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You gotta have pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving – at least I do

I love pumpkin pie. Turkey is nice, homemade stuffing can be delicious, and good gravy is an art. I like the variety of flavours on a Thanksgiving plate with all the side dishes, but my true passion has always been pumpkin pie. It is one of the foods that got me cooking.fall pumpkin cart Paynters Market

You see, my Mom hated making pastry. As a result, she avoided it whenever possible. She is also not a real fan of pumpkin pie in particular, so when one year she mentioned not making it for Thanksgiving I stepped in to avoid a serious break in tradition. (I think I was 12.) I offered to make the pie. I figured, how hard can it be? Well, pastry is something that I don’t mind. My Mom says the talent of achieving tender flaky pastry is one that skips a generation. I think she was just buttering me up, although that never occurred to me at the time. The pastry was easy enough; it was the scalding of the milk was what scared me. But I pulled through, and followed the recipe. Then, after tasting the filling, I took my first leap as a gourmand and kicked up the spices a notch. The rest, as they say, is history.

When we served up the pie that night after dinner, it sliced up beautifully. I was amazed at how the custard held its shape and yet tasted fluffy. The spice and sweetness were well balanced, and the pastry was rich and flaky. I was pleased, and when my Mom said it was the Best Pumpkin Pie, Ever I was over the moon. And I never looked back, baking up a storm from that autumn onward. When I had to make traditional Thanksgiving dessert for the film crews during my movie catering days, I confidently pulled out my old favourite, and it was always a hit.

pumpkin pie Happy Gourmand

I don’t know if this recipe will cause an epiphany at your house this Thanksgiving, but it’s easy enough to do and it has character. I hope you can enjoy it half as much as I do 🙂  I am truly grateful I am able to share it with you.

Oh, and for those who might like a gluten-free version or who don’t like pastry, you can make the filling in ramekins or other ceramic or glass dishes, it makes a lovely dessert. Just watch the time as smaller containers will cook faster.

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Recipe Testing – you win some, you lose some

recipe box

So I decided to try some recipes that I saw in my surfing this week… I must admit, I still do more surfing in good old-fashioned print than I do online, but nonetheless there is lots to sift through. I have taken to pulling pages from magazines to minimize the stock in my recipe bookcase, as after 25 years of surfing I would be suffocated otherwise 🙂

Fall always makes me want to cook, with all the goodness of harvest overflowing at the market stands. This last week I found a few fall dessert recipes and I got to making 3 of them. Two were a hit, one was a miss. I am posting the links to both here, and would love to hear comments – have you tried them,, or similar recipes? Did you like them? Do you read recipe reviews? Do you believe them? Do you trust recipes in print more than online, or vice versa?? When I started gathering recipes they were the ones I had tasted or had come from cooks I knew (my Mom, my Aunts, my best friend… you know how it used to work). One of the recipes I made was supposedly from a restaurant chef, and yet it was a total fail. How do I know in today’s remote world what to trust? Help!!

The first recipe I made came from a blog that is hosted through a shop I love in Seattle, World Spice Merchants. They have the most complete selection of spices and herbs I have ever seen under one roof, and their staff are extremely knowledgeable. Cardamom and Olive Oil Cake was the title. I was interested by the uniqueness of the recipe, and how it offered an “outside the box” combination of ingredients. I have posted on the blog asking if I made some error in the recipe preparation but I have not heard back.  (I printed the page and followed the listed directions explicitly, using the noted weights and not measurements in hopes of being the most accurate).  I’m still interested to try the recipe if there is something I missed, but the way it came out it’s not my cup of tea. I suppose I should have taken a picture but it was so sad – only 1 cm (1/2 inch) high, and pale and oily. Not nice.

The second recipe I made was a much more mainstream item but it looked good.  Apple Cake with caramel sauce It came out of a Walmart magazine if you can believe it 🙂 Apple Coffee Cake. We live in the Okanagan and it’s harvest season so an apple cake seemed like just the thing. Full disclosure: I did tweak this one a bit by adding dried cranberries along with the apple. It’s not racy, but it works, even if you want to go more healthy and omit the caramel topping. (We almost always have homemade caramel sauce on hand so I used that for a few pieces and we ate the rest plain.)

buttermilkThe third recipe I also found online, through a search based on an ingredient.  We had a litre of buttermilk in the fridge that was nearing its expiry and so I thought it would be good to make some muffins using buttermilk. This recipe from Williams Sonoma looked to be the best reviewed of the ones I found. I tweaked this one too at the last minute, adding a few spoonsful of mixed peel just for fun. These were tasty – great breakfast muffins. banana buttermilk muffins

It’s coming up on Thanksgiving and I’m thankful I’m not testing recipes on my guests for the holiday. I’d hate to have something “not nice” come out of the oven and have to make excuses for friends and family. Having a husband as a chef that is a cardinal rule in our house – we test things at home and might use each other as guinea pigs, but people we invite get treated to tried and true recipes we know and love.

Do you have any cooking disappointments? What’s your philosophy on cooking a new recipe for guests? At the end of the day I suppose the most important thing is gathering people together around the table, so even if it’s to decide as a group that pizza needs to be ordered, well that’s OK too.

Happy Thanksgiving. May your kitchen be full of good smells and good company.

It’s not just turkey that spells thanks

It is not only the harvest season but also that time of year when we are reminded to give thanks for all that we have. Most of us will be enjoying a turkey feast this weekend as part of the celebrations. However, with all the news of late that seems to spell doom and gloom I wanted to take time to say that even a can of beans could serve the purpose for gathering folks together to be grateful. In our part of the world we have much to be grateful for, and if you have someone to share your meal with then that is a great start right there.

The family part of Thanksgiving is the most obvious, and although your blood relatives may be far away, often friends can fill the gap and share a special time. I know as a culture we are aware of sharing with those less fortunate as well; Thanksgiving is often a time when people are reminded to give back in any way they know how. There are turkey drives, and donations to the food bank, and all kinds of charities that need the support of the community.

But what about the less formal part of the holiday; what about the essence of being grateful? Can you do that if you are stressed out about work and a busy schedule and having to pay the bills?

Take a lesson from kids and dogs – they are good at making the most of every moment.

We need to make sure we take time for ourselves, to stop and smell the flowers so to speak. That is when it is easiest to be grateful, when you take time to notice the world around you.  Ambition is a powerful thing that can take you places, and responsibilities are important but we need to remember not to let the cart lead the horse. If you collapse from the stress of trying to get that never-ending list of duties completed or from the pressure of trying to live up to expectations, then you will never have a chance to really be grateful and enjoy your life – no matter how much turkey you eat.

In closing I will reprint a poem I included in an earlier column,  made famous when it was discovered on the body of a man who was instrumental in convicting Al Capone. He was gunned down, but no one is sure if the note was something he carried or if it was left by his killers. I leave you to ponder its importance.

The Clock of Life

by Robert H. Smith, copyright 1932, 1982

The clock of life is wound but once,

And no man has the power

To tell just when the hands will stop

At late or early hour.

To lose one’s wealth is sad indeed,

To lose one’s health is more,

To lose one’s soul is such a loss

That no man can restore.

The present only is our own,

So live, love, toil with a will,

Place no faith in “Tomorrow,”

For the Clock may then be still.

May you and yours have a restful and joyous Thanksgiving. Cheers!

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