Wednesday, November 23, 2005

pecan pie thoughts

What no one needs to put on the cover of their newspaper/magazine: raw turkey. Both the NYT and NY mag both produced spectacularly unappetizing holiday spreads last week, more redolent of that disturbing John Currin painting Thanksgiving--which is at least sardonic and touched with some acid social commentary--than a celebration of good cheer and good cooking. Although I did love the picture of the Haitian turkey, just because it looked so awful--as if a turkey had somehow gone through a very bad Harry Potter spell turning it into--a giant scorched olive loaf!

But now it's pie time, pie time at last! I'm off to the Greenmarket this morning for apples, apples, apples, Ronnybrook cream, cider, lettuce for the salad and cinnamon doughnuts to keep me happy. Because K. is a Southerner, she's hinted that a little pecan pie wouldn't be amiss on Saturday's table, so this might be the time that I finally try out John Thorne's very simple, very tasty-sounding pecan pie. Yankee that I am, I am wondering if maple syrup could be subbed for the golden syrup. Or if I can find some Steen's Cane Syrup, I'll use that, maybe half-and-half with maple syrup, and bourbon--just to be all-American--instead of the rum.

John Thorne’s Pecan Pie

1 cup muscovado or Sucanat brown sugar
2/3 cup (scant) Lyle’s Golden Syrup or cane syrup
2 TB dark rum or bourbon
4 TB butter
3 eggs
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups pecans
single crust pie shell, partially prebaked blind

Preheat oven 350 degrees. Boil sugar, syrup, rum, and butter for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Let cool. Stir in salt, eggs, and pecans. Pour into pie shell and bake 50 minutes.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Salad You Need to Know

Mostly, I’m on pie duty this holiday—apple and pumpkin for Amy’s on Thursday, apple, cranberry and pecan for the T-day redux with my family on Saturday. But for Thursday’s dinner I’ll also be bringing the salad, if only because I have become a fierce champion of this recipe and feel strongly that no Thanksgiving table is complete without it.

I first had this salad at a dinner at Bay Wolf, a lovely French/Italian/California-cuisine fixture in Oakland, possibly at the same dinner where I was served what remains one of the best pasta dishes of my life-- buckwheat ravioli stuffed with goat cheese, tossed with beets and walnuts—along with their dreamy duck-liver mousse, which practically floats off the toast. When Bay Wolf finally came out with their cookbook, I bought it immediately, just in hopes of finding this salad and that pasta. (As for the duck, it turns out to be more mousseline than mousse, equal parts liver and whipped cream). The pasta was there, albeit in two separate recipes--one for goat-cheese ravioli, the other for buckwheat noodles in a beet-and-walnut pasta sauce. (I have not yet united the two, but I sleep better knowing that I could.) But the salad was right there, tasting just like it did in Oakland.

As an autumn charmer, this beautiful salad makes slightly more sense in California, where pomegranates and persimmons are grown locally and show up in the farmers’ markets in October and November. But I've made it all over the place and it's a hit every time--a little sweet, soft and slippery, then crunchy, toasty from the nuts and creamy with the goat cheese. And the colors are very much like a frolic in the woods—glowing drops of red, wedges of deep orange, shiny brown nuts and deep green lettuces.

Bay Wolf’s Autumn Salad

This salad calls for Fuyu persimmons, which are the round, firm, flattish ones, not the deep-orange, pyramid-shaped ones. If you can’t find persimmons, substitute sliced Bosc or Asian pears.

1 cup pecans
2 tablespoons sugar
cayenne pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350F. Fill a medium pot with water and bring to a boil. Drop in pecans and blanch for a couple minutes. Drain. Toss pecans with sugar and cayenne. Spread on a baking sheet and bake, stirring frequently, until crisp and toasty. Be careful; because of the sugar, they can burn easily. Let cool, then break up into smallish pieces.

1 shallot, minced
1 sprig of fresh thyme
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
salt and pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

Let shallot and thyme soak in vinegar for 30 minutes. Strip the thyme leaves off the sprig. Add salt and pepper and whisk in olive oil.

A couple handfuls of arugula
A small head of red-leaf or oak-leaf lettuce
Seeds of 1 pomegranate
3 Fuyu (flat) persimmons, peeled and sliced
4 ounces soft, fresh goat cheese (chevre), crumbled

Toss lettuce, persimmons, and pomegranate seeds with half the dressing. Add more dressing if needed. Top with pecans and goat cheese.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Pumpkin Pie!

Oh, where has the Pie Queen been? Spirited back to the South? Whisked up to a wood-stove cabin on the Canadian border? Or, more prosaically, trapped in Brooklyn under a mountain of deadlines? Well, the last 2 are true, at least, although I will be heading back across the Mason-Dixon Line come December, on the Civil War Isn't Over Yet tour of Virginia, South Carolina, and Florida come December, followed by a quickie breeze through San Francisco (o bliss! o Tartine!) in early January.

But right now I'm in Tazza, the month-and-a-week new cafe/bakery/enoteca at the corner of Henry and Atlantic (just north of Atlantic, on the B'klyn Heights side). Such a lovely place, spacious and pleasant, with coffee served in real cups on little round orange trays, with your own beaker of milk on the side, and a tasty selection of cakes and sandwiches, even a wine bar for lingering once the typing's done. Open at 7am, closes at 10pm. It's like being at home, only much tidier--they even play all my CDs, from Satie and Kiri Te Kanawa to Paris Combo. These days, it's all about staying local--last night, my downstairs neighbor Amy and I ran through the rain to get to the cozy, David-Bowie-soundtracked environs of Chip Shop--a lady's half-pint of Old Speckled Hen for me, a Guinness, a plate of baked beans on toast and a pair of deep-fried Reese's PB cups for her.

[Long silence. Chirp. Chirp.]

So, Thanksgiving. Did anyone find Kim S's long turkey-roasting piece in the Times to be well, kinda pointless? At last, after all those dopey, fussy articles (put an ice pack on the breast! brine, brine, brine!) the Times is now paying their writers to talk to their moms and make turkey the way everyone actually does it: just put on some salt and pepper, maybe a little butter, a few veg inside, tent it with foil and stick in the oven til it's done. Honestly, there's no great mystery. Just roast the damn thing and stop talking about it.

Pie, now, I could talk to you all day about pie. And if you're making pumpkin pie this year--which you should, otherwise you'll end up with something like that scene in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, where Peppermint Patty, confronted with Snoopy's turkeyless offerings of popcorn and toast, flips out and demands, "Where's the cranberry sauce, Chuck? Where's the PUMPKIN PIE???" Trust me, I made ginger-pumpkin mousse one year, for a group of about 30, and it's not a mistake I'll make again.

So, pumpkin pie. Two things you want to do: pre-bake your pie crust, and use roasted fresh butternut squash. Pre-baking (aka blind-baking) the crust until it is lightly golden solves the whole soggy-bottom-crust thing that bedevils most custard pies. To blind-bake, make your crust, tuck it into your pie pan, and refrigerate the whole thing for an hour or so. Then line the pan with foil or parchment paper, and fill with a handful of pie weights (those little silvery drops sold in fancy cooking shops) or old dried beans (note that once a pie weight, always a pie weight--you can't eat those beans once they're baked, but you can use them as pie weights again and again). Let crust bake at 400-425F (depending on your oven) until pale golden. Then take out the foil etc. and let bake a few minutes more, until golden brown.

And as for the filling,butternut squash has vast flavor reserves that pumpkin can't even dream of. Using fresh squash will give your filling a lovely, fluffy texture that's very different from the usual heavy, stodgy wedge. Just slice your butternut--no mean feat, so be careful and don't slice your hand up--in half lengthwise, put it face down on a baking sheet and roast until squishy. Flip it over, scrape out the seeds and goo, and scoop flesh into a colander. Mash throughly--I like to pass it through a food mill to get really smooth, but you can buzz it in the processor, beat it with a spoon, or be totally insane and push it through a fine-mesh strainer with a wooden spoon, which is probably the fastest route to just scrapping the whole deal and opening a can of Libby's. But you do need to do something to get rid of the stringiness. I just cranked a bunch of stringy chunks through the fine disk of my cheapie plastic food mill, and was amazed at the lovely velvety puree that resulted. Heave the puree into a strainer and let drain for a hour or so.

Then just find a nice recipe--most people I know have bailed on the old evaporated-milk deal and use heavy cream now instead, but I stick by my little can, mixed with eggs, brown sugar, and spices. Shuna over at Eggbeater likes to add slivered sage; the lovely Bakerina swears by Rose Levy Bernbaum's double-cooking technique, in which one sautes the pumpkin, sugar, and spices for a few minutes before mixing in the eggs and milk--a technique I think I'll try, because why NOT make life a little more complicated?

Remember that the pie will continue to cook a bit as it cools, so leave the center a little jiggly, to avoid giant fault-like cracks cratering through the custard.

Pie Queen's Pumpkin Pie
Essentially the exact same recipe as published in the 1939 Yankee Cookbook, just with more squash and with the addition of a quick pre-cooking of the filling.

15 ounces roasted, mashed butternut squash or pumpkin (approx. 1 1/2 cups)
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups evaporated milk, or a combo of milk, half and half, or heavy cream
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
single-crust pie shell, baked blind to a pale golden

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix squash, sugar, spices, and salt in a heavy pot. Bring to a sputtering simmer and cook, stirring, for 3 or 4 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes, then add milk, stirring until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla. Pour into pie shell and bake until slightly puffed and set, with the center still a little jiggly. Let cool on a rack. Serve with whipped cream.

Now, the Harry Potter movie, opening tomorrow! I can't wait!