Friday, December 4, 2009

improvisation in the kitchen

thanksgiving was nearly a week ago (bearing in mind we celebrated on saturday) and i think i'm still recovering. i've been cooking simply all week (thank you leftovers) and generally been rather low key. i think i used so much energy and concentration on the Big Meal that i lost my cooking mojo for awhile afterwards. i can feel it creeping back in today as i contemplate going to see what goodness my fish man might have today.

as the week has gone by and i thought about my thanksgiving cooking frenzy, i realized that there was an awful lot of improvisation going on in the meal i cooked. it's not easy to cook a traditional american meal outside of the US, there will always be something you can't get (canned pumpkin, pecans, condensed milk, proper canned mushroom soup) and there will always be things (sweet potatoes, cranberries) you have to adjust to the palates you find in the culture before you and there will always be things (stove top stuffing, crisco, velveeta) you'd never allow in your kitchen anyway, even if you were in the US. and so you improvise.

on the thursday before my thanksgiving, i picked up my turkey and then had a small nervous breakdown which you can read about here. but in the end, despite the issues i had with it, it turned out perfectly and was probably the best tasting, moistest (is that a word?) turkey we've ever had and so totally worth the small fortune that i had to pay for it. and no one even noticed the big spot i had cut out of the skin on the breast, they were so impressed with the sheer size of the bird (more than 10 kilos!) that they didn't even see it.

i learned something interesting about my smeg stove. the turkey, as i said, was more than 10 kilos and although it fit, there wasn't a lot of extra room in there. and i think that after three and a half hours, the warm air oven, which is what i always use, didn't like that. i suspect it didn't have enough ability to circulate the air as it would have liked because the turkey was taking up so much of the space. so my oven went out. i discovered it when i went to take the turkey out and let it rest anyway, but i was pretty concerned (what with sweet potatoes, honey-glazed root veggies and corn pudding to go in) when i saw that the clock had gone dark. at first, i thought it had blown a fuse. the stove is on its own fuse, but i could see that it hadn't blown and the second, smaller oven was still working. it was just the big main oven. but i removed the turkey and left the door open for a few minutes, allowing it to air out. and the clock came blinking back on after about 5 minutes or so, so i could reset it and go on with the cooking of the other things. husband was standing by, ready to run to borrow the neighbors' ovens, but once it came back on, it was fine. but it's not exactly reassuring that such a wonderful oven (with a retail price of 27,000DKK (or more than $5,000) - tho' we got a much better deal on it than that) cut out when the going got tough, especially as it's only just over a year old.

i thought i'd share one of the recipes i improvised, a pumpkin pie with walnut brown sugar topping from the november 2009 issue of bon appetit. since we don't have canned pumpkin here, i baked down a whole pumpkin on wednesday evening, then put the big chunks of flesh in my colander to drain overnight. pumpkin has a lot of water in it and if you don't drain it, your pie won't be the right consistency. the next day, i whizzed it all up in my blender so it was a smooth purée and refrigerated it until it was time to use it.  the original recipe called for only 1 cup of pumpkin, but it didn't look like enough, so i used two cups. i also used 4 eggs rather than 2 because mine were small. i think it made it more of a smooth, custard consistency. the original recipe is here, my modifications are as follows:

pumpkin pie with walnut brown sugar topping

  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces
  • 1/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of fine sea salt


For filling:
  • 1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (i'm not that fond of cloves, so i actually left them out)
  • 2 cups canned pure pumpkin
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream

i used a pie crust that my mom said was one of my grandma's favorites - already there, i improvised because the recipe called for shortening and i substituted lard.

grandma's favorite pie crust
(from her blue cookbook - it says in my mom's handwriting)

1 1/2 C flour
1/2 C shortening (i used lard)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
ice water

i used my food processor (i'm all about easy) and added 3 tablespoons of ice water in order to bring it together. then i pressed it into a disc and refrigerated for an hour. i rolled it out and pre-baked it for 20 minutes before filling it with the filling. i always use a cookie cutter to make leaves or pumpkins since i'm rubbish at making those pretty pie crust edges.

even tho' i had doubled the amount of pumpkin and eggs, the filling fit perfectly into my pie tin and it was definitely the favorite of the two pumpkin pies i made. this is the other one. what's interesting is that from tasting the batter, i thought the caramel pumpkin pie would be the best, but i think the walnut and brown sugar on top of this one made it unbeatable.

and now i'd better go improvise some dinner around here. :-)


Char said...

this whole working thing has thrown off my cooking mojo - i need to get back on it too

Lynn said...

I LOVE fresh pumpkin pie! To get the liquid out, after the squash is cooked and mashed, I get a wack load of cheese cloth, fold it into a few layers, plop the pumpkin in it, pull up the cheesecloth, twist the top, and keep twisting the cheescloth to squeeze as much moisture as I can out of the pumpkin, until it's as close to that "packed pumpkin" texture as can be. It is a bit messy, but works great. Your pies look divine! I'm going to steal your topping next time. Wow--I'm salivating already. :o)

Jane Doe said...

My first attempt at making pumpkin pie from something other than a can was a total disaster and now I know why. Thanks for sharing tips on how to get all that water out of the cooked pumpkin.

The pies look scrumptious and I'm ready for more.

Sandra said...

Lard is the well-known favorite for the best crust. Nothing makes a flakier crust. Your recipe is almost a Pate Brisee , except you used lard instead of butter.

I started making pumpkin pie from fresh pumpkin about 30 years ago. I didn't have any guidelines, so I simmered the pumpkin and then strained it. Now I know it is supposed to be roasted. But I have never had a problem with my method, so I continue to use it.

Your recipe is much as mine, so I know your texture is fresh and light instead of the thicker custard that is the usual pumpkin pie. I do like cloves though.

kristina said...

So glad the turkey worked out in the end!

And I know what you mean about losing your cooking mojo after the big day. But just as well, as there are always leftovers to use up!

We make our pumpkin pie with the Stonewall Kitchen Maple Pumpkin Butter, which I have to bring back specially from America. We love it's light texture and subtle flavor so much it's worth the layers of bubble wrap and Ziploc bags and inevitable worry the jar will break in the suitcase!

K x

Anne said...

Kudos to you for keeping it together when the oven went out! I've never tried to make Thanksgiving dinner in another country, but I have made it (twice) in an unfamiliar kitchen far away from familiar markets, so I feel as if I have some small understanding of your situation.

I've always wanted to try a pie crust made with lard, but I haven't taken the plunge yet. I did see recently that I can get lard at my farmer's market, so perhaps I'll give it a shot before long. When I do, I'll use your (grandmother's) recipe.

Bee said...

Starting at the end, with pie crust: I'm noticing that your grandmother's recipe is almost exactly like the one that I use for steak and onion pie (without the baking powder, though). It is a nice flaky, slightly salty pie crust -- but I like the crisco/butter mix for sweet pies.
I'm realizing, as I read through this, how much MORE you have to improvise than I do. We go back and forth from the U.S. more than you do, and these are the things that I always have in the suitcase: Crisco, canned pumpkin, chocolate chips. Goodness, I admire you for doing the pumpkin yourself. The feast looked/sounded wonderful and I'm sure your Scandinavian crowd was really appreciative.

p.s. My oven is a bit small for turkey, too. I'm already fretting about Xmas.


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