Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pumpkin Brulee Pie --

I’ve done it again. Or rather, I’ve not done it – AGAIN! Taken pictures of food. We grow, harvest, cook and eat, but always, in the midst of wine and men and women, and laughter and conversation, I forget to get the digital camera out and record it for posterity, or at least for Grow It Eat It. Sorry. HOWEVER, I do have a great recipe to share that I made from our compost-heap-produced heirloom French cheese pumpkins (blog post 10/2/13):

Pumpkin Brluee Pie. Ive got a link incorporated, so you can get a visual (which is actually very similar to what would have been our visual had I had the camera and just a little less chardonnay).

The recipe that the link links to is bruleed pumpkin bourbon maple pie, which is slightly different from what I made, but I've noted what I did below. In any case, it’s really all very easy, and such fun – candlelight, good company (audience) and a Bernz-o-matic blow torch – what more can you ask from Thanksgiving dinner?

The pie (as I do it) starts with an heirloom French cheese pumpkin (Curcurbita moschata). Cut one in half, which, depending on size, usually requires a hefty knife and some elbow grease  (be careful, you have to be patient and keep working it side to side to get all the way through without slipping and cutting off vital bits of yourself). Scoop out the seeds, which you can save and replant next year or put in the compost for a shot at next year's serendipitous growth. Turn the halves cut-side down to on a high-sided baking sheet (there will be a fair amount of moisture sloshing around when it’s finished cooking and you don't want it sloshing all over the bottom of the oven).  Roast at 350F for anywhere from 50 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on size. It should be soft to the touch. Cool enough to handle and scoop out all of the flesh into a sieve over a bowl to let it drain. (Have a cup of tea or read a magazine for about 15 minutes while it's doing this). Once the roasted pulp has drained, put it into a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Or you can use elbow grease again and do it by hand with a masher followed by a whip as though you were whipping cream to get the pulp really smooth. Then use the pulp as you would canned pumpkin. This sounds like a lot of work, but it's not nearly so labor intensive as all these words make it sound and the result is MUCH more flavorful than canned. Working time is about 15 minutes total.).

Now for the recipe:

You can easily use the recipe in the link. I only use it as a guide and make alterations. For example, I don’t do chocolate crust, which sounds revolting to me (but maybe that’s just me), and instead pre-bake a regular pie crust so it will be completely crispy and done all the way through instead of doughy-and-disgustingly uncooked on the bottom, which is what usually happens when you throw pumpkin filling into an uncooked shell.  

For the filling: Mix 1 ½ cups of the roasted pureed pumpkin with 3 eggs,  ¾ cup brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp powdered ginger and about ¼ tsp nutmeg, ¼ cup bourbon, and about ¼ cup whipping cream. I throw it all into the food processor, which makes it easy and you don’t even have to clean the machine between pureeing the pumpkin and mixing the filling.  Pour the filling into the pie shell and bake at 325 for nearly an hour or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean (as you do with custard).

Now for the fun part:
Spread about 1/3-1/2 cup demerara sugar evenly overtop the slightly cooled pie (give it about 30-45 minutes out of the oven).  Then take the pie and the Bernz-o-matic, which you entrust to a reliable (sober) person to the table. In my case, our sober reliable person was our grown son who promised not to brulee anything besides the pie (and didn't).

To Brulee:

Light the Bernz-o-matice, adjust to medium low, and pass the flame over the sugar. Don’t let it linger too long on one spot and continue until the entire top is a melted and has turned into a crusted golden-bronze glaze of sugar. Dramatic and delicious. Cut with a sharp knife and serve with whipped cream. Ooohs and aaahs ensue.
And it all started with a lowly gift from the  compost.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Last three tomato reviews

Bob Nixon has posted three more reviews on his personal blog about tomato varieties he trialed in Tomato Patch 2013: Burpee grafts (Rutgers, Mortgage Lifter, Brandywine Pink), Delizia Hybrid (Cooks Garden), and Grandpa Henry's, a Maryland family heirloom. If you grew any of these varieties, please share your experience by posting your comments on his blog. These are the last three of his six tomato reviews.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thankful For Sharing Our Harvest

Guest post by Robin Ritterhoff (my co-leader for vegetables at the Derwood Demo Garden).

As the Derwood Demonstration Garden’s growing season has come to an end, we are thankful for the past season of production, camaraderie and learning. And we are so grateful for our growing partnership with Montgomery County’s food bank - our contributions of just-harvested vegetables have reached 668 pounds for 2013.

Listening to our food bank partners, we’ve learned to bag veggies as we harvest in family-sized quantities so they can be distributed the same day.  We’re thrilled that our heirloom tomatoes, beans, greens and root vegetables may be gracing our neighbors’ table just a few hours after we harvested them – what could be more rewarding for vegetable gardeners? Our partners have also taught us how to use what we grow better – for example, encouraging us to harvest the greens as well as the roots of our sweet potatoes. How delighted we were when West African- and Taiwan-born neighbors reveled in the sweet potato greens we gave them, a favorite food from home. Hunger is a hidden, but prevalent problem in Montgomery County, even though the U.S. Census identified our county as the United States’ 11th wealthiest in December 2012. Nearly a third of Montgomery County’s public school students qualify for a free or reduced price meal, an indication of the income disparities in our community.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Side yard garden with critter fence

Finding the best spot for a home food garden can be a challenge. The backyard is usually the location of choice but may be too shady, sloped, wet, etc. There has been a small but growing movement to convert front yards to vegetable gardens and edible landscapes. A few years ago a neighbor created an attractive side yard vegetable and herb garden that blends nicely into the landscape. It’s a wonderful example of how to make a yard more interesting, beautiful, and useful!

 The two-part fence- wire mesh at the bottom for rabbits and groundhogs, and black deer netting at the top- is supported by pieces of bamboo. The fence is only about 5 ft. tall which makes it less noticeable and more in scale with the house and landscape. There are many deer in the neighborhood but none have jumped in, perhaps because the garden is small and right next to the house.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Purple sweet potato pie

Finally a dessert recipe in which the purple of my sweet potatoes really shines.

Recipe based on this one: Stokes Purple Sweet Potato Pirate Pie. I've changed some ingredients and have suggestions for other changes.

Purple Pie


2 cups purple sweet potatoes, baked and mashed or pureed
1/2 cup sugar (or less if you prefer)
1/2 cup whole milk or cream or coconut milk (a little more might help with mixing)
2 Tbsp rum (or water or juice)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp cornstarch (less probably works; the final texture was a bit gummy)
3 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground mace
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1 prepared chocolate pie crust (or graham cracker, or make your own)

Prepare the sweet potatoes (about 3 medium) ahead of time. Rinse and gently scrub to remove soil. Bake 50-60 minutes in a 400 degree oven; pierce with fork first to prevent bursting. (Obviously the length of time varies depending on the size of the potato. Best to do this the day before.) When cooled, remove skins and mash with a potato ricer, or you can put them in the food processor to get a really smooth texture.

When ready to make the pie, preheat oven to 325. Measure out 2 cups of mashed sweet potatoes. In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs, rum, vanilla and milk. Add the sugar and mix well. Add the sweet potatoes and mix thoroughly.

In a small bowl mix together all the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and incorporate.

Fill the pie crust, smooth down the top, and bake 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool and eat either at room temperature or refrigerated (with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream if you like).

Note: these are really dense-fleshed sweet potatoes. I found that I had to use the food processor to remove all the lumps, which probably adds to the gumminess of the final product, but cutting down the cornstarch might help with that. Contrary to my previous experience with pumpkin or even orange sweet potato pie, I was plopping the batter into the pie crust with a big spoon rather than ladling or pouring it, and it was hard to tell for sure when it was completely cooked because it started out just as thick as when it was done.

Nevertheless, it tasted great. The chocolate crust and cocoa additions were my idea; going by the cacao-roasted sweet potato recipe I posted before, I knew that chocolate pairs well with the purple sweet potatoes, and it worked here too. Obviously you can use another type of crust if you prefer, and eliminate the cocoa (that would also make the purple color pop more). This recipe should also work fine with orange sweet potatoes.

My only other baking experience with these since the purple-turned-green cake has been muffins in which I tried adding some yogurt and lemon juice to balance the alkalinity of the baking powder. Except the recipe used molasses for sweetening, which turned the muffins a brown that looked just like chocolate but didn't taste like it, completely disguising whatever color they would have been otherwise. I'll try again with white sugar or honey. But I think pie is the best bet, really.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Reviews of three tomato varieties

Bob Nixon has posted three reviews on his personal blog about three tomato varieties he trialed in Tomato Patch 2013:  SuperSauce (Burpee) and Cherokee Chocolate and Solid Gold (both Tomato Growers Supply Co.).  If you grew any of these varieties, please share your experience by posting your Comments on his blog.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

What's for dinner?

My daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren are coming over for dinner tonight, so it's time to run out to the fall garden and pick dinner.  If you don't subscribe to the HGIC Newsletter, you missed the new video shot and edited October 28 by Dan Adler in my fall garden.  Here's a link to the video on YouTube.  So besides the greens shown in the video, I have a few other vegetables growing, like carrots, turnips and a beautiful purple cauliflower called Graffiti.

I planted the Graffiti transplants August 1.  Graffiti takes about 80 days to reach maturity and adding the so-called short day factor (adding 14 days to the maturity time), is ready to harvest in early November.
 So, dinner will be a lettuce and arugula salad, venison tenderloin marinated in red wine, olive oil and garlic, roasted carrots, butternut squash, last of the spring Yukon Gold potatoes and baby turnips. 
 With a good bottle of Rioja I brought back from a recent trip to Spain, it will be a delicious evening. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Your non-food gardening Thanksgiving guests might not jump up and down with excitement – or even RSVP – if you tell them that root vegetables will be the theme for this years’ side dishes!  So don’t tell them. Just tell them that they’re in for a sensory extravaganza! We’ll even throw in a butternut squash and a Swiss chard recipe.

 Curried Butternut Squash Soup 

This savory and creamy concoction is so delicious it will make you want to forgo the turkey and fixins and just dive in! You can substitute cooked pumpkin for the squash. An added bonus – it’s really simple!  

Pureed Parsnips

In the Grow It Eat It blog, Lena Rotenberg talks about My Love-hate relationship with parsnips.  Have YOU ever heard anyone rave about parsnips?  Neither have I.  So I figured they weren't worth even trying.  WRONG! I steamed a pound of them for 6 minutes or so, pureed them with a little butter, S&P, and ground coriander.  OMG! They were awesome with lamb chops. 
Recipe from Real Simple Magazine.
Consider serving them instead of mashed potatoes or at least substituting some in place of those same ole spuds.  They are about ½ as many calories and carbs as white potatoes-but don’t tell anyone until after the compliments start pouring in! 

Sweet n Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes  

Try this trick and you’ll never go back to sweet potato casserole unless it’s for dessert. Peel and cut sweet potatoes into long wedges or 2” chunks.  Toss with olive oil to cover and spread on foil covered cookie sheet. Liberally sprinkle on Montreal Steak Seasoning (no kidding!) and bake at 400 F for about 30-40 minutes or until lightly browned and caramelized. OMG, the combination of sweet, spicy, and tangy just can't be beat.

Swiss Chard Swiss Chard Spanakopita 

Just as tasty as spinach or better! Just about any type of greens can be used. Master Gardeners gave rave reviews to this recipe made with sweet potato leaves!

Beet Rosti with Rosemary (subtitle: the way I can make it without disaster)

Beets have made a big comeback in the last few years. No longer are they reserved for pickling and hard boiled eggs.  Beet Rosti is a thick pancake, cooked on a low temperature until the beet sugar caramelizes and a crunchy crust forms.  It doesn't exactly replace the cranberry relish on your Thanksgiving table but the color hits the mark.  Erica Smith adapted her recipe from Mark BittmanAnother option is Apple-Beet Salad. It is light and crisp with apples and spices.

Jon Traunfeld’s Sweet Potato Pie 

This pie is always a winner at HGIC. His secret is using Japanese red sweet potatoes. But don't let their name fool you. The flesh is yellow and very sweet.  It has a more substantial texture than typical supermarket sweet potatoes.

Buon appetito, Pilgrims!