Homemade Pumpkin Pie

As we swing into fall, my CSA has begun adding pumpkins to the harvest. I’ve always wanted to make pumpkin pie that didn’t come out of the can, so here was my opportunity. Due to the size of the pumpkin I actually made a total of four pies, 2 using a traditional recipe and two using low-calorie modifications of my own design. Recipes for each are as follows:

ORIGINAL PUMPKIN PIE

3 cups pureed pumpkin
1 cup sugar*
2 Tablespoons pumpkin pie spice**
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cans (18 oz total) of evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract (optional)

* You can use any sweetener (honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, etc) in place of the sugar; just look up the equivalent amount to substitute for 1 cup sugar. A syrup will make a heavier pie than sugar.

** In place of the 2 T pumpkin pie spice, you can use the following spices combined:

1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Mix together thoroughly with a whisk or blender (standard or immersion). Pour into 2 9″ deep dish pie crusts. Bake at 425 F for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 F and bake another 45-60 minutes. To test for doneness, insert a butterknife. If it pulls out clean, the pie is done.

LOW CALORIE PUMPKIN PIE

3 cups pureed pumpkin
24 packets of Stevia powder*
2 Tablespoons pumpkin pie spice**
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
9 egg whites
1 large egg
1 1/2 cans (18 oz total) of fat-free evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract (optional)
120 individual Trader Joe’s “Ginger Cat Cookies” (or a total of 900 calories’ worth of graham crackers), processed to fine crumbs in a food processor or blender.

Mix together everything but cookies thoroughly with a whisk or blender (standard or immersion). Spray 2 9″ pie plates with cooking spray. Divide cookie crumbs between the two plates. Gently pour the filling into the plates, being careful not to displace the crumbs. Bake at 425 F for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 F and bake another 45-60 minutes. To test for doneness, insert a butterknife. If it pulls out clean, the pie is done.

Makes 2 pies. Nutritional content for 1/8 pie:

123 calories
2 grams fat
2 grams fiber
6 grams protein
21 grams carbs

* You can use any sugar substitute (Equal, Splenda, Sweet-n-Low) in place of the Stevia; just look up the amount equivalent to 1 cup sugar.

** In place of the 2 T pumpkin pie spice, you can use the following spices combined:

1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Cooked pumpkin slices, peeled
The finished pies!
The pumpkin puree – definitely more yellow than the stuff from the can.
Pureeing the pumpkin

Why are my friends so gross?

I was digging in one of my raised beds the other day and found a giant white grub — nearly 2″ long with a dark brown spot on one end, and 4 or 6 claws on that same end.  Grossed me out, but before I did anything to it, I did a little Googling to make sure it wasn’t anything beneficial.

At first, I thought it was the Japanese beetle grub, which eats plant roots.  So I tossed it into an empty plastic Folgers coffee can for later disposal and continued to dig.   I found another. And another. And another. The Folgers can was now half full of giant squirming maggots, and I could hear the damn things scrabbling at the sides and bottom with their little claws desperately trying to get out.  Worse, I estimated I had only gotten about a quarter of them out of the bed, if I was lucky.

Back to Google to learn how to organically nuke the suckers.

Turns out further research was a good thing. According the the University of Arizona, as of July 2011 the Japanese beetle has not yet come to Arizona. What I found are actually Bumble Flower Beetle larvae, which are beneficial.  They tend to pupate in horse manure and compost, which is what makes up about 2/3 of the “soil” in my raised beds (the other 1/3rd being rotting straw).

So I dumped the squirming coffee can back into the garden soil, took a shower, and had a drink. They may be beneficial but … ew.

Seriously, that is one ugly bug.

Prickly Pear Wine Update

The prickly pear wine is still far from transparent, so I decided that it’s time to try helping it along. Fruit wines (and melomels or other fermentations that use some portion of fruit) offer become hazy after fermentation due to the natural pectin in the fruit setting. Pectin is a compound found in plant cells that acts as a thickening or gelling agent – it’s generally added to fruit jams and jellies. In alcohol, though, it forms a haze that is reluctant to clear naturally.

The best way to avoid this problem is to use a pectic enzyme (readily available at any homebrew supply shop) in your initial must.This will break down the pectin in the fruit and prevent a haze from forming in the first place. I didn’t do this because I didn’t think the pectin would be a problem in prickly pear fruit – several times I’ve made jam from it, the problem was always too little natural pectin and a lack of gelling. But I was wrong – there is definitely enough to be a problem in the wine.

Well, sort of a problem. Pectin doesn’t actually pose any health problem, it just makes the wine hazy. The last tasting of the wine also revealed a slightly thick texture, which I think might be a result of the pectin.

Anyway, my first plan was to add pectic enzyme to the aging wine. I figured it might be able to break down the haze even after fermentation. So I added the recommended dose (3/4 tsp per gallon), and gave it about 24 hours. The result? Nothing – no visible change at all. The wine has been undisturbed in the carboy for about 2 months, and had not shown any accumulation of lees at all.

So my second plan was to use Super-Kleer. This is an additive also available at any homebrew supply, added to a finished wine (or mead, etc) in two parts. Basically, it bonds to suspended yeast and proteins in the must and then forms large clumps that will much more easily fall out of suspension (for a more detailed explanation, take a gander at this article from Winemaker Magazine). I added the first part, waited an hours, and then mixed the second part into a bit of warm water and added it to the wine. Literally within seconds strings of yeast and haze could be seen forming and falling to the bottom of the carboy. Eight hours later, there was a layer of lees between a half and three quarters of an inch thick at the bottom of the carboy. The wine is still not transparent, but this is an excellent start. My reading on a couple brewing forums suggests that it’s best to leave it sitting for about two weeks to make sure as much as possible falls to the bottom. Hopefully in the next few days I’ll start to see some visible change in the clarity of the wine!

First Frost

First frost of the winter:

Frosted broccoli
Frosted chard

Since I put in so much work, though, I’m trying a technique I heard about on the Survival Podcast: inverting a fish tank over the plants to act as a mini greenhouse.

Covered spinach
Covered chard

You can see in the last photo that I have quite a few spinach plants growing at this point. I decided to cover some and leave some uncovered. That’ll give me a decent idea of how tolerant the spinach is of low temperatures.

Plus I ran out of fish tanks.

Basil Frittata

Monday night had an even harder frost than Sunday night, and my basil plant finally gave up the ghost. I suppose I should have covered it, but it was going anyway, so I wasn’t too distressed. In retrospect, though, I probably should have checked to see if basil is a perennial or annual. If the former, I could have brought it inside for the night

Poor dying basil plant

I pulled off all the still-good leaves (about 2 cups worth altogether), sauteed them up with a bit of olive oil, and add a scrambled egg to make a basil frittata. Warning: you need to really like basil  to enjoy this!

Added the egg, covered and cooked on med-low heat until cooked through.
Sauteeing basil leaves

Basil’s a lot like chard or kale in that you need to cook it longer than, say, spinach, or else it’s pretty tough.

Easy Homemade Polenta

I’m always amused when I see packaged polenta at the grocery store, because it’s so easy to make at home. Bring 3 cups of water to boil, and slowly whisk in 1 cup of cornmeal.  Continue to whisk constantly until it thickens. Remove from heat and pour into container of your choice.

Plain polenta is a bit bland – which is sometimes exactly what you want if it’s accompanying something spicy — but I like to add fresh basil or rosemary to it. This is especially good if you’re going to fry it and serve with a gravy or white sauce (my favorite method of preparing it).

I like using a bread pan to pour the hot polenta into, because the solidified polenta can be easily sliced for frying. But for presention — when serving with fried greens and beans, for example – I’ve used Dixie cups or similar so I can slice pretty rounds of it. I’ve also poured it into round ZipLoc containers, which makes an attractive mold if you’re serving it cold on a buffet.

Frying up rosemary polenta

Fall Garden Update

Well, after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, my garden is finally growing again. I think the major problem was that I planted the greens far too early, when it was too warm for them to germinate.

The carrots are getting to be decent sized, with the largest being the size of about a small-medium grocery-store carrot (based on the top of the carrot which I can just barely see). I’m leaving them for at least another month, possibly longer.

The sugar peas have not only blossomed, but I actually have a couple of pods. That’s about 2 1/2 months after my original planting.Haven’t figured out why some of the plants are all dotted with white spots and lacy holes, though.

Peas ‘n Carrots
Sugar pea pods

After sitting for 2 months (!) as a tiny 1″ sprout, the giant chard is finally growing in leaps and bounds. In just a couple weeks, it’s quadrupled in size. Whew!

Fordhook Giant Chard

The broccoli did the same – an itty-bitty sprout that never got any bigger. It’s finally starting to grow, albeit not by much.

Broccoli — hard to believe this is considered “getting bigger”

The yams have been great. They were the one crop that did not give me any problems at all. That lush foliage all came from two grocery-store yams I put into the bed! I’m anxiously waiting for the tops to die off so I can dig them up and see how much they produced. But if nothing else, it does look pretty!

Yams – even if they don’t produce anything, I love that gorgeous foliage!

This is (I believe) a tomato plant that accidentally sprouted up from the compost area of one of the beds. I figure I’ll just let it go until something happens or the cold kills it off.

Accidental tomato (or possibly pepper … who knows?)

Finally, about a month ago, I got so frustrated with the bed in which I had planted the collards and bok choy (neither of which have ever sprouted) that I had scattered a bunch of spinach seeds in that same bed. Well, they’re sprouting up like mad. The initial leafing looks like two blades of grass (which is what I thought it was when I saw the first sprout), but if you look closely, the subsequent leaves are properly round spinach leaves.

Spinach sprouts
Spinach closeup

Oh, and after a rocky start, my spearmint is doing fantastically well. It’s interesting because initially after transplanting it had gotten very “leggy”: tall, skinny stalks with few leaves. I chopped down those stalks to about 3″ tall. When I noticed runners (shoots spreading out from the roots, just below the surface of the soil), I gently tugged them so that parts were exposed above the dirt. Now it’s nice and lush!

Beautiful spearmint — time for Mojitos!