From Too Many Chefs -

November 27, 2006
Giving Thanks (a few days late)

stemiliongrandcru.jpgAlthough the official date of Thanksgiving was four days ago and our unofficial Paris celebration two days ago I'm still in the mood for giving thanks. To tell the truth, in the run up to the great foodie holiday and the chaos of serving and eating and being merry we often lose sight of the purpose of the day. Or at least I seem to do so. I also don't like to go all solemn on our guests, who are there, after all, to relax and enjoy themselves. So yesterday I sat down and counted my blessings a bit. In terms of Things Consumed, the bottle on the left heads the list. A very good friend of mine, Adrienne, gave us this bottle of Cheval Blanc St. Emilion Grand Cru a few years ago to thank the Critic for his support in a professional crisis. He didn't do much aside from point out to a few people that she is a fantastic employee and that to treat her badly would be unfair. She and her husband (who obviously have more patience and restraint than us) responded by giving us this bottle of wine. Can you make out the date? 1979. I don't CARE if 1979 was a great year for wine - when was the last time you tried a wine that was bottled 27 years ago? I wanted to keep the wine for the next time Adrienne and her husband Michel came to dinner but this year we gave up and decanted it for our Thanksgiving dinner. (I mentioned, didn't I, the lack of patience and restraint in our household?) It was lovely, strong in tannin but not overpowering, just a classy wine. Thanks, Adrienne.

I'm also thankful this year for the wondeful butchers we have in France and the succulent birds they supply. We had a smaller bird than usual this year - only 4.1 kilos - and though I would have liked a slightly bigger one I have to admit it was the tastiest bird we've had yet. Because France doesn't have the market that the US and UK do for turkeys it's pretty difficult to find a frozen one. Nearly all the birds are free range, fresh birds and this one yielded the best gravy I've made yet. I didn't have to do anything really - just add water and flour and salt and cook for a bit and it was perfect: rich and dark brown and full of flavour.

Third on my list of things to be thankful for (and it's a very long list so I'm not going to include them all here) is Convenience in the Kitchen: for the first time in years I made a pumpkin pie and I blessed the ones who conceived the idea of canned pumpkin and pre-rolled pie crusts. When you are already cooking a stuffed turkey, three vegetables, gravy, cranberry rolls and home made cranberry sauce you don't need a complicated dessert. The pie I made was, in my opinion, just dandy. In fact, the Critic - who hates pumpkin pie - actually ate the sliver I gave him and said it wasn't bad at all. For him that is high praise indeed.

If you are interested in the recipe for this quick and dirty tasty pie, read on...

I once made a pumpkin pie from a fresh pumpkin that I roasted and mashed. Once. It wasn't actually nasty but it wasn't very nice - full of lumps and strings and kind of bland. I've compared notes with other cooks since and so far have yet to find anyone who thinks the fresh kind is better than a canned one. We all look a bit sheepish as we admit to each other that we are "too lazy" or "not talented enough" but I'm going to be bold here and just stick to my guns: the canned version is very good and it's what we are all used to eating. So there. You can slave over the oven or stewpot and the Foley Food Mill all day if you like but I have better things to do with my time. This one took a little over an hour, which is about as quick as a pie can get if you are including the preheating time (which I am) and you need to blind bake the crust before adding the filling (which you do).

Spicy Pumpkin pie

1 pre-rolled pie crust (I used a pâte sablé, which is a thick and slightly sweet crust)
1 can (15 oz) prepared cooked pumpkin
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of ground cloves
1 teaspoon "quatre épices" spice mix (increase the cinnamon and ginger by about half and add a good grinding of nutmeg and a generous grinding of black pepper if you don't have access to it)
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven and blind bake the crust according to the directions on the package. While the crust is baking, mix the rest of the ingredients well with an electric beater or a mixer. After baking, allow the crust to cool for 10-15 minutes. Fill the pie shell and bake at 350F/180C for 35 minutes or until just barely set. As the pie cools it will continue to set.

Serve slightly warmed, with whipped cream, to which you have added a tablespoon of cinnamon sugar at the last moment of whipping.

Note: this is a list of food-related things I am grateful for and doesn't include the basic stuff like being able to put a feast on the table, having a healthy (growing!) family, a great social security net, jobs and wonderful friends. When I stop and think how lucky we are it makes me ashamed of how frequently we complain of trivial things like striking train drivers or petty bureaucrats.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at November 27, 2006 3:21 PM

Meg, I really enjoyed this post. Your day sounded wonderful, the wine a delight -- and it was just nice of you to share your thoughts with us. Thanks.

Posted by Lu on November 27, 2006 at 7:41 PM

Cheval Blanc, oh, my--I would be very thankful indeed!

About that pumpkin pie: it really IS possible to make good pumpkin filling from scratch, and with minimal effort. After several earlier failures I stumbled into success completely by chance. Faced with some leftover cheese pumpkin I peeled, diced, and nuked the raw cubes of squash--and promptly forgot what I was doing. When I finally remembered the vegetable, I drained the soggy orange cubes over a bowl for about an hour, discarding quite a lot of liquid before refrigerating the solids. When I went to mash up the bright orange stuff it was very soft, just needed a bit of whisking for a smooth, silky texture. It made fantastic pumpkin scones, not pie, but it would have worked beautifully. Without a microwave steaming would have worked just as well. I'm not convinced it's worth the effort when you're making an elaborate feast, but it's always nice to conquer previous failures.

Posted by Susan on November 27, 2006 at 9:08 PM

Susan, I'd like to revisit the pumpkin pie issue at some point because it does go against the grain to use a can when I can obtain the fresh produce. However, it's not going to be on the day when I have the rest of the feast to prepare as well! Thanks for the tip and I'll tuck it away until I have the time to make the pie properly!

Posted by Meg in Paris on November 28, 2006 at 5:12 AM

Thanks again Meg, we had a wonderful time, and couldn't have enjoyed our Thanksgiving feast any better! And we felt very honoured to be the priviliged guests chosen to try the Cheval Blanc!

I definitely agree with you on the pie - I've always had more success with canned filling, and your spicy version was delicious, especially with the cinammon cream.

Posted by Margaret on November 28, 2006 at 10:09 AM

Hi Meg,

Followed a link to here from the Message website....a few whole milk necessary or can I use demi ecreme? I will be using potiron muscade from the market, I assume I can just steam it up and use it in place of the canned pumpkin? Last year I made pumpkin pie from scratch (not from canned pumpkin) and it was pretty soupy (yet nonetheless delicious), any ideas?


Posted by Alison on November 26, 2008 at 11:57 AM

Alison, demi-écremé is fine. I would think that the muscade squash would be fin. On the soupiness issue, if you steamed the pumpkin last year that might be the problem. You could either try roasting the squash (around 200C for 50-60 minutes) or maybe add an extra egg to the mix to firm things up. Hope that helps!

Posted by Meg in Paris on November 27, 2008 at 2:02 AM