The Best Pumpkin Harvest Torte

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Pumpkin. It’s everywhere this time of year including your appetizer, entree, dessert and coffee. Americans are obsessed with it. Not just limited to canned pumpkin, grocery store aisles are filled with a variety of pumpkin flavored products. It brings to mind falling leaves, cool nights and the smell of warm spices wafting through the kitchen.

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Recently, I tried these cookies called pumpkin spice snaps. Made in Pennsylvania, (love the USA) they are brand new to the market and I got a sneak peak taste. Filled with warm spices like cinnamon, ginger and cloves and sweetened with molasses these cookies have the perfect crispy snap that one would expect from the name. While simply delicious on their own I could not help but want to play with them in some dessert recipes. The first recipe I tried was a cookies and cream pumpkin cake. It was a hit with crispy cookie bits adding a textural contrast to the creamy frosting, but I could not stop there…….

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See those cookie bits on the edge of the cake? I greased my cake pans and then dusted them with finely crushed cookies instead of flour

……because as of today I have harvested 7 sugar pumpkins and there are at least another dozen lying in wait. I only planted 4 seeds! Plant some seeds people! For fresh pumpkin all one needs to do is roast them whole (400F. for about an hour) on a foil lined baking sheet until they feel soft. Cool, peel, seed and puree the orange flesh in the food processor and then drain for an hour or two in a paper towel lined sieve with a weighted plate on top. It’s amazing how much liquid drains out leaving silky concentrated fresh pumpkin behind. It freezes well, so please, completely skip the canned stuff. No garden? Pick up sugar pumpkins at the local farmers’ market.

In today’s featured recipe I really wanted to show these beautiful cookies off and there is no better way than my signature cookie crust. I first featured this idea many years ago in a Southern Living Magazine cook-off. It was such a big hit that even a restaurant out in Colorado asked my permission to use it on their menu. It works with any crisp, wafer like cookie and creates a lovely edge to the dessert.

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Bake off the crust and let it cool. Then fill with the most luscious fresh pumpkin mousse which in my case is “spirited” (I love you, William). If you don’t like the alcohol feel free to substitute fresh OJ or apple juice or even maple syrup in its place. Feel free to play with the spices too, but for me there is nothing better and easier than a quality pumpkin pie spice mixture like this one from King Arthur Flour.

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Make it one day in advance, so the cookies will soften slightly for easier cutting and take the edge off of your party planning. Anything I can make in advance of a holiday like Thanksgiving is a godsend. In fact, it can even be prepared 2 days in advance. Topped with sweetened whipped cream or Greek yogurt, oh, yes, this recipe is waaaaay better than the usual pumpkin pie. You are welcome.

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Pumpkin Mousse Torte

33 Stauffer’s Pumpkin Spice Snaps, divided

4 tablespoons (¼ cup) unsalted butter, melted

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons bourbon or orange juice (for non-alcohol version)

1 (1/4-oz) package unflavored gelatin

½ cup packed light brown sugar

¼ cup cornstarch

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (I use King Arthur Flour brand)

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup heavy cream, divided

2 egg yolks

1 ½ cups whole milk

1 cup unseasoned fresh or canned pumpkin, drained on paper towels

1-teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven 350F. Place 18 cookies in food processor fitted with blade. Process until cookies are finely crushed to make 1 cup of cookie crumbs. Add butter; pulse until crumbly. Press cookie crumbs over bottom of 9-inch springform pan. Place remaining cookies around edge of pan slightly overlapping and rounded side out. Gently press each cookie into the bottom crust. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted. Cool crust in pan on a wire rack. In small bowl, combine water and bourbon or orange juice; sprinkle gelatin over the top. Set mixture aside to let gelatin soften. In medium saucepan, whisk brown sugar, cornstarch, pumpkin pie spice, salt and ½ cup heavy cream until smooth. Add egg yolks and milk; whisk until well blended. Cook over medium heat, whisking, until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking another minute being sure to scrape the sides of the pot with a heat-proof spatula. Whisk in gelatin mixture until it is fully dissolved. Remove from heat. Whisk in pumpkin and vanilla. Press a piece of plastic wrap to pumpkin mixture to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in refrigerator for 2 hours. Whip remaining ½ cup heavy cream to soft peaks; fold into pumpkin mixture. Pour filling into prepared crust; smooth top. Cover and chill at least 4 hours or as long as overnight. Cut into wedges and top with sweetened whipped cream or Greek yogurt.

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My absolute favorite sweet pumpkin

BTW-I receive no compensation for endorsing any products. Last year I won a contest sponsored by Stauffer’s and my prize is a monthly cookie gift package for a year.

Tomato-Tomato-Tomato

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It occurs to me that I have yet to share much of my 2016 garden with you. If you follow @goodgriefcook on instagram then you have gotten some snippets. I love instagram. It is such a happy place with the best photography of people, places and food. Right now home-grown tomatoes are trending.

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home-grown tomatoes with red onion jam

Back to my garden. It has been the most bountiful, yet. Each year seems to be better and better. It helps to rotate crops and purchase plants and seeds from reputable places. The last two years I have been a huge fan of the Burpee company because every single seed and plant purchased from them seem to flourish in my little plot of heaven. More good news is that I haven’t needed to use any herbicides or pesticides on my plants. It seems hungry birds make a meal of most of the bugs. We encourage birds to hang around in our yard by providing  suet in the winter and a few nesting boxes scattered around the garden area.

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One thing I really do need to learn is how to properly plant a variety of plants and seeds that don’t ripen all at once. Feast or famine? Right now we are feasting on tomatoes including two varieties (salsa and yellow pear) that self seeded from last year. I love those surprise plants and all the others that inspired today’s recipes.

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Toasted Fennel Tomato Jam is one of my all-time favorite recipes. I featured it around this time last year as inspired by my son’s love for the caprese salad. If you really want to add some life to your favorite Italian mozzarella or burrata make the jam.  Happily, I used up a 4 pound mix of tomatoes in this batch and it is as good as ever.

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My latest original recipe is a Tomato Bread made with tomato juice and a mix of soy and bread flour. Back when I attended the National Festival of Breads I was gifted a bag of  soy flour, so I thought I might give it a try. The bread makes a great sandwich with a mild tomato taste and slight sweetness from molasses.

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photo by Caitlin Keys Pemberton

Finally, and at at the suggestion of my daughter, together we whipped up this tomato pie recipe from Epicurious.com. We used gruyere cheese instead of cheddar and filled it with  sweet heirloom cherry tomatoes and a smaller Brandywine variety. From the crisp buttery crust to the spicy cheese topping this tomato pie is a tasty one. It’s perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

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Hope you enjoyed this glimpse of gardening from my neck of the woods. You say tomato and I say delicious especially if it is home-grown.

Tomato Bread

1 (1/4 oz.) package Red Star Active Dry Yeast

1 ¾ cups tomato juice, warmed to about 115F.

1-tablespoon molasses

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon dried basil

1-tablespoon olive oil

1-cup Bob’s Red Mill soy flour

3 ½ to 4 cups King Arthur Flour bread flour

Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan. In large bowl of stand mixer, fitted with paddle attachment, sprinkle yeast over warm tomato juice; let stand 5 minutes. Stir in molasses, salt, basil, oil and soy flour. Slowly add bread flour until it comes together and pulls away from sides of the bowl. Switch to dough hook attachment. Knead dough on speed level 2 for 5 to 7 minutes. Shape the dough and place in prepared loaf pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place, about 90 minutes, or until it rises ½-inch above the rim of the pan. Preheat oven to 325F. Slash top of bread, if desired. Bake bread for 50 to 60 minutes or until instant read thermometer inserted in center registers 200-205F. Turn out on cooling rack and cool completely.

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By the way, I have not been compensated in any way by any of the companies that I have mentioned here. As always I am just sharing my favorite quality products with you. It’s like a good neighbor who suggests her favorite restaurant or a tomato plant variety to try.

 

What Every Mom Knows….About Pie

just bake it

just bake it

Every mother knows that at some point they’ve got to set their kids free. Untying the apron strings is never easy and letting them fly is even harder, but that is what moms do. It starts with the first day of school. A series of good-byes and long days hoping for the best. Suddenly, those long days have turned into years. The kids are ready to fly solo. Gently nudged from the nest we proudly watch them soar. It’s the beginning of a new relationship, but one thing has not changed. No one will ever love you like your mom.

my favorite sandwich

my favorite sandwich

There comes a point in the grief process that one realizes it is time to let go, too. It is the beginning of a new relationship with the one you have loved and lost. This is about the griever who can finally think about their loved one and not feel pain. This is about the griever who can talk about their loved one and not burst into tears. This is about the griever who is ready to take that emotional attachment and invest it in the living. If you are new to your grief this is not about you. In time you will get here because every day is a series of long good-byes.

A visit to Chicago's Navy Pier

A visit to Chicago’s Navy Pier

My William is gone. I recognize that. He can’t hug me or flash me a smile. He can’t call me on the phone at 9 pm or pay me a surprise visit. I can’t yell at him for doing something stupid (isn’t that what moms do) and I can no longer protect him or offer him advice. I can’t cook him his favorite meal or watch him enjoy Sunday morning crepes filled with his favorite strawberry jam. I will never forget him and I will always love him, but I have to let go of all this emotional energy and direct it towards living. Still safe in my heart this letting go of his hand is not a betrayal, but a healthy step forward. It is a Mother’s Day gift.

cutting the first slice is always the hardest

cutting the first slice is always the hardest

Another gift I have is a rolling pin from my mom. I have used a variety of rolling pins over the years, but hers is my favorite. It has comfortable handles and a weight that is perfect for rolling out her buttery pie dough recipe. I love to bake and as the days are getting longer and warmer, baking time is getting shorter. Don’t you just hate when it is too hot to turn the oven on? Yeah, me too. Baking has gotten me through some of my sadder moments. It’s great therapy plus in this case you get to eat pie.

mom's buttery crust

mom’s buttery crust plus her old rolling pin

Strawberry Rhubarb Lattice Pie

Crust

3 cups all purpose flour

1-tablespoon sugar

1-teaspoon salt

10 tablespoons unsalted butter (my mom only bought Land O Lakes)

6 tablespoons vegetable shortening

8 to 10 tablespoons ice water

Whisk flour, sugar and salt; cut in butter and shortening forming coarse crumbs with butter bits about the size of small peas. Using a fork, toss in just enough ice water until the dough sticks together forming a ball. Divide dough in half, wrap in plastic and chill at least 30 minutes.

see the bits of butter

see the bits of butter

Filling

3 1/2 cups diced rhubarb (1/2-inch thick slices) reddest stalks are best

1-(16 oz.) container strawberries, hulled, halved (about 3 1/2 cups)

½ cup sugar

1/3-cup (packed) golden brown sugar

¼-cup cornstarch

2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger

½-teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼-teaspoon salt

that's my mom's old pasta bowl

that’s my mom’s old pasta bowl

Prepare pie dough. Toss all filling ingredients together; let stand 30 minutes. Heat oven 400F. Roll out half of pie dough and fit into 9-inch pie plate. Roll out remaining pie dough into 13-inch circle; cut into fourteen 1/2-inch-wide strips. Drain juices from filling into a microwave safe 2-cup measure. (you should have about 1/3rd cup of cloudy pink juice). Microwave the juices on high for 1 minute; it should come to a rolling boil and thicken. Spoon filling into crust. Pour juice over filling. Arrange 7 dough strips atop filling, spacing evenly. Form lattice by placing remaining dough strips in opposite direction atop filling. Trim ends of dough strips even with overhang of bottom crust. Fold strip ends and overhang under, pressing to seal. Crimp edges. Transfer pie to foil-lined baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Bake pie until golden and filling is bubbly and thickens, about 65 to 75 minutes. Transfer pie to rack and cool completely.

from Penzey's

Finally, thanks to every one who commented on last weeks blog post. Happy thoughts are always good.  Congratulations to “Tracy” the winner. Your gift is on the way. Happy Mother’s Day.