It's a Resolution, Baby!

52 Weeks. 52 New Year's Resolutions.

Week 47. Resolution 47. Try Pumpkin Pie. December 2, 2010

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In America they have a holiday devoted to shopping.  Let me just repeat that.  A holiday.  Devoted to shopping.  Previously retailers disguised their spending spree special occasions under fancy names like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day until one particularly clever (or lazy) marketing team decided to call a spade a spade and so Black Friday, the holiday devoted to shopping, was born.   The only company who seems to lose out on this particular consumerist celebration is Hallmark.  Oh.  Hang on.  What’s this?


That’s right.  A greeting card to apologise for your crazed Black Friday induced breakdown of Shopzilla proportions.  Oh America.  If countries were pop stars you would be Kanye West—bat shit crazy but still completely adorable.


Black Friday falls on the Friday after Thanksgiving and if there’s one thing I’M thankful for it’s that these American traditions have not yet permeated the rest of the western world.  However now that Christmas appears to begin in Australia at the start of November I wouldn’t be entirely against introducing Thanksgiving simply to stave off Christmas until its rightful place in December.


While Thanksgiving is a rough day for turkeys it’s a welcome day for leftover Halloween pumpkins or, sadly, PUMPKINS IN A CAN *shudder* since pumpkin pie is a staple of the Thanksgiving tradition.


If you ask me, pumpkin is the king of all the vegetables.  The Pumpking, if you will.  Sure it’s not as versatile as the trusty potato but it has much more personality.  Like Hamish to Andy or Jerry Lewis to Dean Martin.  You may feel inclined to tell me, as many have, that pumpkin is considered an inferior vegetable in certain countries, only fit for pigs.  But I’m here to tell you you’re wrong.  I did a Google search on this very myth and all I could find was this: So let us never speak of it again and leave my beloved pumpkin alone.


I’ve consumed pumpkin in many forms – baked, roasted, steamed, boiled, pulped, souped, sconed, but oddly never in pie form and so when Thanskgiving rolls around every year I find myself wondering if I’m missing out on something truly wonderful.  Never again shall I wonder now that I’ve made my own and discovered the truth.


Finding a pumpkin pie recipe is a chore in itself since there are so many variations.  I ended up using an amalgamation of four different recipes.  Most recipes are unclear on what type of pumpkin to use so, having recently discovered that Jap pumpkin is far superior to Butternut after believing it to be the opposite for far too many years, I chose a big ol’ Jap pumpkin for mah pie.


First I started (using this recipe), by preparing ‘a stick’ of butter (which is 115 grams), cutting it into cubes and putting them into the freezer for roughly half an hour.  Apparently you want your butter to stay chunky in your pastry to get a nice flaky finish, hence the freezing.  I chose this recipe specifically because it didn’t use shortening (because I don’t really know what that is).


(Incidentally this is the only experience Australians have ever had with a stick of butter …)


Meanwhile I began preparing the pumpkin using this recipe which involved cutting the pumpkin into chunks, deseeding and depulping, and roasting for 45 minutes in a 180 degree oven.  While they were cooking I began on the pastry, using a food processor to combine the ingredients and adding ice cold water until the dough was coarse and crumbly.  I kneaded this into a four inch round disc, sprinkled it with flour and covered it in cling wrap before refrigerating for an hour.  When the pumpkin was done I waited for it to cool before scraping off the skin and using the food processor to liquefy it in batches.  (Ensure your pumpkin isn’t still hot or you may crack the bowl of your processor / blender).  The Jap pumpkin was enough for about six pumpkin pies so I froze the leftover puree.

When the pastry was nice and chilled I removed it from the fridge, letting it sit for ten minutes before preparing it using this recipe (from step 3) rolling and rotating the dough until it was big enough to cover my pie pan, transporting it by folding the dough into quarters making sure the point was in the middle of the pan and pressing the dough down to fit snugly.  I trimmed, tucked and squeezed the edges with my fingers to give a nice rippled effect before refrigerating it for 20 minutes.  I then pricked it all over with a fork, covered it in alfoil and refrigerated for a further 30 minutes.  I wish I could justify all this refrigerating but it’s simply what the recipe said to do.


Then I began to prepare the pie ingredients, combining the pureed pumpkin with spices, condensed milk, egg yolks and whipped egg whites using this recipe because of its stellar reviews.  I then baked the pie crust low in the oven on 200 degrees for 15 minutes with the alfoil, and ten minutes without it to make sure the pie crust didn’t go soggy.  The edges started to burn a little so I covered them with alfoil before adding the pie mixture and baking for 15 minutes.  I then prepared the streusel topping mixing together flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, butter and chopped pecans (the recipe calls for walnuts but I thought pecans might be tastier), combining until crumbly and sprinkling over the pie, cooking for a further 20 minutes or so.  I then jumped back to this recipe letting the pie sit for an hour once the middle wobbled like gelatine because it continues to cook on the bench (and stops your pastry from burning and your mixture from curdling).  Finally I prepared cream to finish (using this recipe) by whipping a cup of cream with a tablespoon of maple syrup.


WOULD YOU BELIEVE THAT… I didn’t like it.  I don’t think the recipe went wrong, although having never tasted it before I had nothing to compare it to, it was simply that I detest cinnamon and nutmeg.  Only the Americans could take something lovely and make it unnecessarily sweet and gross.   Mind you, I did have three pieces just to be sure.


My Mum liked it though, and my Aunt and Uncle said they liked it (but considering there’s still half a pie left in the fridge I’m a little dubious).  I just don’t think the Australian palate is familiar with heavily spiced cuisine.  I probably should have suspected as much considering Thanksgiving, unlike so many other American traditions, has thus far failed to reach our shores.


So thank you America, we’ll keep the pumpkin carving but the pies are all yours. Happy Thanksgiving!


Week 25. Resolution 25. Make preserves. June 29, 2010

Another cooking resolution I hear you say?

Yes.  Ludicrous isn’t it?  But the Gods of Self Improvement have not been kind to me lately and I’m beginning to wonder exactly why Tony Robbins and Dr. Phil have it in for me.

While I’m certain I’ve convinced you of how effortless it is to complete one resolution a week, so much so that you’ve all begun work on your own list for next year,  the truth is this resolution business is not easy, you know?

First of all there’s the scheduling.  Trying to slot the resolutions cosily into the 52 weeks is a logistical nightmare—some are dependent on weather, some are booked out too far in advance, some only fall on days that I work—and lately it feels like I’m being thwarted at every turn.

And time consuming.  Golly gee is it time consuming.  With the researching, the shopping for items, performing the resolutions themselves and making them sound far more interesting than they actually were leaves little room for study or exercise, let alone watching TV and playing Playstation or Wii; unless I can find some way to design a sim to do my resolutions for me.  These days I use to schedule my days to within a minute of their far-too-short life.  I’ve begun declining social invitations in favour of completing resolutions which I think is called ‘missing the point’.  Then there’re the resolutions you don’t even hear about—the ones with outcomes so disappointing I couldn’t include them because, in some cases, to do so would’ve involved attacking someone’s livelihood—meaning there’s times I’ve had to do two in one week.  So yes, it’s pretty tough going.

It’s also expensive and when I first launched my boat out into the resolution waters I did not expect to be so financially challenged, nor to be using such terrible metaphors.  Consequently, this week, I needed a bit of a break which is why making preserves was my life preserver.  (Oh god, who writes this rubbish?)

Everyone loves a preserve, right?  Jams, chutneys, marmalades, butters, curds, ketchups, sauces, salsas and spreads.   Me?  I relish a relish.  I’m jubilant for jam.  Crazy for curd.

As there are only so many empty glass bottles in the world I was limited by what I could make.  Sparing you the boring, lengthy decision making process I decided to make a) Corn Relish and b) Strawberry Jam Essence De Provence which roughly translates as “with vanilla and lavender.”  Set your mouths to water my friends.

Corn relish is so versatile.  I love it on toast with cheese or corned beef.  I always use a whole jar of it in one of my favourite recipes for Peter Russell Clarke’s vegetable parcels (the recipe calls for a tablespoon).  Plus it’s great in muffins.  And if you haven’t tried corn relish dip you haven’t lived heartily.

All corn relish recipes are fairly similar but this is the one I worked from:

First I mixed together the corn, capsicum and onion with sea salt and let it stand for two hours before draining.  Then I chucked the sugar, vinegar, mustard, turmeric and vegies in a saucepan and boiled for 30 mins before thickening with cornflour and bottling.

It turned out okay, although a bit corny for my liking and difficult to slather but I could find nothing on the Internet about how to fix / avoid this.  Still, a pantry full of corn relish makes me one happy lady.

While the corn relish ingredients were standing I started on the jam using this recipe:

After blending the sugar with a chopped vanilla pod and a handful of dried lavender I mixed it with three punnets of washed and quartered strawberries.  These I let sit for four hours while the sugar dissolved.  Next I added the lemon juice and some butter (I’m not sure why this was necessary) and set the lot to boil.  The smell was incredible and I highly suggest everyone make some for the intoxicating scent alone.  When the strawberries were stewed I added some powdered pectin and immediately ladled the mixture into the sterilised bottles.  It was around this point I began to fret because the jam was not setting.  However by the next morning it had become firm.  While disgustingly sweet it is delicious and addictive.

A note on sterilising bottles – first I thoroughly washed the bottles and lids in hot soapy water.  After rinsing I put the bottles in the oven for 20 mins at 120 deg cel, adding the mixtures while they were still warm.  The point of this is to stop mould and bacteria growing to give your condiments a longer shelf life.

That evening there were some harsh words uttered from my parents (not for the first time) about how annoying all this resolution business had become.  I swear I was going to wash up but I was just so tired.  Clearly I’m not the only one feeling the strain.

Regardless, homemade preserves are fun to prepare and make a great gift.  I gave a bottle of jam to some friends and received some mango chutney in return – win!  Now looking for some lemon or passionfruit curd if anyone wants to trade.

For the record, I didn’t get the break I needed, instead I spent the week writing 12 page job applications for positions I’m unlikely to get (but am totally, utterly qualified for if you are reading this prospective employer!  Plus I come with jam and relish!)