Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pumpkin Spice-less Pumpkin Pie. All Glory to the Pumpkin! Down With the Spice!

So recently I have been rebelling against the "pumpkin spice" phenomena and advocating for use of the glorious orange fruit of the vine in ways that allow the pumpkiness to shine through. Pumpkin pie is one of the worst abusers of the meddlesome melange of spices. Most "pumpkin" pies should really be called "cinnamon/ginger/nutmeg flavored congealed paste pie." This is upsetting as the natural sweetness of punkin' fortified with a little more sugar (or some such other sweetener) doesn't really need much help... So I decided to come up with my own "pie spice"-less recipe.

I started with a head-sized specimen of my new favorite pumpkin. You can read all about the wonderful Long Island cheese pumpkin here. Mr. Pumpkin got seeded quartered, roasted at 350 for 2 or so hours, and finally skinned and ran through a food mill. This results in about 4 cups of punkin' flesh.

I find that one of the secrets to a good pumpkin pie is evaporated milk. It lends a certain richness and texture without the overbearing creaminess of actual cream. You can buy a tin, but for assuredly tasty dairy you can make it yourself. I reduced 2 pints of Battenkill Creamery whole milk until it became 1 pint. The whole mess goes in with the pumpkin flesh.

My next secret pumpkin pie weapon is some powder/paste made from roasted pumpkin seeds. This adds a roasty component as well as some fatty mouth feel to your pie. I grind up the seeds in my spice grinder with some salt. I add a third of a cup to the pie.

Aside from that - 2 jumbo eggs (from Stewart's of course), 1/2 cup white sugar (brown adds molasses notes that I find mask the punkin'), 1/3 cup honey, and a spare 1/4 teaspoon of good vanilla. I whisk it by hand. I don't mind a bit of a toothsome texture in my pies. 

Without the brown sugar and copious cinnamon of a standard recipe the orange color of the cheese pumpkin shows through in the batter.

A note on my choice of crust. I am very anal about certain things. Pumpkin pie is one of them. I believe it is one of those items that has a defined form that shouldn't be meddled with. Part of this ideal form is a shitty, processed, graham cracker crust. Trust me, I am no stranger to DIY kitchen projects. The things I have made by hand would flabbergast many an old kitchen hand. However, I have not yet gotten around to producing a wholesome version of the graham cracker crust. So as of now I leave pumpkin pie crust making to the fine elves of Keebler. You don't need to tell me about all of the heinous shit that processed pie crusts contain. I am fully aware. I make concessions for tradition's sake.

You should get two thinnish pies from this recipe. The custard of an ideal pumpkin pie should be somewhere between 3/4" and 1" thick. No thicker. Big 2-3 inch pumpkin pies look good on the pinterist but are shit for eating. 

Bake the pies for about an hour at 350 and there you have it.

Delicious orange pie. The sugar, honey, and hint of vanilla are all you need to support the flavor of the roasted pumpkin. If you don't like this pie, I'm sorry child, but you do not like pumpkin. You are allowed to continue purchasing PSLs and huffing pumpkin spice candles but what you are really a fan of is cinnamon/ginger/nutmeg (clove/allspice/mace too perhaps). I'm sorry if I have thrown you into crisis.

And that is that. I prefer my pie unadorned but some whipped cream would not be out of place. I am a pretty grim individual and even I can't help but smile at the site of a nice wedge of pie. 

Follow my example. Free your pie from the shackles of its spice. Not every pumpkin pie has to smell like the sachet of potpourri in your grandmother's underwear drawer. Let the flavors of the earthy orange globe shine through. This is all I have to say for the moment.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Anatomy of A Cheese Pumpkin

Long Island Cheese Pumpkin

I love pumpkins. This is good because I happen to live smack dab in the middle of some the world's best punkin'/squash growing country (Upstate NY). Come fall our local farms overflow with squash of every hue, size, and description. Funny thing is, most of them probably end up on people's porches for the ravenous local squirrels (a plague on their fuzzy house!) to feast upon. It seems as if many people in the modern world have forgotten that punkins' is good eatin'.

The most pumpkin/squash flesh that many of my Upstate countrymen manage to get in their stomachs is via a can, or perhaps some frou frou soup at a restaurant. This is not how it should be. Heck, I can eat roasted pumpkin or squash out of the oven with some butter on it in the manner of a baked potato! In my opinion the pumpkin/squash family is overrated as decorations and underrated as food.

I just so happened to be over at Indian Ladder Farms the other day with my lovely family when I spied a stand of "Long Island Cheese" pumpkins. The LI Cheese varietal really is a beautiful pumpkin. They just beg to be roasted and put to delicious purpose. I chose the above pictured lovely example. It was 4 bucks (I forget the weight, approximately the size of a squished soccerball).

A day or two later I hacked into my prize revealing the vibrant orange guts and plentiful seeds. A pet peeve of mine happens to be the fact that a majority of Jack-o-lantern artists chuck the seeds along with the guts. This is a travesty. There are few healthier, tastier foods out there than roasted punkin' seeds. Wash them off, throw on some neutral oil or butter, salt well, spread on parchment, and roast at 300 for about an hour. This one pumpkin provided a cup and a half of beautiful seeds!

Most pumpkin preparations are going to begin with roasting the flesh. I see a lot of recommendations for putting the pumpkin pieces skin side up with water in a pan so they sort of steam. I am not a fan of this method. I smear the hunks of pumpkin with butter and bake (350 for an hour or two) flesh side up until I can stick a fork in without resistance. I think the brown roasty bits add flavor to any intended dish.

Cooked thusly the flesh comes away from the skin with much ease. I had intended to do a pie and a soup with this pumpkin but I got lazy and decided to go with two pies. I like to run the flesh through my little hand cranked food mill. I ended up with something like 4 or 5 cups of purty orange flesh.

To one punkins' worth of flesh I add - 2 cans evaporated milk, 5 large eggs, 1 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon ginger, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg. You could probably get three pies out of this but I did 2 big ones this time (graham cracker crusts). The pies bake at 350 for an hour or so.

So, my opinion of the Long Island Cheese pumpkin you ask? It is a superb cooking pumpkin. Fleshy, substantial, and sweet. The pie was light and custardy with pumpkin flavor peaking through all of the sugar and pie spices. I think this pumpkin would be suitable in all applications from pie to soup to stew. I am in love with the cheese pumpkin. It is my new favorite pumpkin. 

The moral of this story is that pumpkins and squash are an important local agricultural asset. You should take advantage of this by finding ways to eat them instead of simply putting them on your porch. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

One Year Old Aged Spiced Egg Nog. You Heard Me.

Maybe you will remember that 2 days short of a year ago I posted about whipping up some spiced egg nog which I planned on aging for a bit. As you may remember I am a big fan of aged egg nog (here is some commentary and one of my recipes). Generally I start a batch every year around Halloween to be cracked open between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But last year I got it in my head to push the boundaries a bit and see if I could go without opening a jar of the frothy nectar for an entire year. I succeeded...

This down and dirty batch of nog started its life off a year ago as Johnny Drum bourbon and Stewart's milk/cream/eggs. Very classy. Like me.

Here it is all fresh like for comparison with the above aged nog picture-

Now drinking year old eggnog isn't all disgusting and scary as it might seem. There is enough Johnny Drum in there to gag a horse which should (emphasis on should) have kept the baddies at bay. Tonight I decided to crack the bad boy open and hope for the best.

Here is a video of the uncorking -

All that goop on the lid is just butter fat from the cream. I gave it a sniff and it was a rather benign noggy/boozy stench. I was undeterred and decided to persevere with my mission of getting some of the nog into my gut.

Here is the pour -

Something I noticed during the pour was that the nog seemed rather thin in consistency compared to how it was at the beginning. I could hazard some guesses as to why this might have happened but I am a hack barely literate writer of a blog that is sort of about food, not a scientist. I will say that I didn't note any putrid chunks or green bits. This left me slightly encouraged.

So Dave, how did it taste?

Well, as is usually the case with experiments like this, it was shockingly normal. It tasted like a decent nog made with cheap bourbon. Very much like the 2-3 month old aged nogs I usually make. I will say that the hooch flavor was noticeably smoother for the aging. The year seemed to have taken the edge off of the Johnny Drum. As mentioned before the nog was noticeably thinner. Almost as if the cream had been removed from the equation. 

There were really no off flavors or any sort of spoilage that I could detect by taste. Perhaps I will die tomorrow of some horrid nog incubated pestilence... But I actually think I am going to be OK.

So I think the year old nog experiment was sort of a bust. I don't think 12 months was much of an improvement over 1 or 2 months. Color me disappointed. I expected either a transcendent taste sensation or a gloriously disgusting failure. Such is life. I got mediocre. 

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