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Pumpkin Coconut Pudding

November 19, 2011

Pumpkin pie is essential at any Thanksgiving feast, but to be honest it is not the part of the meal that I look forward to.  After a heavy meal of turkey, gravy, and of course stuffing, I find it hard to rally excitement for pie.  Generally I enjoy a few bites of the filling and leave the crust lonely on the plate.  This is what got me thinking about skipping the crust completely and making a pumpkin pudding in its place.

Pumpkin Coconut Pudding is a thick, silky coconut milk based pudding seasoned with traditional pie spices.  This rich pudding is familiar enough to satisfy the expectation of a Thanksgiving pumpkin dessert, yet different enough to stand out as something special.  Using coconut milk means that the pudding (without the whipped cream) is actually vegan, so you can safely serve to a mixed crowd including those lactose and gluten intolerant folks who seem to be cropping up in every family.  This pudding could not be simpler to make.  Heat the coconut milk and pumpkin, then stir in a slurry of spices and cornstarch to thicken it.  For a casual fare, spoon it directly from a serving bowl and let guests add their own toppings.  For a fancier presentation, spoon hot pudding into beautiful dishes or glasses and decoratively top before serving.  This may be a break in tradition, but who knows, perhaps I am not the only one who is happy to leave the crust behind.

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There is something magical about a recipe that can turn the simplest ingredients into something remarkable.  A recipe that causes one to dig through the dish looking for the secret ingredient, the one that turns an otherwise plain looking pile of beans and greens into something worth looking forward to.  This is such a recipe.  A deceptively simple list of parts come together into a whole that is bursting with flavor, texture, and depth.  If you pay any heed to the opinions of my son (and you should because eating is his favorite pastime- lucky for me), you should know that he likes this dish “to infinity!”

My husband brought this recipe home.  It was a rare valuable fruit from his long hours spent on the road, commuting and listening to the radio.  All Things Considered on NPR ran a series on how to feed a family for under $10.   This dish may look like college potluck fare (at least if you went to school in Oregon like I did), but the tastes are elevated well beyond.  Playing a lead role are the garlic cloves which are browned in ample olive oil, then mashed with bread fried in the same garlicky oil.  The toasted bread, sweet rich garlic, along with notes of saffron and cumin turn this simple dish into one worth planning a meal around.  The recipe below is modified from the original in a couple of ways.  Most notably, I subbed in kale for the recommended spinach.  Kale holds up well if you choose to make this a bit in advance, it is also more available this time of year. I have made it with spinach as well though and it is delicious.  The bean cooking method is simplified a bit and salt measurements are added.  This dish is a one-pot wonder that necessitates no sides, but do not forget a nice glass of wine to wash it down.

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Nothing says fall like winter squash… and apples… and walnuts, so clearly this is the perfect side dish to make NOW.  We are big fans of butternut squash around here, check out the Butternut and Black Bean Salad from last year.  This year though, somehow butternut squash never made it into the ground and we are the happily storing quite a few acorn squashes that took their place in the planting beds.  There are lots of fun ways to cook up these beautiful treats, but my favorite is to make Acorn Squash Rings with Apple Glaze.

Take care in slicing the squash, as that is as good a way as any to loose a finger.  It helps to take a small slice off of one side, then place the cut side down.  That will give the squash some stability as you hack into it.  Scoop out the membrane and seeds and they are ready to steam.  Do not forget to try on some squash glasses for size!  Note: at least with my kids, they are more likely to eat the veggies if they have a hand in making/playing with them! (For more ideas on getting kids to eat their veggies check out this post.)

This recipe is not mine and if you look you will find many versions on the web.  While that may be a turn-off to some, I say it is evidence of a great recipe that is worth sharing.  My version uses non-clarified butter and less of it, but otherwise it is basically the same.  The tender squash soaks in the sweet and tangy apple glaze and the candied walnuts add a pleasant crunch.  These rings look beautiful on the plate, making it great for a weeknight dinner or special enough for a holiday. My mother-in-law first introduced me to this yummy dish with asparagus laced through the centers of the rings (as you will find is the most common version.)    I opted not to include the asparagus this time (there is no chance of finding local asparagus in October), but love the way they make this into a truly elegant side dish.  If we have any squash leftover in springtime, I will definitely add them in.  The acorn squash rings are attractive enough to stand on their own, or fill the centers with a scoop of wild rice or stuffing.

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Classic Apple Crisp

October 17, 2011

When I see my children voraciously take down one apple after another, it is hard for me to believe that I hated apples as a child.  But you remember those days, do you not?  Living in a suburban/ urban community before the food revolution, when an apple was a Red Delicious, donning a shiny waxy coat, stored for too long under the wrong conditions.  Apples were mealy and bland with tough skins and I did not want to eat them.  At around age 10, I discovered Granny Smiths.  Ohhh a tart apple, I began to adjust my verdict, but still they were nothing to sing of.  It may have been a long journey, but I have finally learned the virtues of the apple.

We have one apple tree in our backyard, but it supports five varieties of apples, all grafted on different limbs.   These are REAL apples.  Apples with character, flavor, aroma, variations of texture and shape. The apples ripen at different times keeping our family flush with apples through most of the season.  For this we are grateful, because our kids love apples.  No need to tell them the “apple a day” story, left to their own devices they would gladly eat more than that.  Fortunately, my parents have multiple apple trees, so our pantry generally has a large box of apples to choose from through the months of August and September.  We also keep a box full in the fridge for longer storage.  What we can not fit in the refrigerator is cooked down into applesauce, sliced and dried, or cut and bagged for the freezer.  This ensures we can enjoy the taste of our own apples through the winter.

One of the simplest and most delicious ways to treat apples is to prepare a Classic Apple Crisp.  The apples are cored and sliced, then tossed in a bit of sugar.  Lay them down in a buttered baking dish and sprinkle a mixture of flour, butter, oats, and brown sugar.  Sweet, tart, buttery, delicious.  Do not leave out the vanilla ice cream.  In fact if you ask my son, he will straighten his posture, squint his eyes, and tell you, “The rule is: you must have ice cream with apple crisp” in a tone that is frighteningly authoritative for a five year old.  It is best to do what he says.

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Apple Blackberry Cake

August 24, 2011

Summer is not complete without a morning spent picking blackberries.  Last weekend, under the pressure of a fall-like chill in the air and the craziness of back to school time, the kids and I pushed out for a ramble along the creek.  We brought the wagon, a gazillion containers, and a baby doll or two.  We dressed in our jeans and forced socks and closed shoes onto our spoiled summer feet.    We were ready for a  real berry picking session.  What we found however is that like all other summer fruits (tomatoes especially!) everything is super late this year.

Not about to let a little thing like red under-ripe blackberries get us down, we assigned ourselves roles for our Blackberry Team.  I picked the berries, my little man dumped the small containers into the bigger ones, and my little lady dragged the wagon up and down the trail laughing hysterically.  After an hour of hard work (and just a few scrapes), we cruised home with a half-gallon of berries.  Just enough for a few smoothies and Apple Blackberry Cake.  While we suffer a shortage of ripe blackberries, we have boxes and boxes of Gravenstein apples from my parents’ trees.

Apple Blackberry Cake is a treat to make each late summer or fall.  Though it is simple to prepare, somehow the cake has the ability to pass as both an elegant special dessert and a casual weeknight treat.  This time it even disguised itself as a birthday cake.  The apples are peeled and sliced and then pressed into a basic butter and brown sugar batter.  The blackberries scatter across the top lending both a colorful burst and a tart contrast to the apples.  The sugar and cinnamon sprinkled over the top help to form a nice sweet crunchy topping.  This cake is well matched with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.  I would not mind eating a slice for breakfast either with a nice cup of coffee.

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