Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Maybe not. But I thought about it. Just to add some fun to my busy holiday kitchen.
This 4-lb beauty, a "pie pumpkin" was purchased at the State Farmers Market for a buck, or two, can't remember. Thought I'd go local with my pie, esp. given the phrase "easy as pie." It truly does not take long to cut open a pumpkin, slice it and then roast. And I knew it would taste better than the canned variety that I was tripping over during my last foray at the grocery store.
So slice a pumpkin, then with a metal spoon, scoop out the seeds and scrape the threads that cling to the pumpkin slices. I rubbed their wounds with a tiny bit of olive oil. You can cover with foil, or not. Roast in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until a fork can pierce the flesh easily. It took about 5 to 10 minutes to slice and clean the pumpkin, then another 30 to roast (while I did other kitchen chores).

Here's where this project got time consuming - dealing with the slimy seeds.
Your hands are your best tools for many cooking chores. In this case, I stood at the sink and popped the seeds into a colander with my gooey fingers.
And this is why I love to work in the kitchen alone, at mundane tasks such as this. I wondered about our Thanksgiving dinner, the first holiday and family gathering without my father sitting at the head of the table, and wondered how we would all react to that. It will be sad. And then I remembered that my daughter invited two gay friends who are hilariously fun to be with, and wondered how my conservative extended family will react to them. It should be a hoot with lots of laughs. And wondered also if my namesake, Elizabeth, will bag a deer before her husband and father on their traditional Thanksgiving hunt. They all filled their freezers last year with fresh venison.
Roused from my reverie, I finished rinsing the seeds and patted them dry, then laid them on a baking sheet and sprinkled them with sea salt. I slid them into the oven to roast along with the pumpkin slices, for about 20 minutes, until golden brown, stirring twice.
But hey, it was worth it, and I ate a good portion of them warm, straight out of the oven before I got them all off the pan.

I let the pumpkin cool slightly before scooping the flesh from the outside peels and pureeing in the food processor. That four pound baby produced about 2 3/4 cups of pumpkin puree, about 22 ounces. A typical can of pumpkin weighs 15 oz.
So I did the math and figured I must add perhaps about half more to the typical pumpkin pie recipe. However, knowing that the pumpkin all by itself was "sweet", I cut back on the sugar. The hubby loves cinnamon, so I happily added another half portion and also to the allspice and cloves.
Wrong! The pie was too sweet. The spices overwhelmed my gorgeous fresh pumpkin flavor. So the recipe below gives what I believe to be better proportions.
The pie still tastes terrific. Better than store-bought. Better than the canned variety.
Me, not the pastry. I will admit a secret.....I used a store-bought rolled up pie crust, rather than making my own. I ran out of time, and I love the convenience of those long boxes with two rolled up pastries inside. Purists may chastise me. Go ahead. I'm still thankful I've got a pie!
During these hard economic times, be thankful for the food that graces your table, no matter where it comes from; thank the farmers who work hard to produce the veggies, fruits and meats, the troops who have no choice but to be over there fighting, and thank the good Lord that we are here in the good old US of A, where PETA and vegans and carnivores can all have a choice.
1 prepared pie crust
1 medium-sized pie pumpkin (about 4 lbs.)
3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 small cans (5 oz. each) evaporated milk

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Prepare pumpkin puree first. Slice pumpkin, remove seeds and flesh, place in oven for about 30 minutes until flesh is tender. Cool slightly then scoop out flesh. Place in food processor or blender and puree.
3. Mix eggs and sugar together. Add spices and salt. Stir in pumpkin puree and blend thoroughly. Stir in milk.
4. Pour mixture into prepare pie crust, and bake for about 45 minutes or an hour, until the center of the pie is set.
5. Cool slightly before slicing, give thanks, and then ooh and aaah as you taste the freshness of the pumpkin.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


My BS created a stir at the checkout lane at Trader Joe's. "What's that?" one young man wanted to know. "So that's how they grow!" said an older woman behind me. Down South, we don't see many brussels sprouts offered at our markets, much less grow them. They need a cold snap, much like our collard greens, and take up to five months to grow and lots of space.
Why "Brussels"? Belgium is responsible for their breeding, back in the 13th century. They're truly tiny cabbages.
I broke my Buy Local rule because I love brussels sprouts. And this stalk looked fresh and had small heads.
They're easy to cook. NEW YORK TIMES writer Mark Bittman likes to pair them with bacon, which suits Southerners used to cabbage and pork. Some cooks like to sprinkle them with toasted pecans, or grated Parmesan. They can be shredded as well, but then you miss out on presenting them with their gorgeous beautifully round little heads. They need a quick cook, just until wilted.
I like to saute them in butter. I find that by parboiling them for just a minute or two, they'll cook more evenly without toasting the outer leaves in the saute. And the boiling water needs lots of salt to cut that bit of a bitter taste. Then I slice them in half and saute. Use a cast iron skillet so that you can get the pan hot and a nice browning on the cut half of the sprouts.

***RECIPE ***
Brussels Sprouts - on a stalk, or loose, about 2 pounds
4 tablespoons butter
toasted pecans and/or Parmesan cheese

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Prepare an ice bath (sink or large bowl full of cold water and ice). Add 1 tablespoon salt to the boiling water, then the brussels sprouts. Let sprouts boil for just two minutes, then drain and place in the ice water bath to stop the cooking and maintain that gorgeous green color.
2. Drain when sprouts have cooled and pat them dry. Slice in half.
3. Melt butter in large saute pan or cast iron skillet. Add sprouts, cut side down, and saute until just turning golden brown on the cut side. Flip sprouts over and stir around, carefully, until they have reached your desired tenderness. Salt to taste and serve immediately. Add toasted pecans or freshly grated Parmesan if desired.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fish Flash

Speckled trout are running along North Carolina's coast, but my fishing line sure didn't snag one. What did I catch while out at Cape Lookout on a gorgeous, warm fall day this week - pre-Ida? A lizard fish.
We were at the beach to celebrate the hubby's birthday, and he loves to fish. His brother offered his boat, the wind was mild, the waves nil, so out the Beaufort Inlet we went, skirting Shackleford Banks to the Bight at Lookout. Along the way, we got up close and personal with a pod of bottlenosed dolphin, who enjoyed "surfing" between the hulls of our catamarin.
We also stopped and fished along the way, as well as within the bight. The Birthday Boy got skunked. I got a lizard fish. Other boats were reeling in speckled trout. We figured we needed cut bait, which we did not have.
I love speckled trout for its mild, sweet flavor, and tender meat. So I figured there is more than one way to catch a trout. On the way home to Raleigh, I stopped at a favorite fishmonger, B & J Seafood on HWY 70 in New Bern (252 637-0483), where Ray filleted two gorgeous specks for me. We discussed baking them whole, but decided that because they were quite big, it would be best to fillet and saute them. They filled my largest saute pan, and when I turned them, I goofed. Thus, I decided the above photo of the newly painted Lookout Lighthouse was more appetizing!

No need to feel intimidated at cooking fish. Trout has a very delicate flavor and texture, so its preparation needs to stay simple. My advice is to just leave room in your saute pan to flip the fillets after the first side is browned! You might need to use two pans.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper
1/2 cup flour
4 speckled trout filets

1. Heat equal parts butter and olive oil, enough to coat the bottom of the pan, in a large saute pan over medium high heat.
2. Meanwhile, lay both sides of fillets in flour, then shake off excess. You just want a dusting.
3. When butter/oil is hot and sizzling, lay fillets with skin side up in pan. Saute until golden brown. Turn. Season with salt and pepper. Squeeze lemon juice over each fillet.
4. Continue to cook with the skin side down until fillet is cooked through, meaning no pink color, and flaky. But be careful not to over cook. Trout is very tender.
5. Carefully lift each fillet onto individual plates, and serve with slices of lemon.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I am not on a diet, although everyone would love to lose 10 pounds, right?
 I am not even balking at eating sugar.
The reason I haven’t made my famous Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies for a long time is because my dad died.
I made cookies for my ailing father a couple of times a month for the last seven years. He loved them. Hoarded them. Only shared with his visitors - like his granddaughters - when pressed to do so. Even my mother was rationed.
I took my last batch to him in August, the day he didn’t wake up from his nap. As I stood by his beside, I actually said, “But Dad, I brought you cookies.” As if that would make him roll his eyes and say, “just kidding.” Or grab the bag of cookies from me and hide them under his sheet. No, nada response. The cookies were still warm from the oven, unlike his cheek when I pressed my face to his. Sobbing, I took the cookies into the kitchen, where they were later devoured by his mascara-streaked granddaughters who sat in silence around the table.
My dad was no gourmet. He loved fried bologna sandwiches. Boiled eggs. Runny scrambled eggs. Beef roasts with catsup. Steak and potatoes. Fried chicken. Biscuits or store-bought white loaf bread, served in stacks on the table.
When he quit farming but my mom still worked, he sometimes made supper. Like most men, he loved using a Crockpot. Open up any can and throw it in, then add any tough piece of meat without browning or fussing with it. Douse it with salt and pepper, them turn the sucker on high and let it rip.
You have to understand that he was a typical Southern farmer. The boss with a work crew of lazy kids and hard-working tenant farm families who were not allowed to be lazy.
He expected “dinner” at noon, prepared by my sister or me, or our Grandmother. I remember many summer days “topping” tobacco beginning at 7 a.m. and being told about 11:30 to get to the house and help make dinner. I’d throw whatever vegetables and a meat we had leftover onto the stove for a rapid-fire heating. Make a pitcher of sweet tea. Then after everyone else had sat and begun to eat, sitting down to eat myself, just like my grandmother had done before she gave out. Then, after eating, my dad went and stretched out on the floor in the center hall, where he could catch a breeze and a nap. I cleaned up the kitchen and dishes, just in time for him to get everybody back out to the fields.
So in a way, my dad is responsible for my interest in food and cooking. How’s that, given this history?
I decided that if I were going to have to cook for the rest of my life, I might as well have a good time with it. Explore different kinds of food. Become proficient at cooking. Have fun in the kitchen. Set challenges.
What I learned was that good cooking had immediate reinforcement. Folks like to eat well. Praise the Lord and praise my cooking, I’d pray. As I burned less and created more of a repetoire, I introduced some new ideas to the table. My dad put an end to that. Keep it meat and potatoes with a cake on Saturday and pie on Sunday. Thank heavens I married a man who loves whatever I cook for him, with the exception of peas.
No matter how my dad felt after the cancer started taking its toll, he still ate my chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. I like to think they offered him some comfort, a little enjoyment when pleasures were few and restricted to a hospital room or a bed.
I never realized how they offered me comfort, too. Those cookies were one way I could “do something” for him when even all of medical science was failing.
After he died, my cookie trays remained in the cabinet for weeks, then months. It didn’t occur to me that I had not made any since that fateful day. But then when we were getting ready to take a sailing trip, I thought I’d make some to take to our sailing buddy. As I creamed the butter and sugar, big old tears welled up in my eyes, catching me off guard. I was sobbing when I added the chocolate chips. By the time the first batch was out of the oven, I had figured out my sorrow. Grief has a way of catching you unawares, I have found.
I think I’ll make a big batch to take to the Finch Pottery Open House in Bailey on Sunday, where I’ll join my sister Amy and her husband, Dan Finch, and do some Christmas shopping and hopefully sell a few copies of THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK. Come and get a cookie.