Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Rigatoni and Mornay…aka: mac n' cheese!

Not surprisingly, after the grilled-cheese and tomato soup episode earlier in the week, I was left with several large hunks of cheese. I could have easily enjoyed the cheese, plain or with some autumn apples and wine. But no, the cold weather beckoned something more: another classic of carbs laden with rich, melty cheese. I have nothing against that stuff in the blue box, of which I grew up on-made with lots of love by my Grandma-but there is something magical about homemade mac n'cheese.

My Mom first introduced us to "homemade" mac n'cheese, and has been known for throwing together some pretty wicked cheese sauces with cheese orphans in her fridge (note: she sometimes used the microwave to cook the sauce-roux and all-but this is mac n'cheese, so who cares? As long as it has tons of cheese, noodles and love…you're golden). And yes, Velveeta…that processed, mysterious cheese-like product (of which I distinctly remember not having a defined melting point in a certain food functionality lab a while back…) that lends a creamy, short and slightly sweet element to anything it is put in was sometimes featured in her sauces too.

I opted for gouda, medium-sharp cheddar, baby swiss and pecorino romano melted into a thick béchamel sauce, enriched with an egg to help emulsify. Technically speaking, that describes a child of one of the French mother sauces, Mornay: béchamel sauce, enriched with an egg and cheese. Mixed with large rigatoni noodles, topped with more pecorino and baked until golden, this is a sauce to comfort and warm the soul. If you're feeling cold, then make this-you'll feel instantly happier (not that I am saying you should take your emotions out of food-but this, after all, is an ultimate comfort food). This comes together fast-so no excuses. Especially if you live in Wisconsin, where one has access to a plethora of cheeses, top-quality milks, and where the weather is cold.

If you're not feeding a crowd, scoop the mac n' cheese into individual ramekins or smaller casserole dishes, and bake them off as you want. You want to avoid re-heating, as the sauce will break a touch (even with the addition of an egg)*. You can use any type of pasta that you want, just use something that will cling or hold the sauce: ridge pasta, curly pasta, or the classic elbows. I used rigatoni, because it was what I had on hand. Don't over think it-this stuff will be good no matter what pasta you pick.

*The next day, I had sauce reserved, and scooped this on top before baking my last 2 ramekins. Glorious runny, golden sauce was atop the re-heated mac n' cheese, which lends me to believe that it is the extra moisture, thus moisture migration that results, from the pasta that is the primary factor for a broken, grainy sauce in re-heated mac n' cheese. I recommend reserving some sauce, and doing the same as I did for re-heated portions. It is also pretty fabulous for dipping steamed broccoli in-just a suggestion.

Macaroni and Cheese
Makes 4 generous servings for a stand-alone meal, or up to 6 smaller servings as a side 

12-16oz (about 3 to 4 cups) cheese*, grated or diced into small cubes
2 1/2 cups 2% or Whole Milk
4 TB butter, or 2 TB butter and 2 TB olive oil
4 TB flour
1 egg
1 generous teaspoon mustard powder or prepared dijon mustard
16 oz, or 1 lb pasta (this was about 4 cups of rigatoni, but this will vary with pasta type, and you could certainly eye-ball this with the cheese sauce-pasta ratio when mixing at the end)
Salt and pepper

Cutting board
Sharp knife or cheese grater
Measuring Cups and Spoons
Large pot
Medium pot
Casserole dish and/or individual ramekins


First, cook the pasta by filling a large pot with water and salting it generously ("until it tastes like the sea"). Cover, and bring to a boil. Add a splash of olive oil to help prevent foaming, and add the pasta. Cook the pasta to al dente ("to the tooth" for the Italian lovers….). You want to keep some of the bite or firmness to the pasta, as it will soak up the sauce. Drain in a colander, and shake-off excess water.

Prepare the sauce: either grate or cut your cheeses into small cubes. The smaller the pieces, the faster they will melt. I am notorious for chunking my cheese into rather large pieces, due to my impeccable impatience.

Next, measure out the 2 1/2 cups of milk. Then, in a medium sized pan, melt the butter and/or heat the olive oil. Add the flour and stir to make the roux. Cook the roux for about 5 minutes on medium heat, string continually with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until slightly golden (your goal is a "blonde" hued roux, if you're feeling french and snobby) and bubbling.

Slowly add the milk you measured out earlier, whisking constantly. Cook, what is now béchamel, the sauce over medium-high heat until thick and bubbling-this will take about 10 minutes. Stir constantly, and be careful to not scorch it. I prefer a whisk to stir the sauce, as it allows me to get the bottom and the "corners" of the pan. When the sauce is thickened, remove from heat, and stir in the cheese. Allow the sauce to sit a moment to melt the cheese.

While the sauce (what is now a mornay sauce, with the addition of the cheese) is sitting, crack an egg into a medium-sized bowl, and whisk it vigorously to combine the yolk and the white. Now, stir in the cheese with the sauce. If cheese is not completely melted, return to the heat for a moment, and stir until you have a homogenous sauce (but some chunks are not an issue, if you are impatient like me). Using a coffee cup or measuring cup, transfer about 1/2 cup of the hot cheese sauce to the beaten egg, whisking constantly to prevent curdling. Pour the egg-sauce mixture into the rest of the sauce, and heat until bubbling over medium heat, stirring constantly, to cook the egg (food safety geeks: cook to 160F to kill salmonella). Off the heat, and stir in the mustard, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Taste, and adjust for seasoning.

Add the sauce to the pasta-using the large pot that you cooked the pasta in. I add in a generous half of the sauce, and see how the proportion of sauce-to-pasta is. If you want it more saucy, add more sauce. Reserve remaining sauce, if desired, for reheating portions.

Divide or pour the mac n' cheese into whatever serving dishes that you like-be sure to use oven-safe if baking dishes.

I love individual ramekins…Top with extra cheese of your liking, and bake in a 350F oven until bubbling and browned on top, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately. My favorite side with this stuff is broccoli….classic! Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tomato…Tomahto…Soup, and Grilled Cheese (Wisconsin Style)

So, it was a rainy November sunday. The day started out with a tornado watch, then progressively got cold, windy and miserable. A typical Wisconsin pre-winter day. Drudging (donning my obnoxiously cheery rain boots and running tights while fighting with my umbrella for the entire walk) my half-hung-over self (give me a break, this happens once in a blue, or in this case, full moon) to the gym for a good kick-in-the-ass workout, I was thinking about dinner. What would be delicious, but easy? And a sure cure for feeling bleu? Gooey, crispy pan-friend grilled cheese and creamy tomato soup. Done.

Cast iron pan, meet grilled cheese.
And what's better: turning the oven on will heat your kitchen, the soup will make it smell amazing, and the aroma of a grilled cheese will top it off.

You should probably make a point of swinging by the grocery store tonight and grabbing the stuff you need to make this. Heck, you may even have most of it already-and besides, stocking up on canned tomatoes (or even homemade, if you're lucky, like I am) is probably a good idea for the impending chili season.

So go ahead…make my day…and make yourself a treat. You deserve it.

Creamy Tomato Soup
Makes enough for 4 generous servings

Two 28oz cans of whole tomatoes, drained with 3 cups juice reserved
1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar, white sugar or honey
2 TB butter
2 TB olive oil (or, 4 TB total butter)
2 clove garlic, smashed
1/2 small onion or 2 shallots, finely diced
2 TB flour
1 1/2 cups stock (vegetable or chicken)
1 1/2 cups milk (any kind will do)
2 TB tomato paste
pinch allspice or nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

For the grilled cheese:
Slices of your favorite semi-squishy bread, such as a sliced sourdough, italian loaf or even white sandwich bread
Any combination of favorite cheeses, preferably meeting the trifecta of ooey-gooey (like gouda), sharp and salty (aged cheddar*) and pungent (gorgonzola or any bleu cheese), all thinly sliced, or grated, or crumbled
Olive oil or butter

*I was lazy, and opted for the pre-shredded cheddar. I mean, I was making the tomato soup from scratch, I am allowed a cop-out.

Baking sheet
Aluminum foil
Medium to large pot
Wooden spoon
Cutting Board
Immersion blender or regular blender
Large pan

Pre-heat your oven to 450F. Strain the tomatoes using a strainer or carefully by using the lid of the can, but reserve 3 cups of the juice. Using your hands, squeeze out the seeds from the tomatoes, and place on the aluminum foil lined baking tray.

Reserved tomato juice and milk make for an awesome tomato-y and creamy soup
Sprinkle the tomatoes with the brown sugar, white sugar or honey, and gently toss to coat. Bake for 30 minutes, until the juices are mostly evaporated and there is slight browning on the tomatoes lining the edges of the sheet. Allow to cool.

The foil will make life way easier when it comes to peeling' this babies off the pan
While the tomatoes bake, get on with the rest of the soup: heat the oil and/or butter in a medium to large pot. Add the onions or shallots, and the smashed garlic. Cook over medium until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and the flour, and stir to combine. Cook (what is now a roux) until the flour is slightly brown, about 3 minutes over medium.

Slowly add the stock, then the milk, then the tomato juice, whisking constantly. Now, peel the tomatoes from the baking sheet, and add to the pot. Turn the heat to medium-low, cover, and let the mixture cook for about 20 minutes.

Take the pot off the heat, and puree with an immersion blender or transfer with a coffee cup in batches to a regular blender. Return the soup to low heat, and cover.

Now, make the grilled cheese: pre-heat a pan on medium heat, and add the olive oil and/or butter. Slice the cheeses, or sprinkle if cheating and using pre-shredded. Layer the cheeses on a slice of bread, then transfer to the warmed pan. Cover, and allow the cheese to melt and the bread to brown-about 5 to 10 minutes depending on your pan, bread thickness, cheese variety and stove-top. Check occasionally-no one likes a burnt grilled cheese…when the bread is browned and the cheese is melted, add slices of bread atop the melted cheese and flip. You may need move the bread around a bit to sop-up the olive oil or butter. Cover, and brown the bread.

Remove the grilled cheese from the pan, and slice in half (if desired-I personally think triangle shapes aid in dipping). Let sit for a moment while you dish up the soup. Serve hot, with or without some sort of green vegetable to make you feel like you are consuming a well-balanced meal, such as steamed green beans with sea salt, garlic and olive oil. If you have pesto hanging around, it'd probably be a good idea to put a small dollop on top of the soup, as we did.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Epic Apple Pie with Corn Meal Crust

Everyone needs a treat on their birthday. Cake, pie, ice cream, whatever…this year, I made an apple pie for my Dad. Last year, it was apple cake (apple kuchen). I have been on a pie-kick lately, so apple pie just felt natural. This baby is chock-full of apples, a whopping 2.5 pounds. A double-recipe of pastry is needed for a double crust pie, since lattice top doesn't really work so well with large chunks of apple that shrink so much when cooked. 

This thing weighed a whopping 4.5 lbs at the end…hence "Epic" in the name
Being super kitsch-tastic, I adorned the top of the pie with mini leaves, cut from a vintage canapé cutter set that I acquired last summer when visiting a friend in Minneapolis. 

To jazz the pastry up a bit, I added some finely-ground locally sourced and milled corn meal. I find that this adds fluff, a subtle flavor, as well as a nice yellow-tint and great texture. The pasty is made in the traditional way, as noted in the pumpkin pie post and rhubarb pie post. Only this time, a layer of pastry blankets the top of the pie, creating a golden dome of flakey-awesomeness.

This pie would be fabulous for thanksgiving, or for just eating for pleasure. With a scoop of vanilla ice cream, you're in business. Now, gather your apples and make some pastry-and make this pie!

Apple Pie with Cornmeal Crust
Makes one, 10" pie


For the Filling:
2.5 pounds apples, peeled, cored, quartered and cut into 1/3” wide by 1” long slices
2 TB butter, cubed
1 TB cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
zest and juice of one lemon
¼ teaspoon salt
2 TB honey
2/3 cup brown sugar
3 TB tapioca, finely ground

For the Pastry:
2 1/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
¼ cup finely ground cornmeal
2 sticks chilled butter, cubed
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup ice water
¼ cup vodka
1 egg and 1 TB water, for egg wash

Cutting board
Paring knife
Two large bowls, one for filling and one for pastry
Measuring cups and spoons
Pastry cutter or fork
Rolling pin
Pastry brush
Baking sheet

Make the filling by combining the cut apples with the diced butter, spices, lemon zest and juice, honey, brown sugar, salt and tapioca. Mix well, set aside. Can be made up to 1 day in advance. Store in the fridge, tightly covered with plastic wrap touching the surface of the apples.

Make the pastry by sifting the dry ingredients. Finley grind the cornmeal in a food processor or a coffee grinder/spice mill. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or fork, ½ at a time, combining the second portion a bit less for larger clumps. Sprinkle over the water and vodka, and mix with a fork or a pastry cutter until the pastry comes together, and sticks together when squeezed in hand. Scoop the pastry on a well-floured surface, and form into a disc. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and chill overnight.

Preheat the oven to 425F. Remove filling (if made in advance) and pastry from fridge, allow to come to room temp. Cut the pastry in half, making once half slightly larger than the other; this will be the bottom crust. Roll out the bottom crust to fit into a 10” diameter pie plate or tin. Fit and trim the edges for a 1” overhang. Scoop in the apple filling. 
A mountain of apples, with flakey-cornmeal pastry.
Roll out the top pastry, and trim for a 1” overhang. Match-up the bottom and top overhangs, pressing together slightly, then folding under to make a neat edge. Flute the edges as desired. Poke 8 steam vents in any design in the center of the pie.

If desired, make decorations in autumnal shapes from the reserved pastry (above). Scoring the backs of the shapes with a paring knife and dipping in the egg wash will secure them to the top of the pie. Brush the entire top with egg wash with a pastry brush, or you could use your fingers if you are lacking a pastry brush.
Ready for the oven!
Place the pie on a baking sheet to catch any drips. Bake at 425F for 25 minutes, then reduce to 375F and bake for 35-54 minutes longer, until the top pastry is golden and filling is bubbling.

Cool, and serve as desired. 

Soup is On! Butternut Squash Soup with Yogurt, Honey and Toasted Nuts

It is getting brisk here in Madison (but I am still not convinced it is merging on winter….Wisconsin, you can do better than this!). The leaves are almost all turned, and fallen to the ground. And the very last outdoor farmers market on the square is this weekend…sadness! Last weekend, like a mad squirrel preparing for winter, I gathered several pounds of apples and many squash. I plan to do the same this weekend.

I did manage to get my hands on a beautiful butternut squash a few weeks back, and I had been dreaming of the butternut squash soup I would make with it, on request by a wonderful friend of mine. I wish I could make this for you, and send it via FedEx in a thermos, but I just don't think it would do the recipe justice!

I remember the very first time I had butternut squash soup: my mom, aunt, sister, cousin and I had traveled to Milwaukee to see a gallery opening for a cousin. We stopped for lunch at a french place call La Coquette. The soup was a deep yellow-orange color, robust, and silky smooth. It was topped with a drizzle of maple syrup, and toasted pepitas. It was wonderful, and I believe my squash-loving-transformation began at that moment. I have since then been back a few times, and the food is still excellent. If you're ever in Milwaukee, I recommend you stop in.

The recipe is simple, and comes together quite easily. The end product is pureed, so you do not need to worry about pretty slicing-and-dicing. In regards to cooking the squash, you have two options: you can either roast your squash ahead of time or the day-of, you will just need an additional 45 minutes. Or, you can peel and cube the squash, and simmer in stock. I have made both versions, and I prefer the roasting as it gives better flavors, in my opinion.

I have made many modifications over the past few years to suit my taste, but this is pretty much what I follow each time. I love that the ingredients are all stars of late summer and fall produce: squash, sweet potato, apple, pear, carrot, garlic. The addition of a sweet potato helps thicken the soup, and I love the color and flavor it lends. The milk is the key ingredient for a silky-smooth soup. If you want to be indulgent, you can use whole milk or even half-and-half.

A word on the variety of squash: I find that butternut is the easiest to peel and cube if going that route. However, if you are roasting and scooping out the flesh, practically any autumn variety of sweet, non-stringy squash will work. I have used acorn in the past, and suspect that buttercup, kobocha, and carnival would be equally delicious. Drizzle the soup with yogurt or sour cream spiked with maple syrup or honey, and a sprinkle of toasted nuts or pepitas (pumpkin seeds) for tangy-crunchy contrast.

And lastly, about the spices: suit to your tastes, and do not use sub-par spices. Seek out the highest quality (I truly love Penzey's spices!). The spices used in this soup can be used for many other fall and winter recipes, so invest in the best you can find.

Bon Appetite!

Butternut Squash Soup
Makes enough soup for 6 generous servings

1 large butternut squash, enough for about 4-6 cups of roasted flesh or cubed squash
1 small onion, sweet if you can find it; several shallots are even better
3 cloves garlic
2 small carrots
1 small to medium sweet potato, peeled
1 ripe pear, or 1 small apple, peeled and cored
4 tablespoons olive oil, butter or a combination
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon sweet curry powder
1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon hungarian paprika, or, smoked paprika if you can find it
1 to 3 heaping teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon dried ginger
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 bay leaf
2-3 cups vegetable stock (you may cheat, and use pre-made here, or even a high-quality powder stock base, as I often do)
1 1/2 cups milk (anything but skim, please)
1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
salt and pepper
For topping:
Generous handful or two of toasted pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped
Yogurt or sour Cream mixed with honey or maple syrup to taste

Sharp knife
Cutting board
Aluminum foil
Peeler or sharp paring knife
Baking pan or sheet
A large pot, or a cast iron dutch or french oven if you have it
Wooden Spoon
Blender or Immersion Blender
Measuring Spoons
Small pan (optional, for toasting nuts if not using aluminum foil in an oven)

If you are roasting the squash, you can do this a few days ahead of time, or you can add on 1 hour to the total cook time of the soup. Pre-heat your oven to 425F. Cut the butternut squash in half, right where the round end and the neck meet. You will have two pieces, of which you will now cut in half the long way. You will have two pieces (of the neck), and two pieces (of the bulb). Scoop out the seeds of the bulb halves. Alternatively, if using acorn, cranial or buttercup: slice in half the long ways, scoop out seeds. Place the squash on a baking pan or sheet lined with aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil and a light sprinkling of salt, and work into squash with your fingers. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, watching so it does not over-brown. The squash is done when a fork is easily pierced into the flesh. Remove from oven, and cool. Scoop out the flesh and set aside.

Roasted squash, scooped from the skins. Doesn't look that appealing, but tastes amazing in the soup!
If you are steaming or simmering the squash, you can do this the same day, and it will take about 20 to 30 minutes to the cook time. However, this method involves peeling the squash, a step I find to be a massive pain in the ass when it comes to any other type of squash besides butternut-so use butternut for this method! Peel the squash, and slice it in half as specified in the above roasting method. Scoop out the seeds of the bulb end, then slice and dice the squash into 1/2" to 1" cubes (doesn't have to be perfect-the smaller the pieces, the faster they will cook). Simmer in stock until fork tender, and drain.

Heat on medium large soup pot or cast iron French or Dutch oven, and drizzle in olive oil ot coat the bottom. Roughly chop the onion, carrots, sweet potato and pear or apple. Smash the garlic cloves with the back of a chef's knife, and peel.

Throw it all into the warmed oil, and cook on medium until the onions take on some brown color, and the garlic is tender. If sticking occurs, add a small amount of stock to de-glaze, using a wooden spoon to scrape any brown bits from the pan. At this point, add all of the spices and the and heat until just fragrant.

I love how the turmeric stains just about anything it touches!
The Spices!

Add the squash, stock and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer on medium heat, then turn down to medium-low, cover, and cook until tender. This will take about 20 minutes. Check about half-way, you may need to add additional stock.

In the meantime, assemble your blender or immersion blender. Mix the yogurt or sour cream with honey or maple syrup, and toast the nuts in a 350F oven on a piece of aluminum foil until slightly brown and fragrant. When you are done, you can re-use the foil, or wrap up any remaining nuts. Alternatively, toast the nuts in a dry pan on medium heat on the stovetop, stirring the nuts so they do not burn.
Toasted pecans, and yogurt with honey.
After 20 minutes, check the contents of the pot by piercing various pieces with a fork: the soup is ready to be pureed if all the components are fork-tender. Remove the pot from the heat, remove the bay leaf (don't discard-you'll add it back after blending) and add the milk. If using a blender, transfer the contents in batches with a coffee mug; the soup will all not fit into one blended vessel, so it may take a few minutes of transferring and blending to get a completely smooth soup. Alternatively, if using an immersion blender, careful blend the soup until smooth. Taste for seasoning, and add about 1 tablespoon of honey or maple syrup for extra sweetness if desired; add the bay leaf back to the pot, and return to a simmer over low heat. If you find the soup is too thick, you may add additional stock and/or milk.
The soup, all ready-to-eat! 
Serve the soup in bowls, drizzled with the spiked yogurt or sour cream, and toasted nuts. If you're looking to beef-up the meal, serve with a slice of crusty bread, and sautéed spinach with garlic and red pepper flakes. The soup re-heats beautifully, with the addition of some milk or stock to help think if it has thickened upon refrigeration.

The soup, with sautéed garlic-spicy spinach.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Perfect Pumpkin Pie

We all know that pumpkin pie is a quintessential fall dessert. Once we start seeing the cans of pumpkin goo on the shelves at stores, the frenzy begins. I am personally an offender of buying the canned stuff, and I actually do not mind it. However, growing up, I was spoiled by my Grandma making her own "pumpkin" (and I say "pumpkin" because she did sneak in squash…a lot…I remember a particular pumpkin pie making experience with my Mom and sister: we were in the kitchen, and ran out of pumpkin. So, my Mom used squash. I was horrified. Squash? In a pie? What the hell?). But now I realize that the squash was nothing to be scared of-and I also do not recall giving a damn when eating that "pumpkin" pie. It was delicious.

Pumpkin Pie: Version 2.0
This year, I decided to make my own pumpkin puree. The process was pretty darn simple to no warrant doing it every year…I think the hardest part, of which I gracefully handed off to my boyfriend, was scraping the inside of the pie pumpkins. The pumpkin puree extravaganza is included below.

Now, for the pie. Let me tell you about my pumpkin pie making experience  thus far this year: it was a pain in the ass, and I learned a few things. Above all, I discovered that pumpkin pie is something that you keep simple. You do not mess with it: do not put it into a tart shell; do not par-bake your crust; do not put galangal root in your custard in place of ginger; do not let your significant other be in a room alone with the pumpkin pie; and don't be afraid to use lots of spices.

This is what happens, pie murder, when you leave a pie un-attended. In a fit of rage, I made version 2.0, with the improvements listed mentioned here. Totally worth it!
But there were a few things I learned to improve upon the perfect pumpkin pie: as in any pie pastry, make it ahead, and chill it; you can boil down your milk to concentrate it (as opposed to buying canned condensed milk-I mean, why would you put canned condensed milk into homemade pumpkin puree?); it is very respectable to strain your custard, or even better, blend it in a blender, food processor, or with a immersion blender-I found that this step lender an airy quality to the custard; it is advisable to use a coffee filter or cheese cloth strain your pumpkin puree if it is watery (as my homemade puree was fairly watery); alternatively, you can cook your pumpkin puree on a stovetop to rid some water from it.

I know: I said keep it simple. And all that rubbish above seems counter. But I assure you, it is all worth it. By heating your milk and/or pumpkin puree, you are not only reducing moisture, but you are pre-heating the custard before baking. The reduced moisture will assure a less-soggy crust post-bake (and eliminate the need to blind bake your crust), and a pre-heated custard will most surely prevent cracking of your custard during baking. Straining or blending your custard will make a silky smooth and homogenous custard, beautifully flecked with the spices you choose to incorporate.

Now, a word on how many eggs to use: my inner-food science-geek thinks that if you have a higher moisture pumpkin puree, it may be advisable to add an additional egg. The additional proteins will help bind the additional water and create a more firm (not to be confused with stable!) gel, and the lecithin in the yolks will help stabilize and evenly disperse oil droplets within the water that is trapped within the gel matrix. Both will help prevent "syneresis": the squeezing of liquid from the gel's protein matrix, resulting in a soggy crust and layer of moisture on the top of the pie. It really comes down to controlling water, and moisture migration. But there is one sad, sad truth for all pies: the water activity of the crust is typically lower than that of the filling. This results in a gradient that is satisfied by water moving from the filling to the crust, restoring equilibrium, and leaving you with a soggy crust. Sigh. But really: what pie hangs around long enough to get a soggy bottom? You could introduce a moisture barrier, but we won't go there now. And good news: my pie's bottom stayed fairly dry for about 3 days.

Now, to the Bat Cave….erm, I mean recipes!

Pumpkin Puree
Yield will depend on how big your pumpkins are, and how many you decide to bake. I recommend making a large batch, and freezing in tightly sealed containers for up to 6 months. I used 2, 8" diameter pumpkins and got about 6 cups of puree (enough for approximately 3 pies).

Pie Pumpkins, ranging from 4" to 8" in diameter

Baking Sheet
Aluminum Foil
Metal Spoon
Sharp Knife
Cutting Board
Food Processor
Containers for storage (optional)

Pre-heat your oven to 350F. Line the baking sheet with aluminum foil. Wash your pumpkins with warm water and a dash of soap. Dry thoroughly-you don't want a pumpkin to slip when you are chopping it in half.

With you sharp knife, cut the stem-end off the pumpkin. This provides a stable, flat base for cutting the entire thing in half.
Be-heading a pumpkin is a little sad….
Slice the pumpkin in half, going through the long ways. Scoop out the seeds and guts, reserve if you wish to bake the seeds.

Place the halved pumpkins on the lined baking sheet cut side up, and tightly cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours; this time will vary, so I recommend checking your pumpkins after an hour by piercing with a sharp knife or fork. The flesh should be easily pierced and soft when it is done.

Turn the oven off, and remove the pumpkins from the oven. Keep the aluminum foil on, and cool to room temperature. You can place in the fridge now, or, continue. Scoop out the flesh, and place into a food processor.

 Do this in batches. I found that my pumpkin was a bit dry, so it took some convincing, swearing, and spatula-scraping to get the pumpkin puree completely smooth.

If freezing, place into containers, packing the puree to the top and tightly covering to omit headspace and prevent freezer burn. If you wish to keep it in the fridge for later use, it will keep for up to 1 week.

Pumpkin Puree! Don't you feel like…amazing…for making your own!

Pumpkin Pie
Makes one, 10" diameter pie


For the Custard:
2 1/2 cups pumpkin puree, strained with cheesecloth for a few hours (up to over night) if watery
2 cups milk, preferably 2%, whole or half and half
3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1/2 cup honey
scant 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 heaping teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon dried ginger
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

For the pastry:
4 ounces, or 1 stick butter, chilled
1 1/4 cups all purpose, unbleached flour, plus additional for rolling
1/2 teaspoon salt (reduce if using salted butter)
2 teaspoons sugar (optional, for browning)
2 tablespoons ice water
2 tablespoons vodka (or 2 additional tablespoons ice water)


For the Custard:
Blender, food processor, immersion blender
medium sauce pan
Measuring Cups and Spoons

For the Pastry:
Medium sized bowl
Sharp Knife or Bench Scraper
Measuring Cups and Spoons
Pastry Cutter or Fork
Rolling Pin
10" diameter pie tin or plate (could be smaller, just not larger; you'll have extra filling if you use a smaller size)


First, make your pastry. You can do this up to two days in advance, and you better not be thinking of "just using the frozen crap".  In a pinch, you can prepare the pastry first, let it rest in the fridge, then get on with the custard as the pastry rests.In a bowl, sift the flour, salt, sugar together.
I used 2 teaspoons brown sugar in my crust
Dice the chilled butter into cubes.

I used slated, hand-rolled Amish butter form Wisconsin. No big deal. 
Then, prepare your ice water, and grab your vodka if using.
Yep, I know-using Grey Goose is entirely not necessary. But it was all I had.
Into the sifted dry mixture, add half the butter. Work into pea-ish sized chunks with a pastry cutter or fork. Add the second half, and work into slightly smaller chunks; it is fine to have some larger ones, for this will make a flakey pastry!

Now, using a tablespoon, sprinkle the water and/or vodka over dry ingredients. Using a fork and/or pastry cutter, work the liquids in until a homogenous dough forms. Add a dash more water or vodka if the pastry is dry or not coming together; during the winter months, the air contains less moisture, so your flour may absorb more liquid. The pastry should hold a shape when squeezed in your hand. It is alright if some dry specks are left on the bottom of the bowl.

Turn the pastry onto a floured surface, sprinkle some flour on top, and form the pastry into a disk. Wrap with plastic wrap, and place into the fridge.

When ready to prepare the pie, remove the pastry from the fridge and allow to come up to room temperature. Pre-heat your oven to 400F. On a well floured surface, roll out the pastry until it is large enough to fit inside the pan, with a 1" overhang around the edges. Trim excess, and fold under.

Crimp the edges with a fork, or using your fingers:

I know the nail polish is not good manufacturing practice friendly...
The pastry is ready to be filled, and baked!

Now, onto the custard:

Strain your pumpkin puree, if desired: set up a strainer lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter atop a bowl or other vessel, and allow to drain up to overnight:

Into the medium sauce pan, add the milk. On medium heat, bring to a simmer, and allow the milk to simmer for 10-15 minutes, whisking occasionally. Meanwhile, measure out your spices, and grate the ginger.

 In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk with the honey, salt and sugar. Set up your blending apparatus.

 After the milk has simmered, remove from the heat, and whisk in the strained pumpkin puree.
While whisking, slowly add the egg, sugar and honey mixture to the warm pumpkin-milk puree. Return the entire mixture to the heat, and while whisking constantly, bring to a slow simmer. Be careful to not heat on high, or else you may curdle the eggs. If you do, never fear-you are blending the custard.

Once the mixture has come to a simmer, carefully pour into a blender, or, using an immersion blender, blend the custard with the spices. Taste the custard for spice, and adjust as necessary.

Pour the blended custard into the prepared pastry shell, and bake in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes. Then, turn the heat down to 300F, and bake for 25-30 minutes longer. The pie is done when the filling is firm to the touch, and has lost the glossy-sheen.

Your crust will retain a shape much better if you chill it! Mind did not, as I did not chill it overnight as you should.
Let the pie cool completely before serving….and enjoy plain, with whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream. Makes for a perfect breakfast treat as well, full of vitamin A!

Happy Autumn!