Kick-ass pumpkin pie, part II

Ok, part 2 of creating the pumpkin-pie masterpiece. First up- the prepping of the gourd.
In the past when I used fresh, I cut them into medium-sized cubes and peeled them like that. Then I’d just throw them in some sort of baking pan, (I used a lasagna pan) add some coconut milk, and pop in the oven until they’re all nice and soft. That way was very time-consuming, (peeling pumpkin is not easy) but always worth it. But then I read somewhere about simply cutting the pumpkin in half- scoop out the seeds, pour in the coconut milk and cook it just like that. Then when it’s done, the pumpkin will scoop out lickety-split! So I actually tried that the other day (with a different type of squash…) and I gotta say, for all the work it entails, I think I’d rather just do it the old way, because when you bake it in halves, when it’s done the skins on those halves are going to be all soft as well, and want to fall over or tear, making for extra work. Plus it seemed, to me anyway, to take longer to cook. But that’s just me. Whatever works for you. (Remember, though, if it’s your birthday and you have someone special that you want to keep busy for awhile while you hang out on Stumbleupon or go to the movies or whatever, then definitely suggest the cube method.)

Ok, so pumpkin is all carved and ready to go; now the question is-how much coconut milk to use? The answer is a simple “Who cares?” Really. Who cares? Just go with whatever looks about right, and you’ll be fine. Chances are, you’ll have to add more later anyway, but if you somehow managed to add too much you can always just pour off the excess when the pumpkin is done cooking (saving it for a later use, though, right?) Of course, if you’re going with the less time-consuming way of doing things, then too much will not be an issue- you just fill up the pumpkin. (In this case you almost certainly will need to add more later anyway, as you just won’t be able to fit enough of it in the hollowed out pumpkin to make it ready to go.) Ok, whichever method you go with, be sure to cover with foil, then just pop in the oven on about 350 degrees F or so, and check back in about an hour. I’m guessing it probably won’t be ready by this time, but maybe it will. It’s ready when it’s all nice and soft- no firmness to be found. As long as you don’t burn it, I’m sure cooking it longer than necessary will not be an issue. When it’s all finished and ready to go take it out and let it cool a bit. Now, at this point I suppose you could just dump it in a bowl, add the rest of the ingredients, pour into a pie shell and throw it in the oven till it’s done. But here’s what I like to do- start by pouring it into a large pot. You may have to get out the immersion blender or electric hand mixer to blend it up a little. Then throw in the spices (and remember, fresher is always better). I like to use a few whole cinnamon sticks, dark brown sugar, ginger, nutmeg (or mace, which I kind of prefer myself), a bit of salt and some more coconut milk- all to taste mind you- and let simmer for awhile on low. You’ll have to keep the heat really low, since hot puree tends to spatter a lot, like some sort of bubbling pumpkin volcano. If you have one of those fine mesh screen covers, they work nice for letting out the steam, while keeping the spatters in the pot. Just let it simmer like this for awhile until it thickens up a bit- tasting frequently and making adjustments as necessary. I personally like a lot of cinnamon in mine- I made a couple pies the other day and ended up using 5 six-inch sticks, plus about a tablespoon ground after that, since I ran out of sticks. If you do use whole sticks, you’ll want to let it simmer awhile before deciding whether to add more or not. For one pie, probably 3 sticks is a good place to start, depending on how long they are. As for the rest of the spices, sometimes I like to use freshly grated ginger, but regular dried ground is fine too. About 1 teaspoon would be a good start. I probably wouldn’t use much more than that, though. I really like ginger a lot, so one time several years ago I added way more than what the recipe called for. Didn’t turn out so well. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t very good either. If you add a little too much cinnamon, it’ll probably still be ok as it is, or if you catch it before baking you can tone it down with a little extra brown sugar. Not so with ginger. As for the nutmeg (or in my case, mace) I start off with about a half teaspoon or so and maybe go up to a full teaspoon. (In keeping with the “fresher is better” idea, I also grind mine up in my heavy-duty granite mortar and pestle, but I realize that’s kind of a food-nerd thing to do.) Salt, maybe a couple teaspoons or so. Again, how’s it taste? A lot of times I’ll end up with enough mix for 1 1/2 to 2 pies, so just following the recipe on the can won’t really cut it anyway. Some people like to use cloves in their pie. Not me, but go for it if you like them. Hell, add a little cayenne pepper if you’re feeling adventurous. I’ve never tried it, myself, but maybe I will one of these days. I’m all about experimenting with my cooking, and I highly recommend others be too.

Now, once the mix is all done simmering and you’ve gotten it to where it tastes absolutely perfect and you don’t dare change anything else for fear of ruining it, take it off the stove and let it cool completely, maybe even overnight to give the flavors a chance to really meld together. Just don’t forget to take out the cinnamon sticks- it’s probably easier to do this when it’s still warm since they’ll be flattened out a little, making them easier to scrape clean. Now comes the really important part. When you add the eggs- I use 2-3 for one pie- you don’t just want to mix them in with a fork or wire whip. Break out that immersion blender! Or electric hand mixer if you don’t have an immersion blender, but I think the immersion blender is far, far better. (I never thought much of them until my brother bought one and I started using it- now I consider it an indispensible item in my kitchen. Cuisinart makes a really nice one, which can be had for about $50. Trust me, it’s worth it.) Drop in those eggs and blend away until all nice and smooth. Blending it up with some sort of electric kitchen tool really gives it a much smoother, creamier texture when it comes out of the oven than you get with just a fork or wire whip. I consider it a non-optional part of the recipe. At this point, you’re pretty much done. Nothing much left to do except pour into a pie shell and bake at 425 F for 15 minutes, then drop down to 350 until done.

***

Ok, since I don’t normally use “recipes” exactly, I’m going to try and summarize here.

Fresh pumpkin- one or two, depending on size
3-4 cans coconut milk
cinnamon
nutmeg (or mace, a tasty alternative)
ginger
salt (sea or kosher only, please)
brown sugar (preferably dark)
2-3 large eggs

4 cans of coconut milk probably is a little too much for just one pie, but it’s hard to guage sometimes when you’re using fresh pumpkin, so you might end up with enough mix for 2 pies, in which case 4 cans is just about right. If you’re using canned, though, I think one can of pumpkin and two cans of coconut milk is about what you’ll need.
Also, as a side note, a lot of times when you open up a can of coconut milk, most of it is all solid on top, with the actual liquid down near the bottom; me, I prefer to just scoop out the cream and either throw the rest of the liquid away or use it for something else, but if you prefer to use the whole thing it’ll still come out very tasty.

***

Some thoughts on coconut milk-

Not all coconut milk is the same. Some brands are just way better than others. Depending on where you live, there can either be a huge variety of brands, or maybe only one or even none at all. Most places have at least one or two brands, with Thai Kitchen being pretty much everywhere. It’s a very good brand, in my opinion. I used to use it all the time, until prices for it started going up. Then I found Geisha brand which I like a lot too. Shortly after that, prices for that started going up as well! Luckily, I live in an area where asian grocery stores are more common than Starbucks. I currently use Savoy brand. Very tasty, and less than a buck for one (14 oz) can. The main thing about choosing a coconut milk to use is this- find one that has the least amount of water added. A lot of brands will list the amount of coconut as a percentage, with the rest being added water. A lot of brands don’t. Of the ones that do, some list coconut as only 55% or 60%. I try and find at least 70% if I can (Savoy is 70). Something that I think is worth doing, with almost any type of food you buy, is to try one of several different kinds out there. It might seem expensive, to buy a whole bunch of different brands just to find one you like, but think of it as a one-time expense- you’ll weed out the ones that you don’t like now and then you’ll know. Asking other peoples’ opinions can be helpful, but I’d rather spend some extra cash and find out for myself.
The other thing about coconut milk in a can, is that almost every brand uses some sort of preservative, usually along the lines of Potassium Metabisulphite, whatever the hell that is.
Geisha is one that I know of that doesn’t, but other than that I can’t remember the last time I saw one that didn’t. If you’re really not into that sort of stuff, there are places that sell dried coconut cream- preservative free, as far as I know. It does taste pretty good, but I kinda like the canned stuff better. I do have plans to try making my own using dried, unsweetened coconut flakes. I tried it once a few years ago, but the results weren’t that great. I blame it on the recipe I used. It called for cooking it on the stove, and then while still hot, blending it in a blender. Now, most home blenders don’t have vent holes in the lid to let off steam and I blew the lid off mine, making a really swell mess everywhere. I think there was still dried coconut on the ceiling when I moved out. (Never should have followed the damn recipe.) So I plan to try it again, with some adjustments, just to see how it turns out.


Ok, I do have a kick-ass pie crust recipe to go with this kick-ass pie, but since this post is kind of long (and not even any photos!) I’m going to save it for the next post.

Thanks for reading

Published in: on November 20, 2007 at 7:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Kick-Ass Pumpkin Pie (Part I)

Finally, it is here- the post you’ve all been waiting for! (All two of you.)
Yes, it’s a long one, and there are no pretty pictures (I’m waiting for someone to buy me a digital camera) but it’s worth it. Trust me.

It seems that whenever somebody has a recipe that they think is just really great, they try and come up with a name that will tell the world just how great it is. Think “Better than Chocolate” this, or “Better than Sex” that, or the oh-so-original “World’s Best” whatever. I guess I’m the same way. I think my way of making pumpkin pie is the best ever, but instead of calling it “World’s Best Pumpkin Pie” *, I decided to go with “Kick-Ass Pumpkin Pie”. I think just the act alone of calling something “kick-ass” automatically makes it better. You could go to the store and buy two of the cheapest no-name brand frozen pumpkin pies you could find, then gather a group of tasters for a blind tasting and it would turn out something like this: Slap down pie number 1- “Here we have Brand A, the cheapest no-name brand frozen pie we could find.” And then pie number 2, “Here we have Brand B, also frozen, but the difference is that this one was made by a new company called ‘Kick-Ass!’.” I guarantee that 9 out of 10 people will say that the second one tastes way better. (And if I was running the test, that 10th guy would get a pie shoved squarely in his face followed by shouts of
“It is not the exact same thing! Take it back, jerk!” Followed by a “@^%&a*” or two.)

So what exactly is “my way”? Well, you should already know you need to ditch “the recipe”. Forget about your favorite recipe. “How’s it taste?” That’s the only recipe you’ll ever need for at least 90% of everything you make. Other than that, there’s really only one secret- Coconut Milk. That’s right-coconut milk. Ditch the condensed milk, or whatever “the recipe” calls for, and use coconut milk instead. Not a fan of coconut milk? Use it anyway. Allergic to the stuff? Use it anyway. Trust me- it’s worth whatever reaction you may have. Really. You’ll thank me from the hospital bed.
Now, you could just go with that one simple change – follow the recipe on the can, but with coconut milk instead- and end up with a perfectly good pie. No, an excellent pie. In fact, I’ll never again make one without coconut milk- even if you offered me a thousand dollars- no thanks, keep your filthy money. Put a gun to my head? Ha! I laugh at danger. Hell, I don’t care if you’re a deliciously curvy redhead and offer to show me your ta-tas… I won’t do it.
(Though that last one would probably require a fair amount of willpower…)
But there are other steps you can take to really turn it into something to get excited about. Most notably, use fresh pumpkin. Yeah, it’s a bit of work, and probably more expensive, but so worth it. So, start off by getting yourself a bunch of pumpkins from wherever. Back when I lived in Maine I used to look for roadside farms that I could sneak into later that night when noone was around, but living in the city now I have to just go to the store like most other people. Whatever works for your situation. Just don’t get those big Jack o’ Lantern pumpkins. I’ve never tried one myself, but I hear they don’t taste very good and we don’t want that- ’cause it’s all about taste. You want the small to medium size ones, often called sugar pumpkins. I usually go for about a kid’s-basketball size. And once cooked, they freeze well too, so you can just buy a whole shitload and spend your entire day off prepping this stuff and not have to worry about it again for a really long time.
Next up is the getting-them-ready-for-cooking part. This might entail some effort. Or it might not; like say if your birthday is coming up, and somebody asks you what you want- just point them in the direction of your huge pile of pumpkins and say “Get carving.”

 

(Part II coming soon-ish)

Published in: on October 30, 2007 at 7:18 pm  Comments (1)