Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

Pumpkin Pie for Beginners

print recipe card posted in Sweets by Kathy Maister
Difficulty:

Store-bought pie crusts are great for someone just learning how to cook. Making your own pastry can be challenging for a beginner cook. For this Pumpkin Pie recipe, you can just purchase a ready-made pastry crust from your grocer’s freezer. Do not defrost the pie crust. We are going to make the pumpkin filling and pour it right into the frozen crust.

The pumpkins shown above are part of my centerpiece arrangement. The pie is actually made with pumpkin from a can.

For the filling you will need:

Description of the Ingredients

Canned pumpkin is already cooked and pureed (mashed) so all you have to do is open the can and it is ready to use. Be sure to buy canned pumpkin and NOT pumpkin pie filling in a can. (In the USA) canned pumpkin is not found in the canned vegetable aisle. It is actually sold with all the baking products – right near the flour, sugar, and baking soda. Who knew?

There is a HUGE difference between sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk. This recipe calls for sweetened condensed milk.

Evaporated milk has no added sugar and is slightly thicker and richer than regular milk. (I used it to make my Pumpkin Soup and my Stove Top Mac and Cheese.) Sweetened condensed milk is very thick and very sweet. They are not interchangeable ingredients.

Evaporated Milk and Sweetened Condensed Milk

Pumpkin Pie Spice is a blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice. It is easier and less expensive to buy one small jar of spice blend rather than four separate jars of spices. You can mix the leftover pumpkin pie spice with some sugar and sprinkle it on toast or cottage cheese. Or you could add it to Butternut Squash instead of cinnamon.

Let’s startcooking!

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Be careful — that’s a really HOT oven! It will take about 15 minutes for your oven to get that hot. You are only going to cook your pie for 15 minutes at that temperature. You’ll then turn the oven down to 350 degrees, and continue cooking the pie for about another 30 minutes.

Crack two eggs into a medium bowl. (Check to make sure there are no shells in the bowl!)

Add to the bowl the canned pumpkin, the sweetened condensed milk, the pumpkin pie spice, and the salt.

Whisk everything together. It should get really well combined and look like the picture below when it is ready to all pour into the pie shell.

Set the unbaked, frozen pie shell on a baking sheet with sides. This is going to make it much easier to lift the pie in and out of the oven.

Pour the filling into the frozen pie shell.

The filling is going to come almost to the top edge.

Immediately put the pie into the oven and set the timer for 15 minutes.

When the timer goes off, lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and reset the timer for 30 minutes.

You will also need to cover the edges of the pie with tin foil. Otherwise they will get way too browned.

You can buy a pie ring or make your own out of tin foil. My post on Pie Crust – Ready Made will show you how.

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The way you check to see if the pie is ready to come out of the oven is to stick a knife into the pie about one inch in from the edge of the crust.

If the knife comes out clean, the pie is done. Depending on your oven you may need to continue cooking for an additional 5 minutes. Let the pie cool completely before serving it. It will deflate slightly when cooled.

A great way to serve this pie is with a big dollop of fresh whipped cream, or a nice big squirt of cream from a can!

Enjoy!

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Pumpkin Soup Without the Fuss

print recipe card posted in Soups, Salads, Sides and Sauces, Vegetarian by Kathy Maister
Difficulty:

The reason I call this recipe “Pumpkin Soup without the Fuss” is because it’s made from canned pumpkin which has been already cooked and mashed. Canned pumpkin tastes great and it is a huge time saver!

For this recipe you will need:

In addition to the canned pumpkin, the only other ingredient you may not be familiar with is evaporated milk. (I have used it in my “Stove-top Macaroni and Cheese” recipe.) Evaporated milk is just slightly thicker than regular milk but it is very rich. It will make this soup really creamy and very rich tasting. A low fat version is available. (Be sure not to confuse evaporated milk with sweetened condensed milk. They are often sold side-by-side.)

You need to chop one medium onion. If you don’t know how to chop an onion, there is a demonstration of it here: How to Mince, Dice and Chop Onions.

Get all of remaining ingredients measured and ready to go. That really only involves measuring the brown sugar, salt and cinnamon. If you are using chicken stock made from a bullion cube you will need to reconstitute the cube in boiling water.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a medium pot.

Add the onions and cook them until they are soft, about 7-10 minutes. Give them an occasional stir.

Now add the brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and applesauce and cook everything for about 4 minutes.

After 4 minutes it will look like the picture below.

Add the pumpkin and chicken stock, and stir everything together. It will be pretty thick.

Bring the pot to a boil. Turn the temperature down to simmer and cover the pot.

Set the timer for about 20 minutes. Be sure to give the soup an occasional stir.

Pour in enough evaporated milk until the soup reaches your desired thickness. I like about 8 ounces of evaporated but you may want your soup thinner or thicker.

Be sure to add a few grinds of fresh black pepper.

The really great thing about this soup is that aside from the onion, all the other ingredients needed to make this soup come straight from your food cupboard. Next time you go grocery shopping be sure to add the ingredients for this soup to your list. On a cold evening a delicious pot of pumpkin soup can be ready for dinner in no time!

I have added a special touch to my soup by topping it with some cinnamon croutons!

Enjoy!

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How to Roast Chestnuts

posted in Appetizers and Snacks, Pantry by Kathy Maister

On a recent visit to New York City, the weather was cold and crisp. On such days, my husband (David) and I always share a small brown bag full of freshly roasted chestnuts from one of the street vendors who seem to be on every other NYCstreet corner. After letting the chestnuts cool down for a few minutes, David always peels these delightful treasures so I don’t have to take my mittens off! They are so rich, sweet and tender!

When I saw fresh chestnuts at the grocery store, I thought it would be great to roast some at home for startcooking. For comparison sake, I bought a jar of pre-packaged chestnuts as well.

Before I begin, I would like to point out that Water Chestnuts are from an aquatic plant and are a totally different food than the chestnuts (from a tree) that I am about to roast.

To Roast Chestnuts:

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.

Wipe the chestnuts off with a damp towel and set them on a cutting board, flat side down.

With a small, sharp knife cut an X in each chestnut. (There are special chestnut-X-cutting knives that you can buy – see comments below. I would only recommend buying one of these knives if you roast a TON of chestnuts.) The X allows the steam to escape while they are cooking. (Do not omit this step, otherwise the chestnuts could explode in the oven!) This will also make peeling a lot easier.

For safety sake, you may feel more comfortable cushioning the chestnut on a (clean) dish towel to cut the X.

Put the chestnuts in a baking pan with the X facing up.

It will take 20-30 minutes to roast the chestnuts. When cooked, the shells will burst open, and the chestnut will be golden brown. The tricky part is actually knowing when they are done. If you over-cook OR under-cook them, they will get hard and the inner skin will be very difficult to remove.

Now comes the hard part: peeling them! You need to peel them while they are still warm. Let them cool just enough so that you can touch them, then start peeling. Be very careful not to burn your fingers!

Be sure to buy extra, because once they are open you may well discover that some have actually turned bad and are not edible.

This task is not as easy as David makes it look. My thumb is killing me!

So now comes the test: comparing the fresh chestnuts to the ones from the jar. There are four things to consider:

  1. Appearance
  2. Taste and Texture
  3. Price
  4. Convenience

Freshly Roasted (on the left) Vs. From a Jar

1. Appearance
First let me say that the chestnuts I bought from Whole Foods did not end up looking at all like the magnificent ones from the street vendor. (Of course the 7 or 8 chestnuts from the street vendor that actually end up in your brown bag don’t look like the ones they have on display either!)

The ones from the jar have a preserved look about them.

2. Taste and Texture
They both tasted delicious but the ones from the jar actually had a moister texture.

3. Price
The 17 fresh chestnuts from Whole foods cost $4.67

I ended up with 12 usable ones. (Yes there are only 11 in the above photo because I ate one!) Two I could not get peeled, two disintegrated when I tried to peel them and one was rotten.

The 7.4 ounce jar cost $8.99. 100% were usable.

4. Convenience
When I was a kid, whenever my mom would bake, we would always have to shell the walnuts. (Way back then!) It was significantly cheaper to buy unshelled walnuts. It is a very labor intensive activity. Today, having to shell your own nuts sounds like it is on par with having to go milk the cow to get fresh milk! Peeling your own chestnuts is not an easy task!

Conclusion:

All in all, my first preference is to buy them off the street vendor in NYC. ONLY as a special treat, is it worth the effort to roast the chestnuts yourself. The look, the taste and the aroma is wonderful.

BUT, for use in a recipe, I would probably skip roasting them myself and just buy the jar!

Cheers!

********

P.S.

Boiling Then Broiling the Chestnuts

Anthony P. said “As a former NY’er I will let you on a little secret on why the street vendors have the best looking and the best tasting chestnuts that are VERY plump and juicy. The secret is to cut the X on the chestnuts, then BOIL them (in unsalted water) for about 15-20 min. Drain and let them cool. That’s it you’re done!

If you like you can broil them for a few min to give them the “roasted look” like the vendors do.

If you try this method, the proof is in the pudding. You will notice that the boiled chestnuts look IDENTICAL the picture of the vendors chestnuts shown above. Also, using this method you will find that ALL the chestnuts are edible – except if molded internally.

And another bonus, the skin peels so easily!”

Thanks Anthony for sharing the secret!

Here is Jim’s method:

“I would say for about 2 dozen large chestnuts, I would use about 2 – 3 tablespoons of salt in a large pot to soak for at least 60 minutes. I do cut them before I soak them. I drain and dry them out on a dish towel. Then spread them on a cookie sheet flat side down. (You can also sprinkle with Sea Salt at this point) Roast in a preheated 425 degree oven at the lowest rack position for 20 – 30 minutes. I turn them over after 10 minutes and then check at 20 mins. to see if any are done. You can tell the chestnuts are done when the shell peels back and the inside gets golden brown. And as Kathy said do not overcook the chestnuts.”

Thanks Jim!

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