Fresh pumpkin tart for Thanksgiving

Gingersnap pumpkin tart
Gingersnap pumpkin tart

Most years, I reach for a can of pumpkin puree when I’m baking Thanksgiving pies. This fall, though, the cute little Sugar Pie pumpkins called out to me from their bins at the market.

They’re locally grown, organic and perfectly packaged – the only waste goes straight into the compost bin. Plus they really do taste better, with a lovely, delicate flavor unsullied by tin can undertones. I’ve become a convert.

Preparing these little pumpkins isn’t that difficult: Split them in half vertically, scrape out the seeds, and bake them in a 400-degree oven for about an hour, until a knife easily pierces the skin. Let them cool a bit, scoop out the pulp and whirl in a food processor and you’re set. You could mash the pulp with a potato masher or put it through a ricer, but the processor makes a smoother puree for pies.

Although the tiniest pumpkins are appealing, look for one around 3 pounds or more. The 5 pounder I baked yielded almost 5 cups of puree.

Such luscious, fresh-tasting puree calls for something more special than my usual pie. So I created a new tart recipe that contrasts the pure pumpkin flavor of a silky custard with the dark and spicy character of a crisp gingersnap cookie crust. Continue reading Fresh pumpkin tart for Thanksgiving

A persimmon to love

Fuyu persimmons
Fuyu persimmons

The sight of brilliant orange persimmons dangling from the branches of virtually leafless trees always makes me smile.

For years, though, the memory of that one shockingly tannic, under-ripe persimmon I had bitten into during junior high led me to think of the beautiful fall fruit as little more than nature’s holiday ornaments. They were attractive displayed in a bowl or arranged in a centerpiece but I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to eat them.

Then I joined a community garden with a bountiful persimmon tree and decided to give the fruit another chance. What a difference a variety makes! These were Fuyus, nearly as crisp as an apple, spicy and sweet even when not completely ripe. They were great for eating out of hand or tossing in a salad. Continue reading A persimmon to love

Side dishes fit for a feast

Like most cooks, I have Thanksgiving on my mind these days. The quintessential American food holiday deserves plenty of advance planning and this year will be a bit more tricky than usual since we’ll be cooking at my dad’s home in Washington state. Shopping at unfamiliar stores and working in someone else’s kitchen is a recipe for cooking challenges.

I’m not that worried about the turkey. After experimenting with numerous ways of cooking the bird, including brining, I’ve come to the conclusion that only two things really matter: The bird must be fresh and hormone-free and it shouldn’t spend too much time in the oven. When a thermometer stuck into the inner thigh reads 165-170 degrees, it’s done.

As far as I’m concerned, the feast is all about the side dishes. Continue reading Side dishes fit for a feast

Brussels sprouts at their best

Sometimes it just takes one extraordinary dish to revise my opinion of an ingredient. Until I tasted the amazing Brussels sprouts salad at the original Pizza Antica while doing a restaurant review several years ago, I had written off the little cabbage-like sprouts.

All my experience had taught me that they were bitter, smelly and best avoided. Usually boiled before serving, they were the side dish to be skipped in cafeterias and restaurants or pushed aside like so many soggy green ping-pong balls.

But the salad was owner and chef Gordon Drysdale‘s signature dish. Everyone raved about it Continue reading Brussels sprouts at their best