I scream, you scream…for pumpkin ice cream!

pumpkin pie ice cream

It is ice cream season. And, if you have a can of pumpkin puree in your pantry, leftover from the holidays, this is a seriously delicious way to turn it into a summertime treat. I have served it to numerous guests to rave reviews.

This ice cream uses a custard, so the eggs are cooked. This is the trickiest part of the recipe, cooking the custard without scrambling it. Some recipes say cook the custard directly on the stovetop. If you haven’t done it before (or you have a hard time maintaining a low heat on your stove), there’s a good chance you will scramble your eggs and ruin the custard. I like to use a double boiler. It takes longer because the heat is gentler, but you are far less likely to ruin the custard this way. To make a double boiler, find a bowl that fits securely over any medium to large saucepan. You can buy a double boiler as a set, but it’s not really necessary.

Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream
(makes 7-8 cups)

1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
5 large egg yolks
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup half and half
1 15-oz. can solid pack pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix, just pumpkin puree)
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup crumbled ginger snaps, not crushed too much because you want chunks

In a medium mixing bowl that you can use as the top of a double boiler, beat together the brown sugar, corn syrup, and egg yolks until thick and pale yellow. Mix in the cornstarch and spices.

In a small saucepan, heat the half and half to a simmer. Slowly mix the hot half and half into the egg mixture. Bring water to a simmer in the bottom of the double boiler. Place the custard over the hot water and stir, stir, stir. You can use a whisk or a wooden spoon. The custard is cooked when it thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and beat in the pumpkin. Pour through fine mesh strainer into a large clean bowl. If there are any lumps of pumpkin, push them through the strainer. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream and vanilla extract. Cover and refrigerate until cold.

Stir the custard well before freezing. Freeze according to your machine’s instructions. The ice cream will be soft when finished. Add in the crumbled ginger snaps at the very end to maintain the cookie chunkiness. If you add them too early, they disappear. Still tastes good, but sub-optimal in my opinion. For firmer ice cream, transfer to a large container and put in the deep freeze (0ºF or less) for at least 2 hours.

This recipe makes a big batch, nearly 2 quarts. My ice cream maker, a Cuisinart, is not big enough to hold the whole thing in 1 batch. Make sure your machine can hold it all after it’s frozen – remember it expands as it freezes, or freeze it in 2 batches.

Based on a recipe from The Ultimate Ice Cream Book by Bruce Weinstein, William Morrow and Company, 1999.


Ranch Beans


Summer BBQ weather means “baked” beans. In New England, they are actually baked. If you are traditionalist (or maybe if your family has handed down an heirloom), in a bean pot like in this photo.


They are sweet, they include a hunk of salt pork, and did I say, they are really sweet? I love New England baked beans but sometimes I don’t want the sweet part. The answer is ranch beans. Which aren’t baked. They are braised. In this case, super-fast in my Instant Pot.

I imagine Ranch Beans cooking in a cast iron pot over a campfire for hours. Cowboys sitting around that campfire, eating beans and a lovely rare steak. Then Mel Brooks intrudes in my reverie. Wait, let’s just stop right there!

Back to the Instant Pot part: super fast way to cook beans. I’m a huge fan. Start them in the morning and they keep warm in the pot all day. It’s one of the best appliances to come along in years.

Ranch Beans
(makes a lot, 8-10 side dish servings)

1 pound navy beans, soaked overnight, drained, and rinsed
2 cups water
2 teaspoons Ham Stock (I like Penzeys Ham Soup Base if I don’t have homemade)
1 1/2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (I like Mexican but you can use whatever you have)
3 cloves garlic, minced or 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/2 tablespoons onion powder
1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt (I like Penzeys 4/S Special Seasoned Sea Salt)
1/4 cup tomato puree

Place everything EXCEPT 1 teaspoon brown sugar, seasoned salt, and tomato puree in the Instant Pot. Stir to combine. Lock the lid in place. Press the bean/chili button and cook for 25 minutes (more if you are somewhere in Colorado; I cooked them for 35 minutes and I live at 8600 feet). Let pressure release naturally for at least 10 minutes. Open lid and stir in 1 teaspoon brown sugar and tomato puree. Taste. Add seasoned salt to your taste. The Ham Soup Base is pretty salty so I only added 1/4 teaspoon. You may need more. Or none.

Freezes well, so make a bunch and save it for the next BBQ.

Bean pot photo: By FiveRings at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Cabbage Creole


What is Creole anyway? Lots of people confuse Creole and Cajun because they are both Louisiana food traditions. But, they aren’t the same thing. They have similarities, sharing many flavor principles, however.

First, Cajun. The ancestral food tradition is Acadian, from what is now the Maritime Canadian provinces and parts of Quebec. Acadians were French colonists. They were driven out of Acadia by the British in the 18th century and many settled in Spanish Louisiana. Here, they became Cajun, adapting to a totally new pantry of ingredients: crawfish (not unlike the lobsters of their most recent homeland), local fish and game, peppers (both sweet and spicy), and rice. Like Creole, they adapted many culinary traditions from both the French and the local Native Americans. Cajun is the cuisine of the bayous of Louisiana. It’s bold, it’s rich, and like Cajun Zydeco, a lot of fun.

Creole cuisine is the cuisine of New Orleans. If you have never been to New Orleans, you need to go. It’s got a thoroughly unique vibe. The food is exceptional. Creole borrows heavily from the traditions of fine French cuisine. But, in the melting pot known as New Orleans, French is only one of the cuisines adding to the charm of Creole. You have the “Holy Trinty,” Creole’s answer to mirepoix. In Creole, it’s composed of onions, celery, and green peppers, not the traditional French combo of onions, celery, and carrots. Then there’s a healthy dose of garlic, which is called “The Pope,” giving you a sense of how important it is. Garlic? Classic French cuisine doesn’t emphasize garlic. But, the Spanish and the Italians do, both represented in New Orleans. West Indian and African cuisine played a part too, bringing okra and the hearty spiciness (definitely NOT part of classic French cuisine). It’s one big delicious melting pot of food representing the melting pot of cultures in New Orleans.

Cabbage Creole. The dish itself says melting pot. Cabbage is very French. How well loved is cabbage in France? A term of endearment is “mon petit chou” which means “my little cabbage.” The Creole part is the use of their version of mirepoix plus some garlic and a touch of cayenne (or more than a touch, you decide).

Cabbage Creole
(serve 6-8)

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil or bacon drippings
1 medium green pepper, cored and diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium cabbage, cored and chopped
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained (or 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes)
1  teaspoon salt
a pinch to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Heat the fat in a large skillet (cast iron is the material of choice in Creole cooking) over medium-high heat. Add green pepper, onion, and celery. Sauté until vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in remaining ingredients. Lower heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 20-30 minutes until cabbage is tender. Check for salt before serving.

Lentil Tomato Soup

Whew! My life has been off to crazytown lately. Cooking has not been on the priority list. Actually, that’s not true. It’s just that cooking has become very very simple of late. Here’s hoping that changes soon because I’m a lot happier when I’m trying new recipes and playing in the kitchen.

Which brings me to my soon-to-be “new” kitchen. We recently purchased a townhouse near Boulder and the kitchen is oh so sad. An electric range from the late 90’s!! Horrors! A new induction range is coming (not soon enough for me). Until then, I must soldier on with a poor excuse for a stove.

Thing about soup, it’s easy to cook in one pot and an electric range is good enough. This recipe is adapted from the New York Times. The original is vegetarian. Mine is not, though you could leave out the bacon and it would still be darn good. But, I love bacon as a flavoring in bean soup. This is a very hearty, stick-to-your-ribs kind of soup.

Lentil Tomato Soup
(serves 4 as a main dish, 8 as an appetizer)

2 slices thick bacon, chopped
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 large stalk celery, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes in juice
2-3 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup brown lentils, washed and drained
5 cups water
leaves from 8 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese for garnish

Heat up a soup pot on medium heat. Add bacon and oil. Cook until bacon renders out fat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add carrot, celery, and garlic. Cook for another minute. Add in tomatoes, 2 teaspoons salt, black pepper, and lentils. Stir to combine. Add in water, thyme leaves, and bay leaf. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cover partially and cook for 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours until lentils are tender. Remove bay leaf. Stir in red wine vinegar and parsley. Taste; add more salt and pepper according to your taste. Serve garnished with grated cheese.

Even better the next day (as is true with so many soups and stews).

Adapted from Lentil Tomato Soup by Martha Rose Shulman, New York Times.

Black Beans and Rice, InstantPot version

My pantry (and I use this term broadly; it includes my freezer) is full of lots of things that make it easy to throw together a meal in short order. Though I live only 10 minutes from 2 well stocked grocery stores, going out in the dark, when snow is blowing sideways, is not all that attractive. Much easier to figure out dinner with what is on hand. This recipe happened on just such an evening. Look in fridge. Look in pantry. Ah, this will work!

“Beans and rice” are common all over Latin America. Black beans and rice are the rule in Cuban and Cuban-American kitchens. Some recipes include pork of some kind. This recipe does not. In fact, it’s vegan. In this case, I didn’t miss the meat at all.

I cooked the beans in my InstantPot. Though you can cook them from dry without soaking them this way, I prefer to soak them first. The beans hold their shape better, and you can discard the soaking liquid before cooking the beans, which cuts down on the gasiness a little.

Cuban Black Beans and Rice in the InstantPot
(serves 6-8)

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, minced
1 bunch scallions, white part minced and green tops thinly sliced
1 roasted red pepper, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cups water (see note)
1 1/2 cups long-grain rice
3 cups cooked black beans (you can use canned)
2-3 teaspoons salt

Select the Sauté setting on the InstantPot. Add the olive oil. Add the onion, white part of scallions, red pepper, and garlic. Stir to combine. Sauté for a minute. Turn off the InstantPot and lock the lid in place. The residual heat in the pot will be enough to soften the onions. Also, we don’t want to burn the garlic. Burned garlic is gross!

Remove the lid. Add oregano, water, rice, beans, and 2 teaspoons salt. Stir to combine. Lock the lid in place and select Manual. Cook for 10-15 minutes (10 at sea level, 12 at 5000 feet, 15 at 9000 feet). Let sit on Keep Warm for 10 minutes after cooking has completed. Release pressure. Mix in sliced green onion tops. Taste for salt; add more if needed.

I like to garnish this with a few shakes of red hot sauce, like Crystal, Tabasco, or Cholula.

Note: if you cook the black beans yourself, use the cooking liquid to replace all or some of the water. You can also use the liquid from canned beans for this.

Based on a recipe from Bernard Clayton’s Cooking Across America by Bernard Clayton, Simon & Schuster, 1993.

Date, Nut, and Yogurt Scones

date scones - 1

Now that I live at 8600 feet, I approach many baking recipes with some trepidation. In my nearly 30 years living in Boulder (elevation 5400 feet), I’ve gotten pretty good at tweaking sea level recipes (read that as 99.99% of all recipes). But, nearly 9000 feet? That’s a whole new ballgame.

I set aside this recipe, from Gourmet November 1989, months back. It sat and sat while I pondered if they would work. I had a package of dates that were begging to be eaten. Isn’t this a perfect way to use some of them up? Yes, and this week, I finally gave the recipe a try. I did not go in blind. I consulted my favorite high-altitude baking cookbook Pie in the Sky by Susan G. Purdy. Along with information from Colorado Cooperative Extension, this book is my go-to on adjustments for altitude. If you bake in Colorado, Purdy’s book is a must-have. Turns out, the Pie in the Sky scone recipe is nearly identical in proportions to the Gourmet one. Purdy uses buttermilk, but yogurt is close enough.

Below, is the original Gourmet recipe (since I know most readers do not live at 8600 feet) with my adjustments in brackets. Some scone recipes use nearly twice as much butter as this one. So, this isn’t the richest scone recipe out there. It does have a nice tang from the yogurt that balances the intense sweetness of the dates. The walnuts add a delicious crunch.

Date, Nut, and Yogurt Scones
(makes 8)

2 cups all purpose flour
2 [1 1/2] teaspoons baking powder
1/2 [none] teaspoon baking soda
1 [1/2] teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons sugar, divided
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into bits
1 cup chopped dates
1 cup chopped walnuts
8 oz. plain whole fat yogurt

Preheat oven to 425℉ [400℉].

Butter a small baking sheet.

In the bowl of a food processor, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 2 Tablespoons sugar. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Pour the dough into a bowl. Mix in dates and walnuts. Add the yogurt and stir to combine. With floured hands, mix until the dough comes together in a loose ball. Mound on baking sheet to form an 8″ diameter disk. Score top to divide into 8 wedges. Sprinkle with remaining 1 Tablespoon sugar.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned and cooked through. [Reduce temperature to 375℉. Bake in the middle of the oven for 25-30 minutes until lightly browned and cooked through.]

Let cool on a rack. Serve warm.

Instant Pot Braised Rice, Bean, and Kale

Two friends asked me about the Instant Pot in the last 2 days.  Written up in the New York Times, both in Business and Food in the last month, it’s the hottest thing in kitchen appliances.

I have owned one for about 3 years now. I turned my sister and my dad into Instant Pot lovers. Why would you want another small appliance on your kitchen counter? Because it is really good at a lot of things and it takes the pressure out of timing the cooking of many of them. Rice, beans, stew, stock, soup, braises, other grains, will turn out beautifully. Then the InstantPot will keep them warm for up to 10 hours. That’s the part I really like; set the timer and it will turn itself down to Keep Warm until you want to eat it. I can start my rice first thing, before starting the rest of dinner. No need to worry about it overcooking or getting cold. Yes, many rice cookers do the same thing but now you can jettison your rice cooker and just have an InstantPot, which does so much more.

This bean dish is stick-to-your-ribs good for those cold winter days. You can serve it as a meatless entree or as a side dish for grilled or roasted meat.

The time range I give for cooking is for altitude adjustment. Most of you live at sea level. I live at nearly 9000 feet most of the year. Use the shorter time at sea level, somewhere in the middle if you live in Denver/Boulder (about 5300 feet) and the longest time if you live way up at ski resort elevations.

Braised Rice, Cannellini, and Kale
(serves 4-6)

1 cup dried cannellini or Great Northern beans, rinsed
about 3 cups water
1 Tablespoon fresh sage, chopped or 1 teaspoon dried sage, crumbled
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
10-16 oz. package frozen kale, thawed*
1 cup Arborio or other short-grain rice
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 cups stock
2 Tablespoons butter
salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
freshly grated Parmigiano cheese and extra-virgin olive oil for garnish

Place the beans, water (should be enough to cover beans), 1 teaspoon salt, and sage in Instant Pot. Lock lid in place. Cook on Manual setting for 35-45 minutes. Let beans sit on Keep Warm for 10 minutes.

While beans are sitting, squeeze out moisture from kale.

After 10 minutes, release pressure. The beans should be tender at this point. This may not be so if your beans are older and have dried out. If they are not done, lock the lid in place, and cook them on Manual for some more time; usually 5 minutes is enough. Drain the beans and set aside. [You can do this step ahead of time. You can even use a can of Great Northern beans. Just mix the sage in with the canned beans and continue below.]

Heat up the Instant Pot on Saute.  Add the olive oil to the Instant Pot (no need to clean it out), then the rice. Cook the rice for a minute, stirring constantly. Add the 1/2 teaspoon of salt, kale, and stock to the pot. Lock the lid back in place and cook on Manual for 6-8 minutes. Allow the pressure to reduce for 10 minutes on Keep Warm. Release the remaining pressure and remove lid. The risotto should be al dente at this point. Stir in beans, butter, salt to taste (how much will depend on the saltiness of your stock), and black pepper. Once the butter is melted and the beans are hot, it’s done. Garnish with Parmigiano cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.

*You can use a bunch of fresh kale instead of frozen but you will need to cook it lightly first so you can squeeze out the water. Pull the leafy bits off the stems, then steam or blanch it for 2 minutes. Cool quickly by putting it in a bowl of ice water. Squeeze out the moisture, chop coarsely, and use in place of the frozen kale.

Adapted from a recipe in Fagioli: The Bean Cuisine of Italy by Judith Barrett, Rodale, 2004.