Pumpkin Pie Brulée


Oh kids!  Did you think that I’d forgotten about you? Did you worry that I wouldn’t come up with a little Thanksgiving something to complete your holiday table?  Probably not, because if you’re like me, you are so ridiculously overwhelmed by the fact that Thanksgiving is TOMORROW for crying out loud, that you have precious little room to think about anything else.  For the love of all things good, where is the time going??  Remember that one time when I said that I’d have all of these new and exciting things for you? Yeah.  About that… I really truly do, but life came at me fast over the past couple of weeks and things got a bit sidetracked (apologies in advance for a pictureless post.  Fingers crossed that I can get them up this afternoon. You know, after I actually bake the pies and all…).  And then I’m (knock on wood) going on a bit of a holiday next week (Hawaii! Woo hoo!).  I promise that after I disconnect the Mai Tai drip, I will be back in full force.  Please stick around, ok?  You all make me happy and I’d like to return the favor.

Even though I haven’t actually made the pie for this Thanksgiving yet, it is my go to Turkey Day dessert, so I can completely stand behind it.  A couple of years ago, I decided to mix things up a bit and try something else, and you know how that turned out.  It was kind of like when you have your very best friend for years and then the new girl comes to town and she seems like the perfect person to be your new best friend and even though you know better you ditch the old best friend for the new one and she totally stabs you in the back and steals your boyfriend.  And then you have to go begging your old friend to take you back.  Not that that ever happened to me, but you get the point (I hope.  It’s early and while this all makes sense in my head, I worry that it’s not translating).  At any rate, the pie is relatively easy as pies go, but I’m going to say go ahead and use a pre-made crust, because who has time to cut butter into flour and all that other crazy at this late date (and if you do have the time, god love you and please stop by my house with some fresh dough).  I will also suggest that you pick yourself up a handy blow torch to make the brulée topping, because putting it under the broiler is a little iffy and who doesn’t like to have some fun with a blow torch around the holidays? If you do go the broiler route, be sure to cover the edges of your crust with foil so there are no burnt bits.  Oh! And a little whipped cream never hurt anyone.

Since I’ll be making duck, I can’t help you out on the turkey part, but in case you need some ideas for sides, check out the posts on cranberries, roasted sweet potatoes, cornbread stuffing and corn goodness.  All are super easy and delicious, which is exactly what we need as the holiday madness descends.  I, of course, wish you a lovely Thanksgiving, filled with happy times and enough leftovers for a midnight snack…

Updated: I decided to do mini pies and the first time around worked well.  Just bake on a cookie sheet for about 25 minutes, chill and do your bruleeing before serving.  The second time around for a party, I bruleed and then transported, and the sugar melted and there was no turning back to the crunchy sugar coating I’d perfected before I left home.  Lesson learned: carry a blow torch with you at all times.  So, I have to give this 3 stars, because while it’s tasty as can be, the inability to be able to rely on it turning out right each time is too much for my baker’s heart to handle…

Pumpkin Pie Brulée (courtesy of Bon Appetit)

  • 1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
  • 3/4 cup plus 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375°F. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 12-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Fold overhang under and crimp decoratively. Pierce dough all over with fork. Freeze 15 minutes. Line crust with foil; fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake until sides are set, about 12 minutes. Remove foil and beans. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

Whisk pumpkin and 3/4 cup sugar in large bowl to blend. Whisk in eggs, then cream, spices, and salt. Pour filling into warm crust. Bake pie until filling is set in center, about 50 minutes. Transfer pie to rack; cool 30 minutes. Chill until cold, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.

Preheat broiler. Sprinkle pie evenly with 2 tablespoons sugar. Broil until sugar melts and begins to caramelize, turning pie for even browning, about 1 minute. Let pie stand until topping hardens, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle pie again with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Broil again until sugar browns, about 1 minute. Refrigerate pie until topping hardens, about 30 minutes. Serve or keep refrigerated no more than 2 hours longer.

Flaky Pie Crust Dough

Yield: Makes one 9-inch crust

  •  1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons (or more) ice water

Whisk flour and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add butter and shortening. Rub in with fingertips until very coarse meal forms. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons water. Toss until moist clumps form, sprinkling with more water by teaspoonfuls if mixture is dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 1 hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated. Soften dough slightly at room temperature before using.)

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Cornbread Stuffing


When I was a kid I had an irrational fear of three things: being kidnapped, quicksand and being poisoned.  The first two I blame on Scooby Doo and Bugs Bunny cartoons (no, seriously.  Those dang kids in the Mystery Machine were always getting themselves in trouble and would wind up in some haunted mansion tied up and left to fend for themselves and some Warner Bros. character was always either setting a trap over quicksand or falling into a pit of it.  Where I thought I’d find a pit of quicksand in downtown Chicago was beside the point.  As is this lenghty parenthetical, I realize). 

The poisoning was a little more rational, or at least a little more understandable.  My family, coming from an island, always worried about food spoiling if left out too long.  They would also get packages of canned food items from Jamaica like ackee–which were hard to find in New York–and talk of botchulism swirled around my grandmother’s kitchen (unripened ackee can also kill you, so there was that added delight).  I barely understood what they were talking about, but I knew enough to be afraid that one bite of the wrong thing could spell the end of me (dramatic? Me? Never…).

Anytime a turkey was involved the question of whether to put the stuffing inside or bake it separately came up, because stuffing left in the cavity of the bird could spoil, and you guessed it, kill us all.   It was a great debate each year, because the stuffing was more moist if baked inside the turkey, and that, for some reason, seemed worth the risk.  I wasn’t taking any chances, though, so I never ate stuffing unless it was of the Stovetop variety.  I refused to taste it, and truth be told, the texture and mushy look of it (plus the addition of things like giblets) let me know I wasn’t missing anything.

I’m not sure when my boycott against stuffing ended, but a few years ago I found a recipe (in a magazine ad for chicken stock) that sounded too good to pass up.  And it is so delicious that I make extra and freeze it so I can have some on a random Tuesday after Thanksgiving.  The recipe is also super easy, especially if you cheat and use Jiffy cornbread mix instead of making your own.  It’s moist and not the least bit mushy (thanks to the bits of french bread) and since you bake it separately from the turkey, there is no risk of poisoning yourself or your family, which is always a good thing….  Happiest of Thanksgivings to you!

Cornbread Stuffing

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Corn Goodness


So Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love that there’s no pressure, no presents to buy, no songs to get sick of; it’s just about good food and family and friends and if you’re lucky lots of leftovers. I also love that you can make an entire meal out of the side dishes. Turkey and ham are lovely, but really, they just take up room on the plate when sweet potatoes and stuffing and rice and peas and roasted vegetables are available. For the next couple of days, I’ll be posting my favorite sides that I wish I could eat all the time, but only get made during the holidays (for no other reason than I totally OD on them for a month and then can’t really think about them again for awhile).

A friend of mine used to host a holiday girls’ night where she’d pull out her good plates and glasses, decorate her apartment and have about 10 us over for dinner. Some years it was just before she left to go home to Texas for Thanksgiving; other years it would be around Christmas and we’d do a present exchange.  We were all asked to bring something, and one year another Heather brought this corn dish that I took one bite of and promptly pulled the rest of closer to my plate and guarded it like a prisoner getting extra bread and water (or whatever prisoners eat). It was kind of like a soufflé, but a little denser and grainy, like polenta. I admit that I stalked Heather for the rest of the party until she finally wrote down the recipe for me and when I tell you it is the simplest—and likely one of the best—things I’ll ever post, I’m not exaggerating (like I’d ever do that). She didn’t have a name for it, so I instantly named it Corn Goodness, because that’s exactly what it tasted like—all the sweetness and goodness of corn, baked into this better than cornbread, almost like stuffing, happiness.

It’s insanely easy, but no one has ever tasted it and not asked me for the recipe immediately. It goes with just about everything, so memorize it and keep the ingredients handy, so you can whip it up on a cold day when you need a little goodness in your world…

Corn Goodness

  • 1 box Jiffy cornbread mix
  • 1 egg 
  • 1 cup sour cream 
  • 1 can sweet fresh corn 
  • 1 can creamed corn 
  • Dash of salt and pepper

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all of the ingredients in bowl.  Stir well until the mix is fully incorporated.  Pour into pie dish (or individual ramekins) and bake for 30 minutes or until knife inserted comes out clean. Cool slightly and then cut into triangles.  Serve warm.

Anniversary Potato Salad


A number of years ago today—I’d have to go into witness protection if I gave the actual number—my mother and aunt arrived in New York City from Jamaica.  They were 11 and 9 years old and had been separated from their parents and brother for four years.  My grandparents left one island where the sun actually provided warmth for another one where the few rays of sun were deceptive.  My grandmother left first, going to Canada and then coming into the United States where she found work in the Garment District and set up a small approximation of the life they’d had in pre-independence Kingston.  My grandfather and uncle followed, and I imagine that the rationale for leaving my mother and aunt behind was that it was easier to start a life in a new place with only one child instead of three.  I have been told this story for as long as I can remember. 

Every year on this day, either my mother or aunt would call the other and wish each other happy anniversary.  Then they would reminisce about how it was so cold, a sensation they couldn’t possibly have ever imagined, and how a few days later it snowed, just little flakes, but enough to make them stop whatever they were doing to watch this magic falling from the sky.  They’d talk about how the American accents sounded so odd to their ears—so flat—but how they were the ones who got teased for their lilting British voices.  The phone call always ended with memories of their first Thanksgiving, just a week after they arrived, with friends who lived in the same building.  First they were served Velveeta and Ritz crackers (imagine never having had American cheese and your first introduction being Velveeta!) and then the turkey and stuffing and ham and the thing my mother remembers most, potato salad with mayonnaise.  As she tells it, the white potatoes (which they’d also never had) were completely overwhelmed by heavy mayonnaise and it was cold and unfamiliar and just so not good.  The texture and the temperature and the very idea of mayonnaise were more than she could handle, and to this day she will make a face when she thinks of it.  Again, I’ve been told these stories for as long as I can remember. 

This is the first year that my aunt will not be here so that my mother can wish her a happy anniversary.  It is the second that my uncle is not here to chime in with what little he may have remembered about his two older sisters on this day.  It has been more than a decade since my grandparents told their version of the story.  Even though they were separated for years, the five of them stayed a family and were finally brought together many years ago today and remained together from that moment on.  There was so much between then and now, more than I’ll ever know, about struggles and fear and being strangers in a strange place where everything was new and sometimes not so shiny.  But I know that they were happy to be together, that they were happy to be here in this country where they made the best of every day, that they loved to dance and laugh and taste new foods (even things like mayonnaise), and that their story—which has become mine—is one of the best stories I’ve ever been told…

 Mustard Potato Salad With Capers (Happy Anniversary, Mom!)

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Thanksgiving Sides To Be Thankful For


Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love the idea of friends and family coming together for a communal meal and being grateful for each other and whatever else it is they cherish most on this earth. Yet, while my earliest Thanksgiving memories involve lots of love, the food left something to be desired. My mom had the turkey down pat, put the side dishes were an afterthought. Cranberry sauce was gelatinous goop fresh from a can; sweet potatoes hid cowering under marshmallows. This Thanksgiving, I’m giving cranberries and sweet potatoes their proper due with these healthy, quick and easy recipes that perfectly complement the main event.

Quick Cranberry Compote

•    One 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries
•    Juice of one orange
•    Grated rind of one orange
•    2 Tbs. honey
•    1 cinnamon stick
•    2 apples, peeled and cut into chunks
•    ¾ cup water
•    1-2 Tbs. brown sugar, to taste

Put all the ingredients in a pot. Simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. If compote starts to stick on the bottom, add some water. Taste, and add additional brown sugar if needed. Remove cinnamon stick and serve hot or at room temperature.

Serves 8 as a relish.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

•    2 large or 3 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
•    1 red onion cut into chunks
•    1 Tbs. olive oil
•    ½ tsp. salt
•    ½ teaspoon paprika
•    ½ teaspoon cinnamon
•    ½ teaspoon tumeric (optional)
•    2 Tbs. brown sugar

Preheat oven to 425. Spread sweet potatoes and onions in roasting pan or baking track in a single layer. In a small bowl, mix salt, paprika, cinnamon, and tumeric with the olive oil. Pour mixture on top of sweet potatoes and onions, making sure to evenly coat them. (Tongs come handy here, as do bare hands, though the tumeric can stain.) Put in oven and roast at 425 for 40 minutes, until sweet potatoes are tender but not mushy.  Sprinkle brown sugar over them, toss, and place back in the over for 5 minutes, until the brown sugar caramelizes over the sweet potatoes. Serve hot.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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