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TND – Birthday Season 2012 (part 2)

October 8, 2012

I have a new entry on my list of ‘national foods which I have only had good examples of outside of the country of origin’. That list needs a snappier name.

Included on it, are:

Seriously excellent Spanish food at a variety of tapas style restaurants in the Boston area that bear no resemblance to food I actually ate in Spain, which varied between being mediocre and actively terrible.

Seriously excellent Turkish food at a hole in the wall restaurant in Arlington that was nowhere to be found on any menu I saw while actually in Turkey.

I’d include really good Czech food, except that (a) I don’t know that I’ve ever had Czech food outside of Czechoslovakia, and (b) I don’t think that it’s fair to compare what we had to eat when we were in Czechoslovakia (which was, in fact, still Czechoslovakia at that point) with anything that resembled actual Czech food. This is a suspicion founded on the dual facts that everyone I know who has been to Prague has come back raving about how amazing the food was, and that we toured Prague + the Czech countryside about 18 months after the fall of the Berlin Wall and everything was very post-Soviet oppression (hotels averaged about $10/night for three people).

When we were there every restaurant in Czechoslovakia would hand you a menu with a list of mysterious Czech words on it, which would have been more of a problem if any restaurant we came across in the 10 days we were there had actually had anything on offer other than chicken & dumplings (a festival of beige meat in a beige sauce with a side of slightly less beige dumpling shaped blobs) and goulash with noodles (unidentifiable meat in a grey-ish sauce ladled over some noodle like substance). We used to entertain ourselves at dinner watching newly arrived tourists sit down and attempt to order something else listed on the menu. You’ve never seen three people so glad to cross the border into Germany for the food as we were at the end of that vacation – food notwithstanding Czechoslovakia was amazing and I’d love to go back (plus, you know, I’ve heard it’s gotten better since 1990).

The newest entry on this list is Swiss bread from a bakery in Reading. They make these amazing crusty baguettes called pajazzo that come in a variety of white, dark, multi-grain, and seeded forms. They also take pretzel dough and make it into bread sticks, rolls, and mini-baguettes that develop a wonderful crispy crust when you throw them in the oven for 10 minutes before you serve them. What’s odd about this is that I spent three years of high school in Switzerland eating unfortunately earnest whole wheat croissants, and limp baguettes.

Now possibly some of this is a difference between French Switzerland and German Switzerland – the Swiss Bakery in Reading is very definitely baking from the Switzer Deutsch canon. Possibly this is also about the evolution of the food community in the past few decades to a market which appreciates the older more rustic styles of baking. Either way, this is better Swiss bread than I ever ate in nearly 10 years of living in/visiting Geneva. I’m going to be bereft when the farmer’s market season ends and I can’t stop and buy a loaf whenever I want. Although apparently they do resale at a couple of local grocery stores that are, while not as convenient as the South Station farmer’s market, also not as inconvenient as driving to Reading for a loaf of bread. The things you learn when you look up websites.

 

Braised French Onion Chicken with Gruyere
Green Beans
Salad
Bread

Pumpkin Pecan Pie with Whiskey Butter Sauce

 

Braised French Onion Chicken with Gruyere

Recipe previously given: Year in Review + New Year’s (food) Resolutions

Pumpkin Pecan Pie with Whiskey Butter Sauce
This is pie for the indecisive. This is pie that solves that perennial pesky Thanksgiving question of pumpkin or pecan? This is pie that manages to be the best of both the pumpkin and the pecan world, and then you top it with a whiskey butter sauce and it gets just a little bit better. This is pie that will entice people who have issues with pumpkin pie (too custardy and dense) and people who have issues with pecan pie (too sweet). These, incidentally, are not issues I have with either pumpkin or pecan pies which I like almost equally, but never have quite enough room at the end of Thanksgiving dinner to indulge in a slice of both.

Pumpkin Layer*
1 ½ cups pumpkin puree
3/8 cup packed brown sugar
3 Tbsp white sugar
1 ½ eggs, beaten until frothy
1 ½ Tbsp heavy cream
1 ½ Tbsp unsalted butter, melted & cooled slightly
1 ½ Tbsp vanilla extract (yes, really)
Generous ¼ tsp salt
Scant ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

Whisk all together until well combined.

* The original recipe only calls for 1 cup of pumpkin/1 egg/etc. Recipe commentary pretty much universally suggested that this was too little pumpkin to pecan filling. I upped my pumpkin layer to 1.5x the original amount which is why it calls for 1 ½ eggs. You could go up to 2x the pumpkin filling (2 cups pumpkin/2 eggs/etc) if you didn’t want to fuss with a ½ egg, but I found that this amount of pumpkin to pecan was the right ratio (plus, I made extra whiskey sauce which took care of that other ½ egg).

Pecan Layer
¾ cup white sugar
¾ cup dark corn syrup
2 small eggs
1 ½ Tbsp butter, melted & cooled slightly
2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch salt
generous pinch ground cinnamon
¾ cup pecan pieces

Whisk all ingredients except pecans together until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the pecans.

Assembly
Butter & flour one of the following (a) an 8” springform pan, if you own such a thing; (b) a deep 9” pie plate; (c) a 10” tart pan (this is what I used mostly because I think it looks impressive when you serve it).

Roll out your favorite pie dough and fit it into the pan of your choosing. Refrigerate for 30 minutes (or freeze for 15 minutes).

Preheat oven to 325.

While the dough is chilling assemble your two fillings. Place the unbaked pie shell on a rimmed baking sheet (I also tend to cover my baking sheet with parchment for easier clean up in case of spills – which let’s face it, it probably will).

Spread the pumpkin filling evenly in the unbaked pie shell. Carefully pour the pecan layer on top of the pumpkin filling, trying to distribute the pecans more or less evenly.

Bake for 1½ to 1 ¾ hours (this will depend a little on your oven, and a little on which pan you’ve decided to bake in) until a tester comes out clean. Remove from oven, allow to cool completely, and serve with whiskey butter sauce.

Whiskey Butter Sauce
6 Tbsp butter
½ cup sugar
1 ½ eggs
¾ Tbsp very hot water
3/8 cup heavy cream
2-4 Tbsp whiskey*

In the top of a double boiler (or a pan set over, but not in, boiling water) melt the butter. Whisk the sugar and the egg together and then add to the melted butter. Whisk in the hot water. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream and whiskey.

This can be made 1-2 days in advance and refrigerated. Reheat over a very low flame, stirring constantly, until pourable.

* How much you use is a matter of taste – I found a generous 2 Tbsp was about the right amount for me – more than that and the whiskey taste just gets a little over powering, but tastes will vary.

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