I Messed with Tradition: Twist on Pumpkin Pie

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Tell me to name my favorite kind of pie and I will say “pumpkin pie!” without hesitation. Of course, I require a large dollop of whipped cream on top (must be whipped cream, no Cool Whip allowed) and an ice cold glass of milk nearby. But nonetheless, I love pumpkin pie, and I welcome the time of year when it’s everywhere.

I’m pretty inflexible on my pumpkin pie accompaniments (the aforementioned whipped cream and milk), and am a stickler for a good crust, but even with all that, I managed to surprise myself by changing things up a little.

It started with my friend Sim, who brought over a half-gallon of pumpkin ice cream – fresh from Superior Dairy in Hanford, CA. This local dairy has been in business since 1929 and is known for great seasonal flavors (like fresh peach in summer!) and the monster-sized S.O.S. ice cream platter. (I’ve been wanting to take a trip there and haven’t yet, but luckily I have friends who bring the ice cream straight to me!)

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I got out a spoon to sample the ice cream straight from the box. Verdict?
Now that took me a little longer to think about. The flavor was good but… “interesting.” Interesting in the fact that it tasted just like the filling of a pumpkin pie, spices and all. I decided in order to be fully appreciated, it needed to be with some of those other accompaniments that complete pumpkin pie in my mind.

I thought out loud to Jan and our dinner guests: I would need to make this into an ice cream pie…I would get graham crackers and make a crust, then fill with the ice cream and top with whipped cream…

Before I could continue my theoretical list of tasks, (I wasn’t intending to do any actual work—I was in the middle of hosting our dinner guests, after all!) Jan produced a pre-made Honey Maid Graham Cracker crust from our Mary-Poppins pantry, and directed me to a carton of whipped cream in the refrigerator.

I let the ice cream sit out on the counter to get soft, scooped about half of it into the crust, covered it in plastic wrap and put it in the freezer. I then whipped the whipped cream with a sprinkling of powdered sugar, spread it on top of the slightly-chilled pie, and placed back into the freezer.

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A bit later in the evening, it was time for dessert, and to sample this great experiment. The results were surprisingly good! It was like a frozen, refreshing pumpkin pie! I’d never thought that pumpkin pie could be refreshing, but here it was!

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The new frozen pumpkin pie won’t be replacing my regular favorite, but it was added to the selection of holiday pies we served at our family Thanksgiving dinner we hosted on Friday (much easier for us all to get together when it’s not the actual day!) and this time, I let the guests put on their own whipped cream (instead of freezing it with the pie). Frozen whipped cream or no, it’s the way to serve the pumpkin ice cream – with its friends! It was light and our guests also described it as “refreshing,” though that didn’t stop us from overdoing it on amazing homemade berry pie, homemade pumpkin pie, and homemade apple tart.

More S’mores: Going Gourmet

I’ve written about s’mores before (Girls gone camping, Getting scientific about s’mores, One year ago: reminiscing on the Vantastic Voyage), and thought I’d said just about everything that could be said about them. But, when it comes to the things you love, maybe that isn’t true—there’s always more to be said.  So here goes.

Jan and I spent last weekend camping with a group of friends at Huntington Lake, which meant in addition to the “regular” food we were bringing, we also brought plenty of s’mores supplies to go around. Jan did our shopping and bought the ingredients for the classic American s’mores: Honey-Maid graham crackers, Jet-Puffed marshmallows, and Hershey’s milk chocolate and Special Dark bars.

When we got to camp, we learned that we weren’t the only ones thinking about making s’mores.   Continue reading

Battle of the Birthday Cakes

It seems that everyone has a cake they prefer to get on their birthday, and in our family, it’s come down to two frontrunners, one a flashy store-bought treat, the other a homemade favorite. In one corner, we’ve got what we call the “choo-choo-train cake” from Baskin Robbins. Many of you might remember this cake from your childhood: chocolate cake and ice-cream (usually strawberry or vanilla flavor) rolled into a cylinder and decorated to look like a train. Large cookies form the wheels, an upside-down cone forms the smoke stack, and the rest of the details are created with large quantities of frosting. Continue reading

Whiskey Raisin Crunch

It all started with rum raisin ice cream. A few weeks ago, I learned that rum raisin is a popular ice cream flavor in Japan, and because I found this to be an interesting fact, I’ve been thinking about this ever since. Having never tried rum raisin ice cream before, nor seen it at the grocery store or ice cream counter, I was intrigued.  I decided it was a flavor from another era, because when I did ask some folks about it, they said, “Oh yeah! Rum raisin ice cream!” like they were recalling a fond memory from long ago.  If rum raisin was something familiar, and yet, something that hadn’t been around in a while, I was bringing it back. Continue reading

Flaming Bananas

The idea of cooking Bananas Foster had been floating around the house for a while.  For some reason, I felt like I’d eaten it before, but I didn’t have a memory of it, it was just some vague dessert in my mind.

Having some friends over for a tri-tip dinner, we decided Bananas Foster would be the dessert, and planned accordingly, which meant buying a few more bananas than we usually do, making sure we had vanilla ice cream, and heading to the liquor store for banana liqueur (not something we regularly stock in the bar). Continue reading

Browned Butter Brownies

When I saw the cover of February’s Bon Appétit, I knew the editors were speaking directly to me.  The cover of the latest issue proclaimed “Best-Ever Brownies,” with the warning: “You will eat the entire tray.”  The delicious-looking brownies exploded from the page, calling to me, and since had every ingredient I needed already at home, it was just a matter of time before I baked them.

But I spent a good week debating.  After all, with that kind of warning, I was scared.  I certainly didn’t want to eat the entire tray.  Then again, if I did, wouldn’t I only be following instructions?

I’m usually a lazy brownies-out-of-the-box kind of girl, with the exception of Blondies, which is the brown sugar version I most often make.  But the technique of the recipe reminded me of the Blondies (soon to be featured on the blog), since it started with melting the butter over the stove.  The recipes featured in the cover story were all about using unsweetened cocoa powder to make better chocolate desserts, and considering my love for dark chocolate, I had to give one a try.

I was warned that I would eat the entire tray

I cut the original recipe’s sugar down a bit, but not enough to change the consistency of the batter.  I also substituted pecan pieces for the original recipe’s walnuts, and ended up having to add 15 minutes to the original recipe’s baking time.

Browned butter brownies

Recipe adapted from the Bon Appétit recipe for Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts

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Ingredients

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (spooned into cup to measure, then leveled)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, chilled
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • 1 cup pecan pieces

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Line an 8”x8”x2” pan with aluminum foil, allowing the foil to hang over the edges of the pan by about 1 inch.  Coat the foil with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Stir constantly for about 5 minutes and remove from heat when butter stops foaming and small browned bits begin to form on the bottom of pan.
  3. Immediately add the sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, water and salt.
  4. Allow mixture to cool for 5 minutes.  Then add eggs, one at a time, stirring until each is combined into the batter.
  5. Add the flour and stir until combined, about 80 strokes.
  6. Add the pecan pieces, and pour into pan.
  7. Bake about 40 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out nearly clean (with only a few crumbs attached).
  8. Allow to cool in the pan, and remove by lifting the sides of the foil.  Cut into 16 squares.  Store airtight at room temperature.

Verdict: I did not eat the entire tray.  I ate three brownies; two right after the batch came out of the oven when the brownies were still warm and gooey, then one later once they had cooled (I had to make sure the final result was the correct consistency, right?)  The brownies were excellent, and now I can never go back to making brownies from a box.  They were that good.

As promised, they were the perfect blend of crispy top and fudgy center.  But the brownies were so rich and chocolatey, I don’t think I could have eaten the whole tray if I tried.  It was like my daily lunchtime dessert of one Dove dark chocolate square—satisfying, and just the right amount.  Unlike milk chocolate which just leaves me wanting more, the brownies were like the dark chocolate in that one small serving satisfied my chocolate craving.  Lucky for me (and everyone else with whom I could now share the brownie tray), I was more in danger of finishing the entire carton of milk.

Nypon Soppa, or Swedish Rose Hip Soup

Nypon soppa is a Swedish dessert soup/drink made with rose hips and typically topped with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or vanilla sauce (vaniljsås).  It’s a dish that brings me instantly back to childhood, when my mom and I could whip up a batch in an instant thanks to the boxes of mix my aunt would send us from Sweden.

The ingredients in nypon soppa are minimal, and yet the fragrant smell of the rose hips can immediately conjure up an image of an abundantly green Swedish forest in summer, full of wild-growing fruits.  With melting ice cream on top, the perfect spoonful combines both the hot floral soup with cool, creamy vanilla.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rose_hip
Wikipedia photo

Key among nypon soppa’s few ingredients are rose hips, which are the fruit of the rose plant that form after the flower has bloomed.  The seeds inside are used to grow a new rose plant, but whole rose hips including the seeds are also used in a variety of other applications including herbal remedies, teas, desserts and drinks. (see Wikipedia entry on rose hips)

Ekströms is a leading brand that makes both instant and premixed refrigerated versions of nypon soppa. (Think the Scandinavian version of instant Jell-O pudding, as far as ease and popularity.)  Every so often I see the box version (in which you just add hot water) at IKEA, but it’s been a while, and I’m guessing probably not one of their top-selling items.

To those who didn’t grow up eating it, it may both sound strange and taste stranger on the first sip.  Jan thought the mixture tasted like pure herbal tea when he first tried it, though an increase in the ice cream-to-soup ratio quickly upped the dish’s standing in his mind.

Many years ago, when my mom and I had run out of box mixes, we successfully recreated a close relative of nypon soppa that was my childhood favorite: kräm.  Kräm is a thicker version (more like a pudding than a soup), more often made with strawberries or raspberries, heated, and topped with ice cold milk.  We made the pudding with fresh strawberries, sugar, and potato starch.  However, since potato starch isn’t always easy to find, we decided that corn starch could probably be used in its place.

Back to the present day and missing the familiar taste of nypon soppa, my dad set out to devise his own recipe.  Once the rose hips were sourced, it couldn’t get much simpler: add water, sugar and cornstarch, and then cook until thickened.

Rose hips can be purchased at Whole Foods, and more economically on Amazon.com.  You can by the flakes or the powder, as both have been made from dried rose hips.  With the flakes, you will have to grind them yourself, but you will be rewarded with a fresher taste (just like grinding your own spices).

At a recent family dinner, my dad prepared nypon soppa for both sides of the family (except for Jan, all of Jan’s side had never had it before).  After one bite, my father-in-law was quickly reminded of picking rose hips in the Czech Republic many years before. Despite the taste being different from the usual dessert, he gave it his full approval, as did everyone else.

Nypon soppa

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Ingredients

  • 1 quart water
  • 3 tablespoons rose hip powder
  • 6 tablespoons corn starch
  • 6 tablespoons sugar

Directions

  1. Grind rose hips into a fine powder using a spice grinder and measure out 3 tablespoons.
  2. Combine ground rose hips with sugar and starch.
  3. Pour into a saucepan that has been filled with cold water and stir until dissolved.
  4. Heat over low to medium heat until mixture thickens, about 10-15 minutes.
  5. Pour into bowls and serve hot, topped with vanilla ice cream.

Snow-Capped Macaroons and Mountains

Ever since I made the German chocolate cupcakes for our Noktoberfest party (see post Lederhosen and Lebkuchen), I’ve had an abundance of sweetened shredded coconut in my pantry. Since I’m not usually a fan of coconut and the shredded coconut isn’t a regular pantry staple at our house, I’ve been looking for something else to make with all the leftover coconut besides simply making the German chocolate cupcakes again (which was tempting since they were pretty tasty).

And then I came across these Snow-Capped Macaroons on The Bitten Word made from this Food Network Magazine recipe. The cookies looked simple and delicious, and I already had the coconut so I was ready to go.

Too much coconut

Besides, I was inspired by all the snow we were getting in the Sierras and knew it would mean even more great skiing in the days to come. Jan and I already had a few good cross-country and downhill ski days in, and with all the new snow, I knew there would be plenty more in the future. Making cookies that resembled the snowy peaks seemed like the perfect way to welcome more snow.

To make the cookies, I beat egg whites until frothy, added sugar, chopped almonds, vanilla, salt, and the shredded coconut. Atop my new favorite kitchen tool the Silpat mats, I used a tablespoon to measure out the cookie mounds. Then, after dampening my fingers with water, I formed the mounds into little cones.

I baked the cookies until they started to turn golden brown at the edges. After cooling, I used a double-boiler to make the chocolate glaze, and slowly dripped the glaze over the tops of the cookies. Lastly, I substituted the recipe’s sugar crystals for decorating, and instead used some sea salt crystals sparingly (the reason for this was twofold: I didn’t have sugar crystals and didn’t want to go to the store, and secondly, I tasted the cookie and glaze and thought adding even more sugar would make the cookie overly sweet. Thinking back to a holiday potluck I attended in which one person made surprisingly tasty bars with only Lay’s potato chips and white chocolate chips, I thought these cookies could also benefit from the salty/sweet combination. As I was experimenting, I left half the cookies plan with no salt/decoration, and did the other half topped with a few sea salt crystals. I used friends and family to taste-test the cookies side by side for the next few days, with the salt-topped cookies the clear winner over the plain ones.)

Mountains of snow!

Chewy but with a firm but flexible chocolate crust on the outside, the cookies tasted as good as they looked. Jan described them as tasting like a Mounds candy bar, so I was pleased.

The next day, I took some of the cookies in my backpack for another cross-country skiing adventure. Jan and I departed from the Tamarack Ridge Trailhead, about 10 miles north of Shaver Lake in the Sierra National Forest. Because the snow was fresh, deep and powdery, it wasn’t long before the groomed trail ended, and then after that, not even the snowmobiles could traverse the trails. So, about mid-thigh deep in snow, we made the path that looped back to the trailhead ourselves, and it was certainly a workout. But being out in the forest, hearing only the sounds of snow crunching under our ski poles, the beauty and serenity we were able to experience was worth the work. When I remembered it was time for a snack, the Snow-Capped Macaroons were just the thing to keep us going for the rest of the miles.

Skiing snack time

Snow-capped macaroons

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Ingredients

Cookies

  • 2 large egg whites
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup sliced almond slivers
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups sweetened shredded coconut

Glaze

  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Sea salt crystals, for decorating

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 F degrees.
  2. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
  3. Lightly beat egg whites in a medium bowl until frothy. Stir in sugar, almonds, vanilla and salt, then fold in coconut.
  4. Use a tablespoon to drop batter into mounds 1 inch apart. Dampen hands with water to form into pointed mounds.
  5. Bake until edges are golden brown and the edges look dry, about 16-20 minutes.
  6. let cool 10 minutes on the baking sheets before transferring to a baking rack to cool completely.
  7. Make the glaze by using a double-boiler to melt chocolate, corn syrup and butter together.
  8. Use a spoon to drizzle the glaze over the tops of the macaroons, so that it drips down the sides in several directions.
  9. Sprinkle the tops sparingly with sea salt crystals.
  10. Refrigerate until the glaze sets, about 1 hour. Store in an airtight container up to one week. Makes 36 cookies.

Blueberry-Cream Cheese Dumplings

Since Jan and I both love a good sale, sometimes we come home with a lot of a certain ingredient. Because it was such a good deal, right? This week it was blueberries, and after deciding on French toast topped with blueberries for breakfast, I pondered what my next blueberry dish should be. And then the answer literally fell right in front of me. Opening up the refrigerator to get the butter for frying my French toast, out tumbled a package of light cream cheese. Continue reading

Delicious chocolate strawberries

I’m starting to get the feeling that summer is winding down, which means stocking up on strawberries while they’re still abundant at the grocery store. However, this also means that I sometimes have more strawberries than I know what to do with. So I made one of my favorite desserts, which I love because it is so simple to make, requires only two ingredients (strawberries and chocolate chips), but feels like a rich treat.

They don’t look as refined as the ones I’ve seen from those Edible Arrangements franchises popping up everywhere lately, but I think their amateur appearance makes the chocolate covered strawberries I made taste even more delicious.

I took fresh strawberries, rinsed them, and patted them dry with paper towels. Since I didn’t have a double boiler, I fashioned my own improvised one by filling a small saucepan about a half-inch high with water and setting a quart-sized Pyrex inside.

I slowly melted a handful of dark chocolate and milk chocolate chips (about 70 percent dark chocolate chips, 30 percent milk chocolate chips) over low-medium heat. The most important step here is not to rush and to keep stirring—don’t leave the chocolate unattended. If you’re doing a small batch, it should be melted quickly.

When the chocolate was melted, I removed the entire pan/Pyrex from the stove top, and used a silicone brush (usually used for brushing barbecue sauce on ribs in our house) to brush the chocolate onto the strawberries.

The chocolate was nearly hardened 10 minutes later, but I did sneak a few while they were still a little warm and melty.