The Easiest Pumpkin Pie Ever

It has been nearly 24 hours since the Mad Men season finale.  If you don't watch Mad Men, you may not understand.  And if you don't watch Mad Men, I suggest you get thee to Netflix and start watching.  You are missing out.

Now that the season is over, I'm pondering what in the world I'm going to do with myself on Sundays.  I have spent my Sundays for the past 3 months feeding myself caffeine to stay awake from 10pm until 11pm so I can watch the entire episode.  I can't possibly wait until Monday to watch it on TiVo (even though I record it anyway--just in case).

I suppose since I have all of this time on my hands, I might as well bake.  Doesn't that seem like the obvious thing for a food blogger to do?  It seems that way to me.  So I did.  I baked.  Already.  Less than 24 hours after the finale--it's not even Sunday yet!   


It's going to be a long year until the next season...

I picked up a "pie" pumpkin at the grocery.  I think it was a sugar pumpkin, but it's possible the store was tricking me and just selling me a small, regular pumpkin.  And then I'm not sure it really matters.  Any thoughts on pumpkin selection?

I baked the pumpkin the same way I baked the butternut squash, using the method that I saw on Annie's Eats, and after it cooled I pureed and strained it.  I got quite a bit of liquid out of the pumpkin puree and then I cooked it over low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring constantly (notice my penchant for things that require a lot of stirring?), until most of the liquid was cooked out. 

Then, I made the easiest pumpkin pie ever.  I'm not kidding--ridiculously easy.  I cheated a little and used store bought pie crust that didn't require any pre-baking, but it was still--even if I had made my own crust--the easiest pumpkin pie ever.

I mixed all of the filling ingredients, poured it into the pie shells, baked, cooled, sliced, and ate it.  And that was it.

I highly suggest you make this.  It will be the perfect thing to quell your Mad Men withdrawal--or any reason you might want some pie!

The Easiest Pumpkin Pie Ever
adapted from Gourmet, November 1999
8 slices per pie

Don't feel pressure to make your own pumpkin puree.  It was just something I wanted to try out.  If you decide to make your own, you will probably need 2 or 3 small pie pumpkins.  But if you don't want to go to the trouble, canned pumpkin will do just fine!  Also, the original recipe called for whole milk but I used skim and I couldn't tell that anything was missing.  Lastly, the original recipe is for 1 pumpkin pie, but my pie crusts were shallow so the filling made 2 well-filled pumpkin pies. 

1 deep or 2 shallow pie crusts
15 oz can of pumpkin puree or 2 cups homemade pumpkin puree
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
2 large eggs
3/4 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
pinch of salt
whipped cream for topping

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  In a medium bowl, whisk all ingredients together.  Pour into prepared pie crusts.  Bake in middle rack of the oven for 45 minutes.  Check done-ness.  If the center still jiggles slightly, that is okay because as the pie cools, the filling will cook a little bit more and set up.  But if you feel like it is not quite finished cooking, allow to cook for 2-3 more minutes. 

Cool completely on a wire rack.  Serve room temperature or cold with whipped cream.


A Labor of Food-Love

It took me a few days, but I was finally about to resolve the squash puree situation.  The situation being, of course, that I made this beautiful squash puree and hadn't had any time to use it!  Something always comes up and my good intentions to actually cook what I buy at the store goes to the wayside.  Tim has even suggested planning on only 4 dinners during the weekdays rather than 5, because the truth is one dinner menu is almost always scrapped in favor of leftovers, pizza, or Thai take-out. 

But last night, I was really motivated. We had everything we needed for dinner, and I had even remembered a few days prior to pull some steaks out of the deep freeze to thaw.  It was nothing short of a miracle that I even had some leftover white wine (when does that ever happen?) and had a glass to drink and some to spare for cooking. 

I've made risotto a handful of times, but the first time I ever had it was when our friend Luke came over for dinner.  Now Luke is one of Tim's oldest friends and was the best man at our wedding.  He got away with saying the word fornication during his speech at the reception--that should tell you something.  The time he came over to make it for us was when Tim and I lived at our first apartment together, long before our wedding.  It was a one bedroom in a historic multi-unit building and our overnight guests had to sleep on the couch or a blow-up mattress in the living room.  Luke brought his own secret ingredient--saffron--and took over our tiny kitchen. 

He used our only two pots, one for stock and the other for the rice.  He stirred so gingerly while he added the stock.  I couldn't possibly understand why he didn't dump all the liquid in, put a lid on it, and get out of that hot, cramped kitchen.  But Luke knew what I didn't--that risotto is like a puppy; it demands constant attention and if you give it what it needs, then it will repay you at the end by wowing you with a special trick.  The risotto's trick, of course, is that it's sauce becomes so rich and thick that it's hard to believe there is no heavy cream or flour in it. 

It did occur to me that someone might have come up with an easier way to make risotto that didn't require standing in the kitchen for half of my evening, so I did a quick Google search and found someone who did a comparison of stirred and unstirred risottoMark's findings were that it probably wasn't entirely necessary since you add cheese as a binder towards the end.  I contest that cheese is not necessary in all risotto (in my opinion).  And also sometimes I think when you labor for something that it makes it all the more enjoyable in the end

Thus, it was back to stirring.  

I felt a bit like Betty Draper there for a while, sipping my glass of wine, stirring my pot, and absentmindedly staring at the oven clock.  Of course, I was stirring what was going to be the star of an amazing homemade meal and Betty would likely have been stirring boiled hot dogs or a jar of spaghetti sauce. Sorry Betty, I've got you figured out. 

As we sat down to eat, I was feeling pretty proud of myself.  From roasting the squash to adding some torn sage at the very end, this butternut squash risotto was my masterpiece and a labor of food-love

Come to think of it, I suppose most of this blog is a labor of food-love.  Love being the important word here. 

Butternut Squash Risotto
adapted from Cooking After Five
serves 6-8 as a side dish or 4-6 as a main course

Traditionally risotto is made with arborio rice, but I've had no problem using jasmine rice.  It's possible that jasmine rice takes a little longer, as it seems to be larger grain, but I think the result is similar.  As an added bonus, we use jasmine rice as our everyday rice so I don't have to buy arborio rice just for this dish.  

6 cups chicken stock
1 cup butternut squash puree
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups arborio rice or jasmine rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
salt & pepper
2 tbsp cold butter
3-4 sage leaves torn into small pieces (about 1 tbsp)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a large stock pot, bring the chicken stock and butternut squash puree to a boil.  Stir until well combined and reduce to a simmer. 

In a heavy bottomed dutch oven or pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add rice and stir, cooking an additional 2 minutes.  Pour in wine and allow wine to simmer until most of the liquid has reduced.  Then begin to add 1 or 2 ladles of the stock mixture to the rice, stirring continuously, until the stock is reduced. Add 1 or 2 more ladles and repeat the process for the next 20 to 25 minutes, or until the rice is done.

Rice should be cooked through but slightly firm and the sauce will be thick and creamy.  The amount of stock used will vary.  I used about 5 cups of the stock mixture. 

Season with salt & pepper and remove from heat.  Add the cold butter and torn sage, stir, and then cover.  After 2 minutes, remove lid, and stir in the cheese.   Serve hot. 

The photo I took above was after the risotto had cooled down a bit, so it was not as creamy in appearance.  It will begin to come together more as it cools, which does make it less messy as a side dish on your plate. 

Store extras in airtight containers and refrigerate.  To reheat, add a few teaspoons of water or stock and then microwave on high for a minute or two.  Stir and eat!


Worth the Effort

As I sit here typing, I am still stuffed to the gills.  I feel like I could lay on my side and roll down the hall to bed, giving in to the food coma that is lingering in my near future.  I told you that there were big fall food plans in my menu this week and tonight I definitely have a recipe you should try.

I was tentatively planning to use that butternut squash puree tonight for a risotto, but my protein wasn't thawed yet so I had to rearrange my menu plans for the week.  I decided to go ahead and prep tomorrow night's dinner, put it in the refrigerator, and then make something else for tonight's meal.  I figured since I have to work a little late tomorrow night that making tomorrow's dinner ahead of time would make it easiest on Tim.  Well, that and I could ensure that all of the food I picked up at the store this weekend wouldn't go to waste.

In fact, I was so excited about tomorrow night's dinner that I emailed my friend K.C., fellow step-mom and avid food blog reader, and told her, I'm going to make Smitten Kitchen's mushroom lasagna this week.  To which she replied, I JUST finished reading that post--let me know how it goes.  Great minds think alike.

But, when I got home from work, I realized that Dirty Dish Mountain (or Mount Dishmore which do you like better?) had completely obstructed my ability to use the counter-tops. 

Let's just say that between Dirty Dish Mountain and Tim's rumbling stomach I didn't get both dinners prepared.  Tomorrow's dinner became tonight's dinner, and mushroom lasagna was an excellent choice.

First there was a pound and a half of cremini mushrooms to deal with.  There was the rinsing them, the wiping any remaining dirt from them with a paper towel, then cutting off the stems and slicing them.  While I worked on these I started a pot of water boiling for the lasagna noodles.

This recipe, as Deb mentioned in her write up of it, is not for someone short on pots and pans.  While noodles bathed in the pot of boiling water and the cremini mushrooms sautéed in some butter and olive oil in a large skillet, I still needed a saucepan to heat up the milk and garlic and then add that to another saucepan to make the white sauce.  I was starting to mentally thank our wedding guests again as I pulled out some pots we don't use very often.  They really came in handy tonight!  Deb did say you could heat up the milk and garlic in your microwave, but what if you don't have one?

Mount Dishmore was slowly growing in the sink again.  Thankfully Tim and I have the ongoing deal that if whoever makes dinner doesn't have to do the dishes.  I think I've done my fair share tonight already!

My sauce turned out excellent and came together very easily, though if you make this I'd recommend being liberal with the salt.  Unless you are using a very salty cheese (like Pecorino), this is your best chance to flavor the lasagna. 

Just as the early fall sun abandoned me completely, my mushroom lasagna was assembled and ready to bake.  We watched last night's episode of Mad Men (a really, really good one, eh?) and tried to be patient.  Thankfully, the lasagna was worth the effort.

Forgive me for the terrible photo, but it was well after 8pm by the time I got to snap this.  There was no light left outside, and we are lacking on the bright indoor lights here.  You can see, though, the incredible layers of sauce, mushrooms, and noodles and the amazing crispy Parmesan cheese top.  It was earthy, salty, crunchy, cheesy, and rich. 

I ate one slice, and then had to have a little more.  I definitely could have stopped at the first, but this was the type of dinner you are afraid if you don't have just one more bite, you might not get another chance at it.  Which is completely silly, especially when we're talking about lasagna in a two-person household.  There are leftovers for days, which I sliced up and packaged individually so I can take it for lunches this week and we can freeze a few for another day. 

If you'd like the recipe, visit Smitten Kitchen.  Check out her recipe archive while you are there--you will be inspired.

As for what I was intending to make for dinner tonight--I guess you'll have to come back later this week to see for yourself.   


A Fall State of Mind

One morning last week, as I was leaving the house to go to work, I realized that the morning sun was reflecting off the frosted grass as if it were glass. As I stood there wondering where the warm weather had gone I decided I should go back inside and grab a sweater and my sunglasses.

The first frost came upon me so unexpectedly that my internal food compass (the one I told you about last month) pointed me towards winter squash and root vegetables.  I started mentally preparing this week's menu while I sat in my office chilled to the bone.  I wanted to make anything that would warm me up from the inside out.

But then today, in contrast to the last week, I walked outside to a warm, bright afternoon with temperatures nearing 90 degrees.  Ninety.  In mid-October.

That's Ohio for you.  

I decided to keep my menu for this week as I planned it.  I'm in a fall state of mind, and there is no turning back

I spent much of my Sunday afternoon multi-tasking between organizing the mountains of clean (and dirty) laundry we've accumulated, catching up on some episodes of Cook's Country, and starting to prep some time consuming ingredients for dinners this week.  

I got the inspiration for risotto from Cooking After Five.  Nicole took pumpkin puree and mixed it in with her stock, infusing the stock with the flavor of the pumpkin.  Then when she added the stock to the rice, the pumpkin flavor, but not the bulk of the puree, was transferred to the rice.  

I opted to swap the pumpkin for butternut squash.  And in order to have some pureed butternut squash, I was going to need to make it myself.  Using the method that I saw on Annie's Eats, I sliced a 3.5 lb squash lengthwise, cleaned out the seeds, and put both halves cut side down on a cookie sheet.  I added a cup of water and roasted them for 75 minutes in a 350 degree F oven.  

When I took them out, the flesh of the squash was soft.  I let them cool for about 25 minutes while I folded a few loads of laundry (it won't go away unless I take care of it).  Then I scooped out the soft squash and added it to the food processor, discarding the skins.  I pulsed the food processor until the squash was pureed and there were no more chunks.  Then, in the manner that Annie did, I lined a mesh strainer with a paper towel and attempted to strain out some water from the puree.  

But truthfully, after an hour sitting in the strainer, no excess water had been strained out.  When I went back to consult Annie's photos, my squash puree was much thicker than her pumpkin, and I guess the flesh of squash is just not as watery.  

So, I measured the squash out in 2 cup increments and labeled the plastic containers.  For me, a 3.5lb butternut squash made about 4 cups of squash puree.  I'm going to keep one container in the fridge to be used  in my risotto, but that only calls for 1 cup.  I might have to get creative to find a way to use the other cup.  Any ideas?  

I will toss the other container in my freezer, stacked on top of our homemade tomato sauce and a few batches of frozen pot-stickers.  If I keep making big batches of things, I'm going to end up needing a second deep freeze.  

I have a few other thing to prep this evening so that Tim won't be waiting for hours after work to eat (he likes to eat on a schedule!) but I think I will surprise you with those.  

Just think fall food and check back here later this week to see how my week of warm dinners went.  



It's kind of a running joke amongst my college friends about how incredibly interested I have always been with Jewish traditions.  It's mostly because three of my college roommates were Jewish and what was important to them was important to me.  That's how I am with my friends, and that's how they are with me. 

I met my friend Lia during the second semester of my freshman year of college.  We had just joined the same sorority and realized we lived in dorms next door to one another.  One spring afternoon in March, she suggested that we have dinner together. I brought sandwiches and she brought a blanket and we laid in the grass between our dorms and chatted.  It was the perfect first (friend) date. 

I quickly discovered we had very little in common.  She was an east coaster and the daughter of a Rabbi.  She had this way about her that looked like she just sort of tossed an outfit together, tousled her hair, and didn't even bother with make-up.  And here I was, a confused Lutheran from no-where Ohio who actually tried very hard to pull myself together.  Yet, she liked me, and I liked her. 

Since then, she's traveled throughout the world, experiencing other cultures, participating in service organizations, and bringing that message back home to share with others.  She helped build a school in Africa; she studied abroad in Israel; and she's traveled all over southeast Asia.  The stories she shared with me about Thailand were the best after-two-or-three-glasses-of-wine stories I've ever heard in my life.  I, on the other hand, stayed in Ohio, married a wonderful man, and have settled into a comfortable routine.  Despite that, I enjoy every moment my friend is around and hope that she will continue to be what I like to think of as my Jewish Ambassador, teaching me to keep my mind open. 

I owe her a lot for teaching me that

In return, I have little to offer except my friendship and support.  Though, I hope to make her proud when she sees this challah that I made. 

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There were a few challenges.  The first was the whole braiding thing.  I consulted a few recipes for information about how important the braid is, and frankly I think you can skip the braid and put the bread into loaf pans.  But then how challah-like will this bread really look?    I wanted to achieve the overall affect.

You can do a round braid, but that might be something to try next time.  Just figuring out how to achieve the braid was confusing enough (and required consulting a handful of youtube videos), but really it's just like braiding long hair.

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The recipe I ended up using from Epicurious did say that if it was getting too dark that you should tent it with foil.  When I checked the bread halfway through it looked fine, but in retrospect I probably could have tented it then.  Don't be deceived though--the bread isn't burnt (not even the bottom) and I felt like the dark crust gave it complexity.

Then again I'm a challah novice, so use your own judgment.   

Finally, as suggested by Lia herself in the comments of my last post, I decided to try out using challah as French toast.  I mixed a few eggs, some milk, and spices in a square baking dish and then put in it a few pieces of sliced challah to soak a minute or two on each side.  Then I fried them a few at a time on each side in a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a hot skillet.  My husband always used a hot griddle to make French toast and pancakes before he met me, but I think the oil is necessary to add a little crispness around the edges of the bread.  He completely agrees. 

Then, to mimic my epic French toast brunch at Donna's in Baltimore last weekend, I whipped up an Apple & Raisin compote, which ended up more like a syrup, and a few over easy eggs.

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It was really good.  The thick egginess of the challah makes a perfect French toast.  It stays dense but soft on the inside and the dark crust gives a little texture, but not too much.  The challah is already a teensy bit sweet, and I think that was a nice compliment to the apples and raisins, both of which are also sweet but not overtly. 

Today I'd like to offer the recipe for the Apple & Raisin Compote rather than the challah, mostly because the challah was time consuming and require a lot of planning ahead.  If you'd like to make this challah, go ahead and pull the recipe from Epicurious.  It were clear and easy to follow but a lot of steps.   Or you could just grab a loaf of challah from the grocery--no one will ever know.

Apple & Raisin Compote
adapted from The Sugar Association via cooksrecipes.com 
makes about 2 cups

I think that this compote could easily be put on top of ice cream, pork tenderloin, and a whole host of other foods.  To make it more savory, add some peanuts or even some sautéed diced onion.  If you come up with a great variation, share it with me!  Also, for softer, plumper raisins, soak them in the brandy for about 10 to 15 minutes, removing them from the liquid before you add the brandy to the pan.  Then follow the instructions to add the raisins towards at the end.

4 tbsp unsalted butter
3-4 tart apples, cored and sliced
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
3 tbsp brandy
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup golden raisins

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add apples and cook for about 3 minutes, so that apples are still slightly crisp but can be pierced with a fork.  Remove apples from pan and set aside in a bowl. 

Increase the heat to medium-high and add the brandy, dark brown sugar, and spices. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 2-3 minutes, or until mixture thickens slightly, stirring occasionally. Return the apples to the pot and add raisins.  Cook until the raisins and apples are heated through. 

Serve warm over French toast (or any other foods you'd like to eat it on!). 


She Knows What She Likes

One of the things I love about my friend Julie is that she knows what she likes.  Some may call it picky, but I prefer to call it particular.  In fact, she is extremely open minded about trying new things and takes life by storm, but she usually knows immediately if something is her taste or not (and I don't just mean food).

For example, I have only met one other person in my life who didn't like condiments on her sandwiches.  I'm not talking hamburgers here--I mean, a club or a ham sandwich.  She takes no mayonnaise, no mustard, no ketchup, not even a sprinkling of vinegar and oil. 

I don't hold that against her.  I mean, sandwiches are made-to-order nearly every place you go.  And, on my wedding day, when I was so worried about having an upset stomach because of wedding planning stress and pre-wedding what-if-I-trip-while-walking-down-the-aisle nerves, I ordered my lunch sandwich just the way Julie would order hers--plain turkey with lettuce on wheat, nothing else.  And it was exactly what I needed.

So when Julie told me she was engaged to her fantastic boyfriend Andy, I didn't have a single doubt that she was 100% sure.  She knows what she likes, and I envy her for that.

Their wedding was in Baltimore this past weekend.  And it was truly a celebration of their love and a chance for everyone to come together to share that with them.

On Saturday we had a lot of time to kill until the evening wedding, so our friend's Lia and Noah got a recommendation from the hotel concierge to walk to Mt. Vernon, a district in Baltimore that was young and would probably have good eats and good places to browse.

We ended up walking into the middle of a Book Festival in it's setting up phase, so we knew that post-brunch we would have something to check out.  We dined at a little cafe called Donna's and ordered a variety of breakfast type meals.

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Now, I'm not a restaurant critic, but I did find it odd that a place serving brunch didn't actually seem to have any whole eggs--just already scrambled eggs, limiting it's egg making abilities to a lackluster scramble and a pre-prepared breakfast stratta.  The stratta got an A+ from our friends Abbie and Nick, but the scrambled eggs Lia ordered were strange and an odd shade of yellow.

My breakfast, however, had no eggs involved, and was truly incredible.

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Three huge slices of French toast with an sweet apple and golden raisin compote over the top that didn't even require the use of the ramekin of syrup I was provided.  It was heavenly and I am dying to recreate it.  It's all about the bread.  Do you know what type of bread I should use for the perfect French toast?  Please share if you do. 

After brunch we browsed the book festival, where we came across a few interesting things.  The first was the reigning Baltimore "Hon" who wore a huge beehive wig and told us all about how she had won the "Honfest" and had spent the past year being the #1 Hon.  It's sort of complicated to explain, but it has something to do with the movie Hairspray and big hair and big personalities.  Check the link if you are really interested.

And of course in Baltimore there is the whole crab thing.  Living in southwest Ohio and my only exposure to water being man-made community ponds and the occasional trip over the Ohio river, fresh seafood is not really a big player in my diet.  Baltimore-ians are always suggesting that out-of-towners try their world-famous crab.  Our cab driver from the airport to the hotel told us that you have to go somewhere where you can eat the whole crab (which involves digging it out of its shell) vs. eating it in crabcake form, because it's like "steak vs. hamburger."  To which our friend Nick said, "I like hamburger."   Touché, Nick. 

We considered getting some crab and avocado tacos at the book festival from one of the food stands.  This was far above normal carnival type food often found at Ohio festivals, so I was intrigued.

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The line was long and in the end we all decided we had consumed too much brunch to go ahead and stuff ourselves with more food.  The tacos were $8.00 but I'm not really sure if that's a good price or not!

We did eat crab--all of us, I think--because not only was there an amazing choice of crab & linguini in a red sauce at the rehearsal dinner, but there were mini crab cake appetizers at the wedding.  So there was crab for everyone, and I must say crab does taste better in Maryland.  Maybe it's just a state of mind thing.  Either way, it was darn good crab.

The wedding was divine and the band--oh the band--it was incredible.  I thought nothing could top the spread of Mediterranean appetizers (including the best hummus I've ever had) but then the band came on and played the best wedding music ever

The whole night I kept thinking, "This wedding is so Julie."  But what else could I expect from her?  She knows what she likes.  

(Best wishes to the bride & groom!)