Pumpkin Pie

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, in spite of, not because of, the food. As a kid, I loved dressing up and sitting down to a meal with all 40 members of my extended family. I loved drinking sparkling grape juice and eating Uncle Dale’s cinnamon bread. However, most of my green bean casserole usually wound up on my older brother’s plate. Of course, I’m older and wiser now and I actually enjoy eating root vegetables, so the Thanksgiving meal has captured my attention.

While I have mastered the art of stuffing and given up on green bean casserole altogether, I haven’t given much thought to pumpkin pie, the real star of the Thanksgiving meal. That is, until I acquired a pie pumpkin from my sister-in-law last week. After baking it whole and pureeing the flesh, I had just enough pumpkin for a pie.

I used the traditional recipes from the Joy of Cooking for the crust and filling, but I think what made the pie taste so great was the spices. Last Christmas, I received a variety of Penzey’s Spices from Glenn’s grandma. You could really taste the cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg in the finished pie. It was a rich, creamy, and not too sweet.

Joy says that custard pies spoil after two days, so I better go grab my fork and head to the fridge for the leftovers!

Pumpkin Puree:
In the fall, you should be able to buy a pie pumpkin at your regular grocery store or at the farmers’ market. Most books say to buy a three-pound squash to get two cups of puree (enough for one pie). My pumpkin was almost two pounds and yielded exactly two cups of puree.

Use a sharp knife to cut a few slits (air vents) in the top of the pumpkin so that it doesn’t explode.
Place the pumpkin on a four-sided baking sheet.
Bake at 375 for 45 minutes to 1 and 1/4 hours. Test tenderness with a fork. When the flesh is easily pierced, remove from oven.
Cut in half from stem to blossom and let cool.
Remove seeds and skin.
Puree in a food processor until smooth.

Pie Crust (One Nine-Inch Crust):
I am a firm believer that you should always make your pie crust from scratch. From-scratch crusts are not difficult to make and are almost always better than their store-bought counterparts. This recipe uses a food processor, which makes it almost fool-proof, but it’s important to freeze the fats so that they don’t melt in the processor.

1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup shortening, cut into pieces and frozen
4 Tbs. butter, cut into pieces and frozen
8 tsp. water, ice cold

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the shortening and butter. Pulse in short bursts until the fat is cut into small pieces and well-incorporated into the flour. The mixture should look grainy at this point. It’s better to under-process than over-process.

Drizzle 4 tsp. of water (half) over the flour mixture. Pulse 2-3 times. Remove lid, squeeze mixture between your fingers. If it holds together, remove it from the processor. If not, add the remaining 4 tsp. of water and process in short bursts.

Using your hands, form the dough into a ball and place on a floured work surface. Roll into a large circle. Use a pastry scraper or other flat object to scrape off counter, drape over rolling pin, and transfer to a 9-inch pie pan.

Cover the crust with aluminum foil and fill with rice, beans, or pie weights. Bake on the lower rack of the oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove foil and weights. Bake uncovered for 5 minutes. Brush with a beaten egg yolk and bake 5 minutes more. Remove from oven.

Pumpkin Pie Filling:
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups pumpkin puree
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt.

Whisk all ingredients together in a large bowl. Let stand at room temperature until the crust is ready to be filled. (To bring my filling to room temperature, I placed it on the stove while the crust baked in the oven.) Pour mixture into the still-hot, prebaked and glazed pie crust. Bake at 375 for 35-45 minutes. When it’s time to remove the pie, the filling will be set on the outside, but should be pretty wobbly in the center. It will continue to set as it cools on the counter. Cool to room temperature before serving.

Real Green Bean Casserole

I have never been asked to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner, but I am so certain the day will come that I’ve already started preparing for it. I am a firm traditionalist, so I can’t imagine a Thanksgiving dinner without green bean casserole. The only problem is that I don’t really like canned green beans swimming in cream of mushroom soup, so I was very excited to find this recipe for Real Green Bean Casserole.

Real should not be misconstrued as healthy. I am a firm believer that anything from scratch is better for you than something from a can, but I have a hard time making that argument in this case. Sure there are three pounds of fresh vegetables, but the butter, cream, and fried onion rings kind of cancel that out. It certainly doesn’t taste healthy.

The flavor was surprisingly similar to traditional green bean casserole — salty and earthy. The biggest difference was in the texture — the green beans were firmer, the creamed mushrooms thicker, and the onions crispier. Instead of having a lumpy, soupy mess on my plate, I had a chunky, sludgy mess. As it turns out, I just don’t like green bean casserole, even if it is real.

For the record, I think this is a good recipe with good results. I highly recommend it for green bean casserole gurus.

Stuffing Success

Now that my Christmas lights are hung and I’m planning the menu for next Saturday’s holiday party, it feels a bit odd to revisit the Stuffing Project. However, with so much time and energy invested in the project, it would be odd not to check in with our nervous cook Claire who inspired the whole thing.

This is the thing that makes me think the whole project was worth it: not only did we help Claire pick a recipe, but we also gave her the know-how to solve any problems that popped up along the way. Loaf too large? Eat some toast and toss in some more vegetables. Top too dry? Bottom too soggy? Stir it up. Claire had solutions that I hadn’t even thought of.

Claire decided to make the Sourdough Stuffing and it was a raging success. Grandpa loved the mushrooms, Aunt Mary thought the sourdough was just tart enough and Grandma said, I hope you know this means that the stuffing is now your job forever.

I’m Stuffed

After five straight days of making, eating, and writing about it, I’m stuffed. I’m happy to say that my part is done: the posts are up, the polls are closed, and the pans are clean. All that’s left is for Claire to make her decision. The table below should help a bit with that. We’ll follow up with Claire after Thanksgiving and see how everything went.

Cost* Time My Ranking Popular Ranking**
Sourdough 22.6 2 hours 2 1
Apple Fennel Bacon 27.2 2.5 hours 4 3
Italian Sausage 29.65 1.75 hours 1 1
Bacon Cranberry 23.83 1.25 hours 5 4
Corn Bread 26.76 2 hours 3 5
*This cost includes the cost of an entire package of the ingredient, whether or not the recipe will use the entire package. For example, it includes the cost of an entire pound of butter, even if the recipe only calls for one stick. **Our friends who tasted the stuffings voted and these are the results.

I learned a lot from this project and I won’t have to wait until I host my own Thanksgiving to apply it. Sure I learned how to keep stuffing from getting soggy, but I also learned that you master the art of a single dish by making it over and over again with slight alterations. I learned how important it is to actually read the recipe. I learned that you can rectify most (not all) mistakes if you’re patient. And I learned that your friends will eat almost anything you make, even your mistakes.

Acorn Squash Corn Bread Stuffing

The fifth and final stuffing broke all of Claire’s rules, but rules are meant to be broken, right? It had dried fruit and nuts and wasn’t at all traditional, but it was oh-so-delicious and made breaking the rules completely worth it.

The first thing I did was make Skillet Corn Bread and try not to eat it all. I’ve made cornbread in the cast iron skillet once before (maybe two years ago) and I’m proud to say that I remembered and corrected my mistakes. Last time I made it, the recipe recommended mixing the dry and wet ingredients in the preheated cast iron skillet, which was a huge problem because the eggs started cooking right away and never mixed with the cornmeal, resulting in a slimy bottom and a grainy top. So, even though this recipe said to mix until “evenly moistened, but still lumpy,” I mixed it all up pretty well. I used one cup of Bob’s Red Mill Coarse Grind Cornmeal and one cup of the regular old stuff. I think that mixture gave it the best possible cakey-but-coarse texture.

That cornbread turned out so well that it was hard to crumble it up into stuffing, but I did it. This is a somewhat original recipe, inspired by a Stuffed Acorn Squash recipe that I found in Guilford Woman Magazine a few years ago.

Acorn Squash Corn Bread Stuffing:

  • 1 acorn squash, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1 tart apple, cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh sage, chopped
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup toasted pecans, chopped
  • 1 loaf homemade cornbread, crumbled
  • 2 cups cranberry juice
  • 1 cup chicken broth (or vegetable broth or water or more cranberry juice or whatever)
  • Preheat oven to 350. Toss squash with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread on a sheet pan and roast about 30 minutes. Add apple to squash and roast about 20 minutes more. They should be tender, but not brown.
  • Saute onion, garlic, thyme, and sage in 1 Tb butter (or olive oil or whatever).
  • Combine cranberry juice and broth (or whatever additional liquid you prefer) in a pot and simmer.
  • Combine cornbread, squash mixture, onion mixture, pecans, and cranberries in a glass baking dish. Add liquid by the ladleful until mixture is the desired consistency.
  • Warm in oven for about 20 minutes.

Cranberry Bacon Stuffing

This is the kind of incident that, if it occurred on Thanksgiving Day with dads and aunts and grandmas hovering in the kitchen, would make you cry. Fortunately, it happened during the test run, when I was alone in the kitchen, had already eaten my dinner, and was eager to get in front of the TV for my Thursday night shows. No tears.

This is what happened: I altered a recipe before I had ever tried the original. Since this is the Quest for Claire’s Thanksgiving Day Dressing, I thought it was important to standby her rules, including no raisins (or craisins). But I still really wanted to make this Bacon Cranberry Stuffing. I didn’t find anything out of the ordinary in my baking-with-cranberries research, so I went ahead and substituted fresh cranberries for dry.

I expected them to pop when I sauteed them with the mushrooms. I didn’t expect them to completely disintegrate and turn all the vegetables pink. Even after that happened, I didn’t expect them to turn all the bread cubes pink when I mixed the vegetables in. Even though I was terrified of its color, I thought, How bad can it be? and took a bite. I have eaten exactly one delicious food that is hot pink and it was not this stuffing. Every crumb of bread absorbed the bitterness of the cranberries. The good news is, it only took me about one hour and fifteen minutes to ruin this stuff.

I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture. Sorry.

I did manage to keep myself from throwing it away. And I forced myself to heat it up and serve it at the big Get Stuffed dinner (more on that later). After all, four for five isn’t a bad record.

Italian Sausage Stuffing

When you try to toast, chop, saute, and mix while on the phone with your sister, you nearly drop your entire pan of stuffing, take a blurry picture, laugh hysterically, and are completely surprised at how well things turn out.

I am really, really surprised at how well this Italian Sausage Stuffing turned out. If I had dropped this stuffing on the floor, I would have scraped it back into the dish and eaten it anyway. I like things best when they taste the way I imagined they would when I read the recipe. This turned out to be exactly the rich, earthy stuffing I had imagined.

I made this stuffing in record time — 1 hour and 45 minutes! I even beat the recipe’s estimated preparation time, which makes me think I skipped a step… Ah, yes. I didn’t chill it and bring it back to room temperature before baking. I just omitted the last 1/4 cup of cream and stuck that baby straight in the oven.

I would do some things a bit differently than the recipe suggested. I recommend using only one pound of sausage — two pounds works if you’re eating it alone, but I think it would overwhelm the Thanksgiving turkey and other sides. Also, I recommend mixing the egg and cream with the bread and waiting until the liquid is absorbed to add the sausage and vegetables to the mixture. That way, you won’t have a thing layer of eggy stuff in the bottom of your pan.

Other than that, I would follow the recipe to a T.