Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ice Cream # 8: Pumpkin

The first time I had pumpkin ice cream was at the Nut Tree in Vacaville, CA. If you grew up in northern California, chances are you went there too. For those that are unfamiliar, the Nut Tree began in 1921 as a roadside fruit stand and evolved over time to become a mini amusement park which attracted families for generations. As kids, every fall my family would make our way to the Nut Tree and ride the train and explore the pumpkin patch. Each year we had our picture taken sitting on a hay bail or posing next to a scarecrow (the incriminating photos still exist). But hay bails and scarecrows aside, the highlight of course was pumpkin ice cream! 

I remember being overjoyed at the big scoop of pale orange colored ice cream. Like most kids, my eyes were bigger than my stomach, so I had a hard time finishing it all. Such pressure, as I knew I wouldn't taste it again until the next fall! Though the Nut Tree is no longer in the same incarnation I knew as a kid, some relics still remain. It's been many years since I've had pumpkin ice cream, in fact, the last time I had it may have been at the Nut Tree. 

You can roast the pumpkin yourself or use canned pumpkin. I used a combination of both, as I had some leftover pumpkin puree I froze from a couple months ago. This ice cream is SO good and made me feel like a kid again. The medley of spices give this ice cream  so much flavor, it's basically pumpkin pie in the form of ice cream. A yummy seasonal treat to enjoy all fall and winter long!

Adapted from David Lebovitz, and Karen DeMasco & Mindy Fox, The Craft of Baking 

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. freshly grated ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom 
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cups pumpkin puree (canned or homemade- see notes below)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 to 2 tsps. Grand Marnier, rum, or brandy (optional)

Start by making an ice bath: place some ice and a cup or two of water in a large bowl and place another slightly smaller metal bowl inside it. Place a fine-mesh strainer over the top and set aside.

In a medium size saucepan, mix the milk, cream, granulated sugar, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, and salt. Heat the mixture over low heat until hot and the edges  begin to bubble. Remove from heat.

In a medium size bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Gradually whisk in half of the hot milk mixture, whisking constantly. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the warmed yolks mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom to prevent sticking. Cook until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spatula (if using an instant-read thermometer, it should read between 160-170 degrees F).

Immediately pour the mixture through the fine-mesh strainer into the metal bowl set inside the ice bath. Stir in the brown sugar, pumpkin, vanilla extract, and liquor (if using). Stir until the mixture is cool and remove from ice bath. Place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard and another sheet over the entire bowl. Refrigerate for several hours, preferably overnight. 

Place a fine-mesh strainer over an ice cream maker and pour the pumpkin custard into the machine (you may need to use a rubber spatula to work it through). Process according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer ice cream to plastic containers and freeze until ready to use. 

  • If you plan to make the pumpkin puree yourself, look for "sugar" or "pie" pumpkins, which are ideal for roasting/eating (steer clear of the large Halloween carving pumpkins). Using a large kitchen knife, cut off the pumpkin stem and the base. Split the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds (save for roasting later) and discard the pulp. Line a sheet pan with foil and lightly grease with olive oil. Place the pumpkin cut-side down and roast at 400 degrees F, until the skins begin to blister and the flesh is very soft, about 45 to 55 minutes, depending on size. Let the pumpkin cool, scoop out flesh and puree in a food processor until smooth. 
  • If using canned pumpkin, be sure to buy 100% pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling which has sugar and spices already added.
  • This ice cream takes well to many different toppings, such as: chopped toasted walnuts or pecans, candied ginger, and crumbled gingersnap or gingerbread cookies. You can also fold these toppings into the ice cream itself.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Acorn Squash Soup

There are some dishes you make that are so special they become tradition and their taste becomes synonymous with family, friends, and good eating. Not to get sappy, but this acorn squash soup has become just that. Sometimes the simplest things are the best. The original recipe comes from family friend, Marion Hover, which she complied from a number of recipes. I emailed her for the recipe in college and have been making it ever since. It has now become a staple at our yearly Dia de los Muertos dinner. Nearly everyone has come to expect it and they're disappointed if I don't make it. I always make extra to have on hand for those wintry nights, when all you want to do is hunker down and be comforted by a delicious bowl of soup.

I love the use of curry powder in this soup. In a way, it makes acorn squash taste more like acorn squash but without overpowering the entire soup. Most people don't even know it's in there, but it adds a great flavor. The crème fraiche garnish makes for a lovely presentation and it's fun for the cook to test their drawing skills. I once attempted piping a skull onto the surface of the soup for Day of the Dead, but it came out looking more like a Salvador Dali painting gone awry. I've stuck to a simple swirl here, but feel free to get creative. If I remember correctly, Marion made this soup for my brother and sister-in-law's engagement dinner and piped hearts onto each bowl of soup. Have fun with it!

I always think this soup tastes better the following day. So if you're serving it for company, make it the day before and refrigerate overnight. Simply reheat on the stovetop before dinner. This is a fall and winter soup that is sure to please! A great option to serve before Thanksgiving dinner too. I'm so excited to share this recipe with everyone and hope you enjoy! 

Adapted from Marion Hover


For the soup:
4 acorn squash
2 tbsp. butter
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 tsp. garlic, minced
½ tsp. curry
½ tsp. ginger
½ tsp. nutmeg (fresh if you have it)
7 to 8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
½ cup half & half
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For the crème fraiche garnish (optional):
1/2 cup crème fraiche
2 tbsp. half & half or milk
1 tsp. brown sugar
A dash of cinnamon

For the soup:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut squash in half and seed (save the seeds and toast them later). Drizzle a little olive oil on two foil-lined sheet pans. Place the squash cut-side down on the pans and cook for 40 to 50 min until skins have blistered and squash is soft to the touch. Cool and peel off outer skin. Roughly chop the squash and set aside.

In a large Dutch oven or stainless steel pot, melt the butter and saute the chopped onions over medium heat, until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add curry, ginger, nutmeg, chopped squash, and chicken stock (or vegetable stock). Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Remove soup from heat and let cool slightly.

Puree the soup in a blender (or use a stick-blender). Pour through a fine mesh strainer back into the Dutch oven or large pot. Return the soup to a simmer, add half and half and season to taste with salt and pepper. If the soup appears too thick, thin it with a little more stock until you've reached the desired consistency. Serve immediately or make ahead and reheat.

For the crème fraiche garnish:
In a small bowl, whisk ingredients together until creamy. Spoon a dollop onto each serving of soup or place in a piping bag or small zip-top bag, snip the end, and pipe a design onto the surface of the soup. Keep refrigerated until ready to use. 

Yield: About 3 quarts

  • Feel free to substitute other winter squash for the acorn squash. Sometimes I like to use a combination of acorn and butternut etc. This soup is very versatile so feel free to play around a bit.
  • For a vegan alternative, substitute the half and half for coconut cream or coconut milk. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cranberry Apple Oat Bran Muffins

A couple weeks ago I made these cranberry oat bran muffins for a “heart healthy” themed brunch. Initially I was supposed to make “butter-free heart-healthy biscuits.” WHAT?! A paradox I say! How do you make a decent biscuit without butter? You don’t. I eventually settled on the oat bran muffins you see before you, which I think are more fitting for the occasion.

The original recipe for these muffins comes from Stephanie Jaworski, from her website, Joy of Baking. I’ve added fresh cranberries and apples for a seasonal twist. Don’t look for oat bran (not to be confused with wheat bran) in the baking aisle, as I did, because you won’t find it! It’s usually located in the cereal aisle or bulk-food section in most grocery stores.

I know a lot of people think oat bran sounds healthy and thus not delicious. Wrong! I must admit, even I was surprised! These muffins are moist, light, and especially delicious warm right out of the oven. With only 2 tbsp. of oil for the entire batch, they’re healthy to boot! A great fiber-rich breakfast or brunch treat to enjoy along side a cup of Joe.

Adapted from Stephanie Jaworski, Joy of Baking

1 cup whole wheat flour (plus 1 tbsp. for tossing with the fruit)
1 cup oat bran
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. grated orange zest
1 large egg, lightly beaten
¼ cup mild flavored honey or unsulphured molasses
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 tbsp. canola oil
1¼ cup whole milk
1/2 cup fresh cranberries, washed, stems removed
1/2 cup granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch pieces

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. and position an oven rack to the center of the oven. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners or spray with non-stick vegetable spray. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine 1 cup of flour, oat bran, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and orange zest. Whisk to blend.

In a medium size bowl, whisk together the egg, honey or molasses, vanilla extract, oil, and milk.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined. In a small bowl, toss the cranberries and apple cubes with 1 tbsp. whole wheat flour to coat. Gently fold the fruit into the muffin batter (don’t worry if the batter seems a bit thin).

Evenly ladle the batter into the prepared muffin cups and bake for 16 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean. Remove pan from oven and place on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Invert the pan to remove the muffins to finish cooling on the wire rack.

Yield: about 12 standard-size muffins

  • Oat bran is the outer casing of the oat and is a great source of soluble fiber.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Persimmon Salsa

Who says fresh salsa has to be limited to the summer? Here’s a quick and easy recipe for persimmon salsa, which can be made throughout the fall and winter months. Fuyu persimmons (not to be mistaken for the larger, tannic hachiya persimmons, typically used in baking) are the smaller squatty variety and make a lovely addition to autumn inspired salsas, chutneys, and salads. If you’ve passed persimmons in your local market lately wondering what to do with them, wonder no more!

I made this salsa for a dinner party a couple weeks ago and it was a big hit. It’s bright, fresh, and bursting with flavor. The chopped persimmons have a somewhat similar texture to tomatoes. They’re not too sweet and blend nicely with the other typical ingredients found in salsa. This is a great make-ahead option for upcoming holiday parties. Feel free to play around with this recipe. It’s great with the addition of corn, chilies, or mango. The possibilities are endless!


2 Fuyu persimmons, diced
Half a red onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 tbsp. roughly chopped cilantro
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice of half a lime
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium size bowl and stir to combine. Taste to adjust seasonings. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Yield: About 3 cups 

  • This salsa is a great condiment for grilled fish too!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Pumpkin Crème Brulée

I apologize for the intermittent posts- I’ve been without Internet for a couple of weeks. Here is an awesome recipe for pumpkin crème brulée. I first saw this recipe in the November 2008 edition of Bon Appétit and have been dying to try it ever since! Last Christmas, Aaron gave me a mini culinary torch (yes, I’m just now getting around to making crème brulée after having the torch for nearly a year). After trying this recipe, I don’t know why it took me so long to use it! Of course, you can always use the broiler to create the famously sugary crust crème brulée is known for, but a torch is so much more fun!

Pumpkin crème brulée is a wonderful alternative to pumpkin pie. In my family, we have pumpkin pie at both Thanksgiving and Christmas, so this crème brulée is a great way to switch it up (although, meddling with tradition can sometimes get the cook in trouble). I made this for desert at a dinner party a couple nights ago and I think it may have been the highlight of the whole meal! A few of us took turns trying out the torch and discovered our own methods for melting the sugar.

Cracking the sugary surface of crème brulée is a sacred act in itself, but when you find velvety pumpkin custard just beneath, it takes it to a whole new level. I particularly love the use of cardamom in this recipe. It blends beautifully with the other spices and creates a flavorful custard that melts in your mouth. Pumpkin pie, lookout, you’ve got some competition!

Recipe from Bon Appétit, November 2008

1 15-oz. can pure pumpkin
½ cup sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
5 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cardamom
¼ tsp. ground allspice
¼ tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. salt
3 cups heavy whipping cream
About 8 tbsp. raw sugar (such as Turbinado) or light brown sugar
8 5x1-inch oven-proof ramekins (see notes below)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, sugar, and light brown sugar. Whisk in the egg yolks, vanilla extract, spices and salt. In a small saucepan, bring the cream just to a boil. Gradually whisk the hot cream into the pumpkin mixture. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove any lumps.

Evenly ladle the mixture between eight 5x1-inch ramekins. Divide the ramekins between 2 large roasting pans. Add enough hot water to the pans to come halfway up the ramekins (to create a bain-marie). Slide the pans into the oven, being careful not to get any water in the pumpkin custard. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the centers are just set. Let the custards cool at room temperature before transferring to a sheet pan, covering with plastic wrap, and placing in the refrigerator. Chill until cold, about 6 hours or overnight (can be made 2 days ahead).

Sprinkle enough raw sugar over the pumpkin custards to form an even layer. Using a kitchen torch, slowly melt the sugar until it becomes a deep amber (you can also use the broiler method: evenly sprinkle the tops of each custard with light brown sugar- not raw sugar-  and place directly under the broiler until the tops turn a deep amber). Refrigerate for 15 minutes to allow the sugar to harden (can be done 1 hour ahead. Chill until ready to use).

Yield: makes 8 crème brulée

  • You can also make this recipe using 3-inch-diameter ramekins with 1¼-inch-high sides. Bake the custards for about 50 minutes.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sunchoke Soup

Last week, with hurricane Sandy quickly approaching, I tried to use up most of our food in case we lost power. At a time like that, what could be more comforting than a warm bowl of soup? With a bag of sunchokes on the counter just begging to be used, sunchoke soup was the perfect choice. Sunchokes, or Jerusalem artichokes (they are neither artichokes nor are they from Jerusalem. They're the root of a variety of sunflower and look a bit like ginger root) are in season from the fall to early spring. If you've never had sunchokes before, they taste like a cross between artichokes and sunflower seeds. Sunchokes make a beautiful soup which is incredibly flavorful and has a unique nutty and earthy quality.

While at the farmers market, I heard so many people say, "Sunchokes? But what do you do with them?" Sunchokes are extremely versatile and the simplest answer to that question is that they can be cooked in the same ways as you would potatoes. In addition, they can be shaved and eaten raw in salads. Don't be discouraged if they look like a pain to peel. Sure, they might take a little longer to peel than a potato or carrot, but it's worth it!

Aaron's sister, Amy, and our friend Caitlin stayed with us at our apartment during hurricane Sandy, as they lived in potential flood zones, or areas which later lost power. Together, we hunkered down and enjoyed this soup along with some homemade beer bread just before the storm hit. Little did we know how bad it was going to be. My heart goes out to everyone affected by the devastation of hurricane Sandy. At times like these I'm especially proud to be a New Yorker. People from every walk of life have come together to help those in need. Let's all hope for a quick recovery!


2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. butter
1 1/2 lb. sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes), peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces 
1 leek (white and pale green parts only), chopped 
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. thyme, minced (plus extra for garnish)
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tbsp. cream 

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the leeks and onions and saute over medium-high heat until the onions are translucent (adjust heat to avoid browning), about 5 minutes. Add the thyme and garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Pour in the stock and add the sunchokes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover the pot, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and simmer for 45 minutes or until the sunchokes are soft. Set aside to cool.

Puree the soup using a stick blender or food processor (for the latter, puree in batches), until smooth and creamy. Return the soup to the stove and bring to a simmer. Stir in the cream and season to taste with salt and pepper. Taste to adjust seasonings. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with thyme leaves and a drizzle of olive oil. 

Yield: 6 servings 


  • Sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes) can be found at farmers markets or at well-stocked grocery stores.