Sunday, November 22, 2009

Baking Pumpkin Pies with the Pineridge Science Club

For years, when our sons were Cub Scouts, I would bake Pumpkin Pies with their dens right before Thanksgiving. I developed a very simple recipe that the boys enjoyed eating and that they could measure and mix without frustration. Pre-made frozen pie crusts made the project even easier.

I recently volunteered to make pies with the Pineridge Science Club, an afterschool program for elementary-age students. In the interest of science, I took the time to talk about each ingredient, from pumpkin to milk and eggs to honey. Showing whole spices was a revelation - that's ginger? Vanilla pods? Cinnamon sticks? Whole nutmeg and cloves?

Due to limited time, we would have to make individual pies, so that they would have time to bake and cool before the participants took them home. Fortunately, ready-made tart-sized graham cracker crusts worked perfectly and tasted great.

With the kids working in pairs and adults helping to measure and pour, 24 pies were mixed up in a very short time, then baked, cooled and placed in bakery boxes for the trip home. Everyone seemed to have a good time - I know I did!

Here's the recipe -

Pumpkin Pie
1 can pumpkin puree (15 ounces)
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1/2 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon and ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg and cloves
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients together until completely combined. Pour into 1 pie shell (regular or graham cracker) or 8 individual tart shells. Place on cookie sheet in oven. Bake 20-23 minutes for individual pies or 30-35 minutes for a regular-sized pie. The pie is cooked when the center does not jiggle when shaken. Cool before serving. Makes 8 servings.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Out to dinner at the Paramount Grill

I love to cook, but when invited to dine out at a restaurant of my choice, I am thrilled. My cousin Susie who travels all over the world for business, but is based near New York City, came for a visit this past weekend.

Weekend plans included the art fest, La Chua trail and some local restaurants, but she wanted us to pick a restaurant we had not visited, but wanted to try. On the advice of foodie friends, we picked the Paramount Grill in downtown Gainesville.

Our early reservation on Sunday evening meant we were the first to arrive for dinner. Our server Daisy gave us wonderful personalized service that continued even after the dining room began to fill with other patrons.

Chef and owner, Clif Nelson, had taken the evening off, but you would never have known by the quality of food served. Artfully presented, the food was layered with flavors and brought "oohs" and "aahs" with each bite as a different taste sensation was discovered.

While pictures cannot do justice to either presentation or taste, here are pictures of my meal - fresh berry salad, curried tofu, and butterscotch creme brulee -

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Apples, Apples Everywhere

Although I prefer to cook with locally-grown food, we Floridians have an apple deficit. A few apples, especially ones bred to grow in the Middle East, will grow here, but after about seven years they tend to succumb to diseases brought about by our heat and humidity.

So I have to find apples elsewhere. For a few years I was lucky enough to get a case of freshly-picked North Carolina apples delivered by my parents, but unfortunately that stopped last year with my Dad's death.

This year I bought retail - it was tough knowing that although the fruit was organic, that it had to travel cross-country, using lots of fuel. Harry's Farmer's Market, in Roswell/Alpharetta Georgia, offered a bounty of apples from Washington State, Oregon and New York - Honeycrisp, Ambrosia, Paula Red, Braeburn and Macoun. Whole Foods in Orlando had a fresh batch of Stayman Winesaps from West Virginia.

Before I started cooking, I tasted each type. The Ambrosia were the sweetest, but without much flavor, depth or character. The Honeycrisp were sweet and crispy, with a more complex sweet-tart combination. Paula Red and Braeburn offered classic apple flavor, with less sweetness, while the Macoun and Stayman Winesap had a full fruity flavor, not as sweet or crisp as the others, but with subtle flavors that gave them real character.

To make sugarless applesauce (although it is so thick, you can put it on toast)I used Ambrosia and Honeycrisp with just a couple of Braeburn and Macoun for more flavor and depth. I cut the apples into quarters, skins, seeds and all, dropped them into a pot, squeezed a lemon over all and added enough water to almost cover them. I cooked them until mushy, cooled slightly and pushed through a fine sieve to create a smooth liquidy sauce, that I then cooked about 8 hours to a thick, sweet, rich sauce. From 6 quarts of apples I canned 7 cups of applesauce.

Next up, applebutter with sugar and cinnamon. I used all the remaining apples, prepared in the same way - I started with 12 quarts of apples (yes, I have two really big pots),cooked them down, added 1 1/2 cups of sugar and about a tablespoon of cinnamon. I ended up canning 16 cups of applebuuter.

So now there are no apples in the house - now we need some fresh bread to make toast so we can eat applebutter - yum!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The coolest dinner

We are in Atlanta and went to dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant. Noodle bowls (Pho) were a menu staple, but I found something unusual - Vietnam wraps - with an unusual note next to the description - "self wrapping".

My dinner was presented as a plate of veggies and herbs, a plate of dry rice wrappers, a plate of grilled salmon (there was a choice of beef, shrimp or salmon) and a big bowl of steaming hot water.

After dipping the rice wrapper quickly in the hot water to soften it, I laid it on the plate and assembled my wrap. The veggies and herbs included lettuce leaves, bunches of Thai basil and cilantro on their stems, julienned cucumber and carrots, and bean sprouts. Also available were crushed peanuts, hoisin sauce and a couple of different hot sauces. The salmon was grilled with a crispy exterior and moist center. I made several wraps and it was a fun and yummy dinner.

I can easily see making these at home - just put out all the ingredients and let everyone wrap their own. And it is definitely a fun way to get the kids to eat their veggies.