Thursday, November 27, 2008

Black and Brown Pecan Pie

Thanksgiving, like many holidays around the world, involves celebration through feasting. For me, these occasions (and many others) center around dessert. What I appreciate about Thanksgiving is that the desserts, like the holiday, are natural, simple and rustic. The focus is on fall harvest ingredients like pumpkins and sweet potatoes. Pecans also fall into this category with a traditional mid-October harvest.

Pecans are indigenous to the United States and Mexico. The name is derived from an Algonquin word meaning a nut requiring a stone to crack. They first came to European attention in the 1600s and were long a delicacy in colonial America. Domestic cultivation did not begin until the 1880s and today the U.S. accounts for over 80% of international production which exceeds 150,000 tons. Georgia leads the nation in terms of pecan production, and is followed by Texas (where it is the state tree), New Mexico and Oklahoma. Pecan trees grow up to 145 feet and can live for 300 years.

Pecan pie is made primarily from corn syrup and pecans. Some claim it was invented by the French in New Orleans, though no recipes of it appear in print prior to 1925. The dish became popularized by the makers of Karo syrup, America’s most popular brand of corn syrup. The company claims that the pie was invented by the wife of a sales executive. Regardless of its origin, it has become an American classic. This is a wonderful and sinful twist on the original. Pecan pie is also a great and easy Christmas dessert.

Serves 8-12

1 pie crust, store-bought or homemade (store in refrigerator overnight)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup light corn syrup or Golden syrup
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/4 cups pecans

1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Remove pie crust from the fridge. Allow to warm slightly or it will crack during preparation.
2. In a large bowl, microwave butter and peanut butter until soft, about 1 minute.
3. Add corn syrup, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla and mix well.
4. Stir in chocolate chips and pecans.
5. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pie crust until it is 10-11 inches in diameter. Draping it over the rolling pin, transfer to a 9-inch pie dish.
6. Pour mixture into crust-lined pan. Crimp the pie crust and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until filling is set.
7. Cool to room temperature before serving. For a gooey pie, serve at room temperature; for a firmer pie, cool in refrigerator overnight and serve cold. Can be served with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Store in refrigerator.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mom's Pound Cake

Pound cake is a traditional English recipe consisting of equal portions (originally one pound) of butter, sugar, eggs and flour. The cake is still common in England where it is often contains dried and candied fruit. It is made in other parts of the world including France (where it is called quartre-quarts meaning four quarters) and Mexico (where it is called panqué and is often made with walnuts or raisins). The traditional recipe used no leaveners and was rich and dense.

This version is adapted from my mom’s recipe. It has half the fat of a traditional pound cake and uses orange juice, generous vanilla extract and citrus zest to give the cake flavor.

Serves 8-10


1 stick unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup orange juice
1 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
zest of a lemon or orange (optional)
raisins, dried cherries, candied fruit and/or sliced almonds (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour a Bundt pan.
2. Using a hand mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, vanilla, orange juice and zest and continue to mix.
3. Add flour and baking powder and mix well.
4. In the pan, distribute dried fruit and nuts around the ring (optional). Scoop batter into pan. It may not look like very much batter but it will rise significantly.
5. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
6. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Gently shake the cake and invert onto a cake plate.
7. Serve on its own or with whipped cream, a dusting of powdered sugar or with butter and jam. Can also be toasted or egg-battered and pan fried.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Lime Shrimp Curry

When I became an omnivore in 2005, after an eleven-year vegetarian period, I eased into it by starting with seafood. Among the most innocuous items in this category are shrimp, especially when they have undergone euphemistic transformation – “peeled” (de-headed and de-tailed) and “deveined” (intestinal removal). Then (and now) I am thankful that shrimp don’t require any dissection in the kitchen or at the table. They can simply be popped into the mouth whole.

Beyond ease of preparation, shrimp are high in protein, calcium and cholesterol, and low in calories. They are used in a wide variety of dishes throughout the world, most notably Spanish paella de marisco, American shrimp cocktail, Thai tom yum soup and Italian-American scampi.

Shrimp are ten-footed, filter-feeding crustaceans that live on or near the ocean floor. In 2005, almost 3.5 million metric tons of shrimp and prawns were harvested from the sea. Shrimp are collected largely through trawling, a system of nets that sweep the oceans and inadvertently catches many non-target species. A study by the Food and Agriculture Organization found that for every pound of shrimp harvested, almost 6 pounds of non-shrimp animals were caught in trawling nets. Since the 1970s, shrimp have also been raised on shrimp farms. Worldwide production in 2003 was 1.6 million tons - largely produced in Thailand, China and Brazil.

This curry is adapted from a recipe by Ruth Reichl which appears in her book Comfort Me with Apples. I’ve removed the butter and heavy cream and added more vegetables.

Serves 4-6

1 pound shrimp, peeled, deveined and cooked
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, chopped
3 tablespoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1 tablespoon flour
1 can coconut milk (light coconut milk will work)
2 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
1 lime, zest and juice
1 head of broccoli, chopped into bite-sized florets
1 can of whole straw mushrooms
salt and pepper to taste

1. Defrost the shrimp according to directions on the packet or cook fresh shrimp. Set aside at room temperature.
2. Over medium heat sauté and garlic and onion in olive oil until translucent, about 5 minutes.
3. Add all the spices and flour and continue to cook for 2 minutes.
4. Add the coconut milk, broth and all the zest of the lime and bring to a boil.
5. Add broccoli and simmer for 3 minutes. Then add the mushrooms, juice of the lime and salt and pepper to taste.
6. Remove from heat and add shrimp. If you cook the shrimp they can get rubbery. Since they are pre-cooked they only need to be warmed up, which keeps them tender. Allow shrimp to warm up for 2-3 minutes and serve immediately.
7. Serve over rice or couscous. Best served with a spicy Indian pickle. I recommend this lime version.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Rose Milk Fudge (Burfi)

I made this burfi (as well as the treat featured last week) in celebration of Divali, the Hindu New Year or Festival of Lights. According to Hindu belief, followers of Lord Rama honoured his return to Ayodhya with rows of lamps (deepavali in Sanskrit) after a fourteen-year exile during which he triumphed over King Ravana who had kidnapped his wife Sita. Divali is the shortened form of the word deepavali.

There are many other significant events associated with Divali in Hinduism as well as Jainism and Sikhism. Divali is observed as a celebration of the victory of good over evil and the uplifting of spiritual darkness. It also marks the end of the harvest season, and is associated with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. Traditionally, Divali marked the end of the fiscal year.

During Divali people light candles, set off fireworks, eat sweets and dried fruit, and give gifts (especially new clothes) to children. Many families create a rangoli at the entrance to their house.

I’ve been celebrating Divali for many years now. I usually invite friends over for dessert. This year I also made some savory treats which I will feature on this blog in the coming weeks.

Makes 30 pieces

1/2 cup (1 stick or 1/4 pound) unsalted butter
1 lb (roughly 500g) ricotta cheese (full fat or partly skimmed)
1 cup granulated sugar
5 drops of red food color (add more for a deeper pink)
1-2 teaspoons of rose water
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon cardamom
2 1/2 cups powdered milk
2 ounces almonds, chopped
2 ounces pistachios, chopped

1. In a large pot over medium heat, melt butter. Add ricotta cheese and cook for 8 minutes.
2. Add sugar, food color, rose water, nutmeg and cardamom. Stir for a further 6 minutes.
3. Add powdered milk and mix for a further 4 minutes.
4. Pour the mixture into a metal brownie pan (6 x 10 inches). Sprinkle with nuts and press them into the mixture.
5. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate overnight.
6. Cut into rectangular pieces before serving. Will last for two or more weeks in the refrigerator.