Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pumpkin puree, seeds, and pie

Our local paper had an article last week mentioning a shortage of canned pumpkin due to poor crop performance at the Libby farms, and they weren't lying. My local grocery store had nary a can of the delicious, multi-purpose, and ubiquitously autumnal orange glop.

My husband had requested a full turkey dinner for last weekend, complete with pumpkin pie, so I decided to do a fully scratch version, which was a first for me. It was easier than I anticipated, yet time consuming. However, the fantastic fresh taste of the resulting pie was worth it.

Various websites suggested one 6" pie pumpkin for a single 9" pie, but since I was putting in this extra effort, I decided to make extra and freeze it. I purchased two pie pumpkins, weighing in at just over 7 pounds total. I removed the stems and blossom ends, cut them in half, and scooped out the seeds and stringy parts.

The photographer of this picture is my almost 3 year old assistant. Note her unique perspective.

I then placed the halves cut side down on a baking sheet. There is no seasoning or oil.

NOTE: One set of online instructions recommended lining the baking sheet with parchment paper. I didn't have any, so I omitted this step. However, there was a decent quantity of sticky brown goo that had to be soaked off after baking, so next time, I'll line with parchment or a Silpat.

I baked the pumpkins at 350º for about an hour and 15 minutes, until they were easily pierced with a paring knife. After a brief rest out of the oven, the skins were very easily peeled off.

I scooped up the pumpkin flesh and crammed it into my food processor. After a couple of minutes and several pauses to stir, the pumpkins were reduced to a smooth puree. As you can see, I've maxed out the capacity!

Cans of Libby brand pumpkin are 15 ounces each, so I decided to package my puree similarly. I had some reusable plastic containers from takeout that worked perfectly. Using my digital kitchen scale, I measured out just under a pound of puree for each, winding up with 4 containers.

My puree came out the right consistency, but if your batch winds up watery, Martha Stewart recommends putting the puree into a cheesecloth lined colander over a bowl in the fridge overnight. Discard the liquid in the bowl.

Once I had my puree ready, it was time to make pie. I used the tried and true recipe from the canned pumpkin label, available here. My go-to recipe for pie crust is always that of Alton Brown.

I was a little overzealous with whisking in the evaporated milk, and therefore the pie wound up with some unsightly brown bubbles in the center. I peeled them off. Unfortunately, there were cracks in the center after the custard cooled, but it didn't stop us from eating it! :D

Add a little (or a lot) sweetened whipped cream (chill your beaters and a glass bowl before whipping- makes it go much faster) and voila! Delicious fall dessert, all the way from scratch.

We can't forget the lowly pumpkin seeds! After removing them from the pumpkins, I cleaned off all of the stringy parts, rinsed them, and soaked them in a brine. Later, I drained off the brine, coated the seeds in a mixture of New Mexico chile powder and kosher salt, and baked them on a sheet until toasty and golden brown. Yum!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Photo bomb, catch up

I have been cooking and taking pictures of food a lot, but I have neglected to blog about it. I've taken the lazy way out, and posted most of my pics to my Facebook photo album instead. However, since there may be an occasional reader who doesn't know me in person and therefore does not have access to my FB, here is what you've been missing!

If you cook and don't own a mandoline slicer, you should seriously consider investing in one. Yes, I said "investing," because a good one is not cheap, but it is well worth the price tag. I used mine this morning to make hash browns. The results were far superior to the mushy shreds you'd get using a cheese grater!

My mandoline is a De Buyer Pro-V, which retails for about $200. My husband bought mine at Williams-Sonoma, but they apparently don't have my model any more. You can find them at Amazon here.

The onset of fall-like weather where I live has prompted a baking urge, and nothing says "fall" to me like apple pie. This one was made with Alton Brown's pie crust recipe and my own mixture of about 2 1/2 pounds of peeled and sliced green apples, brown sugar, cinnamon, and cornstarch. I used a lattice cutter for the top, which is quick and easy, and then brushed on egg white and sprinkled with turbinado sugar.

I was recently gifted with a deep fryer, and although this particular model isn't worth a crap, I gave it one last shot. The fryer itself didn't work (won't heat up past about 300º, even after heating for half an hour), but I transferred the oil to my trusty Lodge dutch oven on the stove top and fried up a mess of onion rings to go with some burgers on the grill.

These onion rings are fantastic, vegan, and super easy. Martha Stewart provides the recipe.

A friend recently introduced me to pesto, which I had never made myself. This inspired me to make some cilantro pesto, because I had some in the garden and I love the stuff. I found an easy recipe online and served it over grilled chicken breasts.

On the side is a delicious and summery salad of fresh corn, black beans, and cherry tomatoes. The recipe came from America's Test Kitchen, which requires a membership.

My nearly 3 year old daughter watches me cook and take pictures of food all the time, so it wasn't a complete surprise the other day when she announced, "Mama, I take a peeshoo of you food." She had already eaten when I sat down with my husband to some Zatarain's dirty rice, shrimp, and andouille, and she was walking around with my camera. The girl is a budding foodie and a budding photog. I'm so proud!

Boneless chicken dinner. I love this stuff. If you have not yet learned how to make sauces and gravies using a roux, then you are truly missing out. My own chicken-fried chicken is super easy- salt and pepper boneless breasts, dip in beaten egg, roll in flour. Heat vegetable oil to 350º, in an electric skillet and at a depth of about 1/4". Flip chicken twice, until spotty brown on both sides.

Keep chicken warm while you make gravy. Pour off all but about 2 tbsp. of the oil, return to heat, and whisk in about 2 tbsp. of flour. Slowly add about 3 cups of milk and whisk constantly. Season with salt and pepper.

The buttermilk biscuits are Tyler Florence's recipe, and they are to die for.

My adaptation of a favorite dish from Abuelo's Mexican Food Embassy, something they used to call Pechuga con calabaza. It's a milk-based sauce (bechamel) with sauteed zucchini, yellow squash, red pepper flakes, onion, garlic, roasted bell pepper, sun dried tomatoes, and corn, which is simmered with sauteed chicken breasts and served over rice. It's nearly 2:30 a.m. right now, so I'll get the recipe later!

Delicious sugar cookies with royal icing and sprinkles:

Another America's Test Kitchen recipe, grilled flatbread. An excellent stand-in for pita or naan, and really simple to make.

Alton Brown's Garden Vegetable soup. Super easy and ever so delicious, especially with fresh summer corn, tomatoes, and green beans.

Sensing a theme here? I love Alton Brown. His recipes rarely fail me. Here's his red beans and rice recipe, with a slight alteration. His version calls for making pickled pork. I'm lazy, and that part calls for a lot of effort, and a lot of vinegar, which my husband doesn't like. So I left out the pickled pork and used some andouille sausage. Delicious!

Another Food Network chef that I appreciate is Cat Cora. We have had her souvlaki recipe twice now, and it's pretty good. I did make two amendments: Cat's recipe calls for dressing the lettuce and tomato with a vinaigrette, which I omitted the second time due to husband's previously mentioned aversion to vinegar.

Husband did offer a good suggestion for the second go-round, which was to try topping the meat and pita with some tzatziki sauce. Again I turned to Alton. I omitted the mint and substituted parsley. Quite tasty!

Pizza Bianca recipe from America's Test Kitchen. A very simple wet pizza dough that's not rolled, but rather semi-poured and stretched onto the cookie sheet. It's quite oily, though, and I'll probably reduce the olive oil next time.

I topped the dough with a simple no-cook pizza sauce from Cat Cora. The sauce makes plenty, and freezes well in a zip-top bag. I adjusted the recipe by adding more tomato paste (6 oz. instead of 4) and less water (about 3/4 cup instead of 1 1/2), and I didn't have fresh rosemary but I did have parsley.

Add some diced salami, crumbled Italian sausage, and fresh mozzarella, and you have a pizza that rivals any parlor in town.

Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed this very long and very overdue post. Now get out there and get cooking!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Baked Ziti

My new crop of tomatoes, basil, and parsley inspired me to make some baked ziti from scratch. I've tried several recipes, and they were good enough, but my husband always complained that there was too much cheese.

I had a self-made roasted tomato sauce recipe in a notebook from a few years ago, and I used it as my guideline for this dish. It's pretty simple and adaptable.

Here's the garden stash. The tomatoes are Roma and Golden Girl. I grew everything except the garlic. I also used a homegrown onion.

The tomatoes are halved, seeded (dig a finger in the cavity and scoop them out), put in a baking dish, stuffed with a halved garlic clove (1 half clove in each tomato half), sprinkled with minced basil and parsley and some dried oregano, and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

The tomatoes are baked at 350º for about 40 minutes until soft. After removing them from the oven, let the baking dish sit, covered loosely with foil, for about ten minutes. Then, using a fork or your fingers, peel the skins off and discard. They should come off easily.

While the tomatoes rested, I cooked a half pound of bulk mild Italian sausage in a deep skillet, and deglazed the pan with 1/4 cup of dry red wine. I added the roasted tomatoes to the sausage and mashed everything together with a potato masher, breaking up the clumps of tomato. I also wound up mashing the garlic pieces with a fork, since they were still a bit firm.

Add 1 small white onion, diced, about 1/2 tsp. of red pepper flakes, and one roasted bell pepper from a jar, diced. Season with kosher salt and fresh pepper. I wound up adding a pinch of sugar at the end. Simmer the sauce until a bit of excess liquid remains. You don't want it completely reduced, because the pasta will soak up the liquid as it bakes.

When the sauce was simmering, I cooked a half pound of rigatoni/ziti in salted water until just al dente. Drain well and mix with the sauce in a greased 9" baking dish. Sprinkle a bit of fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano on top, cover with foil, and bake at 350º for about 30 minutes.

I thought that the pasta I used was a little too big for this dish. Next time, I'll probably use spirals or ditalini.

My new toy

This is my new toy, a Fluke infrared instant-read thermometer. It's not designed for kitchen use, but my boy Alton Brown uses one all the time and it looks handy. My husband gave this to me as an early birthday gift. You can instantly check the temp of a grill, oven, pot of oil, or skillet.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Playing catch-up

I've been living up to my blog name of late. I'm still cooking and baking, but until recently, I wasn't taking any pictures. Here's some stuff I've made recently.

Chicken Pasta Primavera:

I had a bunch of seasonal summer veggies on hand and wanted to make something fresh and tasty with pasta. Here's the saute of vegetables. The skillet includes zucchini, button mushrooms, onion, garlic, a yellow tomato, and roasted bell peppers from a jar.

Here's the finished dish. The vegetable saute was combined with grilled chicken breast. I tossed the pasta with a little chicken broth for flavor and sauce, mixed the whole mess together, and topped it with some freshly grated Parm.

Chicken Noodle Soup:

I don't have a recipe for chicken soup, and I never have. I just boil bone-in chicken pieces with a couple of breasts in a big stockpot of water with various amounts of dried spices, including poultry seasoning, granulated garlic, onion powder, celery salt, whole peppercorns, and a bay leaf. After the chicken is cooked, I strain the broth and de-bone the chicken pieces and chop the breasts.

I add the meat back to the broth, along with diced onions, carrots, and celery. I usually also toss in a couple of chicken bouillon cubes for extra flavor. Bring to a boil and add half a bag (about 6 oz.) of wide egg noodles.

When the noodles are cooked, I toss in a palmful each of chopped fresh Italian parsley and snipped fresh chives. It's awesome as leftovers, too.

Cheesecake with Cherry Topping:

I use Tyler Florence's recipe for the "ultimate" cheesecake. The secret to a crack-free cheesecake is slow mixing, and not over-mixing. It's baked in a water bath for 45 minutes, and removed while the center is still jiggly.

I flatly refuse to put canned, artificially red, cherry-flavored goop on top of my homemade cheesecake, so I threw together some cherry topping. It's super easy. Dump a bag of frozen tart cherries into a sauce pan with about half a cup of water, a little over 1 cup of sugar, a couple of teaspoons of cornstarch, and a dash of vanilla. Mix well and cook until bubbly. Chill.