It's easy to thin out a sauce that's too thick, but it's much more difficult to thicken a runny sauce.) Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Place the green beans in a 2-quart casserole dish. Pour the white sauce over your green beans; add half the can of fried onions and stir to combine everything. Sprinkle the remaining fried onions over the top. Bake for 30 minutes, until the beans are tender and the white sauce is bubbly.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
This morning, on our way to church, we discussed Thanksgiving side dishes–in our family, everyone gets to choose a favorite side. That way, you’re guaranteed to have a least one of your favorite things on the table, in addition to the turkey. The Girl chose stuffing, which was not a surprise, though she asked if I would make a double batch–such is the depth of her love. The Hubs chose green bean casserole. Again, not a surprise. (My recipe for a fresh version of your canned-soup-based favorite will be coming later this week.) The Boy pondered this question, then said “Could we try something new this year?”
“Of course,” I said. “I’m always up for trying new things. What would you like to try?”
“I’d like to try having pizza instead of turkey,” he said.
Once we established that the main dish was non-negotiable, The Boy relented and chose cauliflower.
“Roasted, with some garlic and parmesan and olive oil?” I said. “Or, like, baked with cheese sauce?”
Neither. Just plain, raw cauliflower.
So I’ll make sure there’s a tray of crudites on our Thanksgiving table, just for him. Later, though, when a fellow Sunday-school teacher asked me for new side-dish suggestions, I told her about my favorite Thanksgiving side: Corn Souffle. This recipe is based on a version my sister used to make every year, though of course it’s been customized, in typical Foodie fashion. My version includes a little more cheese than hers does–and the cheese is Monterrey jack, not cheddar. Also, my sister’s version didn’t include garlic or green chilies, and she didn’t separate the eggs or beat the egg whites before folding them into the batter. Her version was always delicious, but mine is a little less like a corn pudding and more like an actual souffle.
I always use a box of Jiffy corn muffin mix, which is slightly on the sweet side. If you have a favorite brand, or if you’d prefer to use your own cornbread recipe, that will work too–any recipe that results in an 8″ x 8″ square pan of cornbread will give you the right proportion of dry ingredients. Just leave the wet ingredients out and use the proportions listed below instead.
1/2 cup margarine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 c. chopped onion
8 1/2 oz. box of cornbread mix
3 eggs, separated
1 can (4 oz.) diced green chilies
1 can (17 oz.) whole kernel corn, or 2 cups frozen kernels, thawed
1 can (17 oz.) creamed corn
1 1/2 c. shredded Monterrey jack cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Spray a 2-quart souffle dish or casserole dish with non-stick spray and set aside. Melt the butter in a skillet, then add garlic and onions. Saute for 4 or 5 minutes, until the onions start to soften.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the cornbread mix, egg yolks, green chilies, whole corn, creamed corn, and 1/2 cup of the cheese. Blend well, then add the onion and garlic mixture. Set this bowl aside.
In another large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. (When you lift the beaters, peaks should form and hold their shape.) Gently fold the egg whites into the cornbread batter with a rubber spatula. Fold just until the egg whites are no longer visible. The batter will be lumpy, but that's okay.
Pour the batter into the prepared souffle or casserole dish. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup of shredded cheese. Bake 50 to 60 minutes, until the top is browned and the center is firm, not jiggly. Cool 5 minutes before serving.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Sorry for the unplanned hiatus this past week. I’m at that point in the semester where it’s hard to get much of anything done because 1.) there’s so much that needs
to be done, I don’t even know where to start; 2.) I have so little energy for getting
it all done; and 3.) there’s so little time left to do anything, it feels like maybe, possibly, just this one time, I could get away with not doing what needs to be done and just start fresh next semester.
Yesterday my friend Phil gave a really excellent chapel talk on campus, turning to a passage from Isaiah as he spoke about the need for focus in our lives. It got me to thinking about all the things that get in the way of my focus on what’s truly important–and work is important, of course. Work is what pays the bills and, once in awhile, even gives me a sense of personal well-being. Earlier this semester, a former student dropped off a gift and a note at my house, thanking me for the encouragement I’ve offered her at various times; it was a small thing for her to do, but it affirmed that the work I do is meaningful to others. I wonder about that sometimes. (Okay, okay. I wonder about that a lot.)
But writing is important to me, too. And food, of course. This past week, I made an actual dinner for the family exactly one time and felt, all week long, like my life was completely out of control. So this morning, determined to bring the right things back into focus, I made this Breakfast Pizza. I had a pizza crust left over from earlier in the week–at HEB, you can buy a Good to Go pizza kit that comes with 2 pre-made crusts and 2 sauce packets for the same price you’d pay for a frozen pizza–and I decided there might be a way to approximate Eggs Benedict in pizza form. Turns out I was right, and the Breakfast Pizza was a big hit.
And now, a confession: I usually make Hollandaise sauce from a mix. Making it from scratch is a kind of tricky, since the egg yolks can scramble if they get too hot and the lemon juice can curdle the butter. The packet of sauce mix from our friends at Knorr is, on the other hand, basically foolproof and quite tasty. I used only half of the sauce in this recipe, which leaves the other half for topping poached salmon later this week. (Hollandaise is also really good over vegetables, like green beans or broccoli.)
I made the sauce first, then got busy with the bacon and eggs. Traditional Eggs Benedict calls for Canadian bacon, but since I had turkey bacon on hand, that’s what I used. I also used sharp cheddar cheese, though any type of shredded cheese (or combination of cheeses) would be fine.
Later this weekend I’ll be posting recipe suggestions for Thanksgiving side dishes. For now, though, just focus on enjoying your breakfast.
1 envelope Knorr Hollandaise sauce mix
1 cup milk
4 T. butter
4 strips of turkey bacon, cut into small pieces
6 eggs, beaten
2 cups shredded cheese (I used sharp cheddar)
1 pre-baked pizza crust
Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.
Prepare the Hollandaise sauce as directed on the packet, using milk and butter. (I used 1% milk along with the butter, to keep the fat grams to something of a minimum.) Once the sauce is thickened, set the saucepan aside. Don’t worry about it getting cold, since everything will go into the oven soon.
In a large skillet, cook the bacon until it’s starting to brown but not crispy. Pour the beaten eggs over the bacon; scramble and season as you normally would. (For me, that means salt, pepper and a little garlic powder.) When the eggs are done, assemble the pizza.
Spread half of the Hollandaise sauce over the pizza crust. Top with the scrambled egg and bacon mixture; sprinkle the shredded cheese over everything. Bake for 10 minutes, until the cheese is melted. Allow the pizza to cool for 5 minutes before slicing it into wedges and serving. You may find it easier to eat your pizza with a fork, since the Hollandaise sauce is slightly runny while it’s still hot from the oven.