Pumpkin Coconut Soup

This is less of a pumpkin-spice recipe and more of a pumpkin-herb recipe. I started by wanting to use up leftover Thanksgiving pie pumpkins, so I went to a Bon Appetit recipe that caught my eye. It used butternut squash and coconut milk, but a squash is a squash is a squash. Use whatever you have—I certainly felt free to. And that’s what good home cooking is: using up what’s at hand while making it taste delightful.

The Bon Appetit recipe used garlic and ginger as the main sources of flavour, adding a little heat with chili flakes and cilantro. All well and good, but I needed more from my soup. If I’m to be drinking/eating healthy vegan things, they must have maximal flavour, dammit.

An upgrade was easily achieved with the addition of some chopped lemongrass and fresh lime leaves, simmered in with the pumpkin as it cooks. This made a huge difference. My pumpkin soup went from having a nice taste to an excellent one. It meant putting the lemongrass in some cheesecloth, then extracting it along with the lime leaves right before blending, rather than just dumping the whole pot into the blender. A tiny effort well worth the exertion.

This soup is warm, healthy, and cheerful as can be. If you want to reduce the fat content, use light coconut milk. I made a big batch that was a perfect host to leftover grilled shrimp, some sautéed kale from the night before, some quickly cooked green beans. I topped it with the cilantro leaves and toasted pumpkin seeds, and of course peanuts and toasted coconut would be lovely as well. Cilantro haters, you know very well that you can and will skip that particular ingredient. You know who you are.

Pumpkin Coconut Soup

A warming, filling, herbacous soup that is as healthy as it is tasty.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Course: Appetizer, Soup
Cuisine: Southeast Asian
Keyword: #coconut, #lemongrass, #pumpkin, #pumpkinsoup, ginger
Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • 2-3 Thai chilis (optional)
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, bottom parts only
  • 4-6 lime leaves
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 3 tbsp grapeseed oil or coconut oil
  • 3 tsp kosher salt
  • 4-4½ lbs pumpkin
  • 1 small bunch cilantro

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350°.
  • Preheat a thick-bottomed pot on medium heat, adding the oil once it’s warm. Dice the onion and sauté until translucent. Turn down to medium low.
  • Mince garlic and chilis, if using. Grate ginger, wash and chop cilantro stems. Sauté everything together on medium low.
  • Peel and seed the pumpkins, or whatever squash you have. A thinner skinned squash willl yield more flesh, so you could start with 3½-4 lbs. Chop into roughly evenly sized cubes and add to the pot.
  • Add water just to cover, then add coconut milk and 2 tsp of salt.
  • Chop lemongrass and wrap in cheesecloth or put into a dispoable tea bag and add to soup. Add lime leaves and salt.
  • Bring to a boil then turn heat down and simmer until pumpkin is soft, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool a bit.
  • Rinse seeds, discarding most of the stringy flesh. Don’t worry if you don’t get it all, it will dry up and separate more easily after baking. Cover seeds in 1 tbsp of oil and 1 tsp of salt.
  • Spread on a parchment-lined rimmed cookie sheet. Toast for 15-20 minutes, stirring halfway through. Toast until golden brown.
  • Come back to your soup. Just before you pour it in the blender, remove the lemongrass and lime leaves. Fill the blender no more than 2/3 full, and make sure there’s a little ventilation if it’s still steaming hot. You do not want your kitchen to look like a Jackson Pollack painintg.
  • Blend until silky smooth. Pour back into the pot to reheat before serving. Top with cilantro, pumpkin seeds, and unsweetened toasted coconut, if you have it. Voilà!
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Perfect Cranberry Sauce

Three small additions take your homemade cranberry from good to great.

So everybody knows you don’t buy cranberry sauce. It’s the very easiest thing to make ever.

You buy a package of cranberries, and as per instructions on the back, you boil them with sugar, water and the zest of an orange. Fait accompli.

That does very nicely. But these three small tweaks take your cranberry sauce from good to great in short order.

You replace the water and brown sugar with maple syrup. Add a strong pinch of salt. Add a tiny pinch of cloves. It’s perfect.

The maple syrup adds complexity. The salt adds depth. The musty, heavy flavour of cloves battles the tart tinniness of the cranberries. The ultimate Thanksgiving cranberry sauce. For a Christmas turkey, add an extra pinch of cloves. Tastes like Christmas in a jar.

This is not only a great sauce, it’s a great gift. My family prefers gravy, so I end up putting the cranberry sauce in plain yoghurt for a week. This is a happy occurrence. But I make it for company, and they always describe it in superlative terms.

Perfect Cranberry Sauce

Maple syrup, salt and cloves add a little backbone to this tradiitonal sauce.
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Course: Garnish
Cuisine: American, Canadian
Keyword: #bestevercranberrysauce, #cranberries, #cranberry, #cranberrysauce, #maplesyrupeverything, #newcranberrysauce, #thanksgiving, #turkeydinner

Ingredients

  • 1 package fresh cranberries (8 oz, 227 g)
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • tsp kosher or sea salt
  • zest and juice of one orange
  • 1 pinch cloves

Instructions

  • Put all ingredients in a pot, and bring to boil over high heat. Put a lid on and cook over medium heat. When you no longer hear the cranberries popping, about 5 minutes, turn off the heat.
  • Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Notes

Cranberry sauce is lovely stirred into plain yoghurt or on top of plain cheesecake. 
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Double Maple Pear Pie

This is the most Canadian of pies. And just in time for Canadian Thanksgiving, for those of you who don’t like pumpkin pie. (Why don’t you like pumpkin pie? I don’t understand.) Okay, maybe butter tarts or straight up maple sugar pie are slightly more Canadian, but this is delightfully seasonal and tasty as all get out. Perfect for your Thanksgiving table. 

This award-winning pie came first in our local pie contest last year. I was so looking forward to entering again with a new creation. No pie contests being held this year, obviously, but since it’s Thanksgiving, I’m going to focus on gratitude. Thankful for my family, for kind friends, and the comforts of our yearly turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes. Hoping you able to take comfort in the same blessings this year. 

Most of the pear pie recipes I consulted before making this one used either maple syrup or maple sugar. I say double down like you’re at Timmy’s. I have maple flavouring, so I added that as well. And I serve it with a thimble of Sortilège on the side. 

It used to be that you could only find blocks of hard maple sugar at farmer’s markets that you had to grate by hand. Local is always superior, but you can buy maple sugar online now or at Costco. 

Use dark maple syrup if you can find it. I love cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and other spices with pears, but I’ve only used allspice (you could substitute cloves) here because it amplifies the maple flavour without distracting from it. Lemon juice has been replaced by Sortilège, bourbon or rum. 

I always double the recipe so that I can use a variety of pears for a more complex flavour profile. 

Double Maple Pear Pie

The pear pie uses maple syrup and maple sugar combined for an extra dose of flavour. Perfect for Thanksgiving!
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Resting time: 1 hour
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American, Canadian
Keyword: #falldesserts, #fruitpie, #holiday, #maplepear, #maplepearpie, #pearpie, #pie, #thanksgiving
Servings: -8

Equipment

  • Pie plate
  • Tin foil
  • Apple slicer

Ingredients

  • 3 ½  lbs. firm Bosc pears, usually 7-9 large pears
  • ¼  cup maple sugar (plus extra for decorating)
  • ¼  cup dark maple syrup
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp allspice (or 1/8 tsp cloves)
  • 1 tsp maple or vanilla extract (optional)
  • 1 tsp maple liqueur, rum, or bourbon 
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 double crust pie crust, rolled and rested

Instructions

  • Line pie plate with one half pie dough. Prick the bottom all over with a fork. Roll the other half flat and return both to the fridge. 
  • Preheat oven to 375° F (190°C) in a regular oven, or 350°F (180°C) in a convection oven. 
  • Mix sugar, syrup, salt, cornstarch, allspice, extract and liqueur (if using). Stir together until sugar and cornstarch dissolves.  
  • Section pears with a handheld apple slicer if you have one (see photo), slicing peels off and making each slice relatively even. Toss to coat after each pear to prevent oxidization. 
  • Put pear mixture in the chilled pie dough.
  • Beat the egg with a tsp. of water to make an egg wash.
  • Paint the edge of the dough with the egg wash, then add the other rolled out pie dough in top. Brush egg wash all over. Pinch the edges together.
  • Cut vents with a knife. Sprinkle with more maple sugar on top. Cover loosely with aluminum foil. Place or a cookie sheet to catch any spillage.
  • Bake for 45 minutes covered. Remove foil, then bake for another 30-45 minutes, or until golden brown and the juices are bubbling up through the cracks. 
  • If you double the recipe, you can skip the tin foil. Just rotate the pies, one above and one below.

Notes

  • For deep dish, add another 4 pears and 2 tbsp. maple sugar. Don’t add more liquid.
  • Use pears that are just ripe or almost ripe. Very ripe or over-ripe pears become mushy when cooked.
  • If a pear is grainy, don’t add it to your mix. Just toss it or eat it raw.
  • For the best all-butter, double piecrust recipe, check Brave Tart’s recipe.
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Poached Pears in Magnolia-Scented Oolong

Many of us are familiar with jasmine tea, but magnolia flowers are a prized ingredient in Chinese cuisine as well, appearing in recipes for food as well as in scented tea. 

Magnolia is usually associated with spring, with weddings, with feminine beauty and purity, so now is an odd time of year to feature this flower. But in traditional Chinese medicine, magnolia is also associated with respiratory health, as are pears. And pears are definitely a fall fruit, so we’ve got all the reasons we need to go ahead. (Note that I’m not claiming this combination as a health tonic, but I feel we need every little bit of comfort we can contrive these days.)

The real reason I’ve united these two together is that they are both delicate. Stronger flavours easily overwhelm the beauty of a pear. Now, not all pears are beautiful. Supermarket pears can be dreary and uninspiring unless they are local and even then, they are often picked far too soon. But when you do get one in its prime, it is a shame to bury it under a heavier flavour.

I’ve used Murchie’s Magnolia Oolong  for this recipe, although I’ve also made it with David’s Tea’s version, which also has jasmine flowers in it. Could you make this recipe with jasmine tea? Sure, but why not try something new? These flowers are prized for their beauty and scent and are every bit as lovely in teas as jasmine flowers.

For the pears: different types of pears require different cooking times. The first time I made this recipe was with beautiful little Fiorelle pears, but those weren’t available when I went to the store. Determined not to let the memory of the perfect become the enemy of the altogether lovely, I tried with the pears that I did find. 

For poached whole pears, I used mini-NorthBrites, since I had those from a local farmer. And my word were they incredible! Perfect pear flavour! But such tiny pears are cooked through the minute the poaching liquid comes to a boil, and so receive very little infusion. This is not much of a problem, since the reduction imparts the magnolia flavour very well, and the magnificent taste of these precious pears is fully manifest.  

To poach larger pears in what is some very expensive tea, I couldn’t bury whole pears under a ton of liquid. I solved this easily by slicing them in half, poaching them, and allowing them to cool just a little before peeling them and basting them with the still-reducing liquid. Here’s where the variety REALLY makes a difference.

Both red and yellow Anjous cook very quickly and become slightly grainy. The texture is like that of tinned pears, so not unfamiliar, and still tasty. Certainly, the red ones offer a lovely hue. But a Bosc pear poaches into a lovely firm, smooth texture, and can be cooked just before it’s ripe. It requires a longer cooking time, which allows for greater absorption of the magnolia flavour, and the result is a delight. 

This recipe is not quite vegan, because it calls for honey, but agave syrup would be an acceptably mild substitute. 

When poaching pears, you can peel them first, or poach and then peel. The peels slip off easily if you blanch them and then shock them in ice water, but we don’t wish to dilute our poaching liquid. You can poach them, then peel them while still warm, and thus make a smoother surface. I’m far too impatient for such careful measures, though, so my pears were a little rough on the surface. I don’t care, but if you do, proceed accordingly. Make ahead, store for a few days, or enjoy the same day.

Magnolia Oolong Poached Pears

Pears are poached in a glorious magnolia scented oolong and drenched in a magnolia-pear-honey reduction for a simple, delicate, unexpected dessert.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Canadian
Keyword: #magnoliaoolong, #oolong, #pearseason, #poachedpears

Ingredients

  • ½  cup magnolia oolong loose leaf tea
  • 4 cups water
  • 6 Bosc pears
  • 1 cup pear juice
  • ½  cup honey

Instructions

  • Bring water to a boil. Let cool to 85°C (185°F) and add tea. Let sit for 3 minutes, then remove tea leaves and set aside.
  • Peel pears, then slice pears in half, coring with a melon baller. Place pears in tea, bring tea to a boil. Turn heat down to medium and simmer for 2 minutes, or until a knife goes in easily.
  • Remove pears with a slotted spoon to a drying rack.
  • Bring tea back to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Reduce by half, then add in pear juice and honey, and continue reduce to 1 cup.
  • Remove pears to a dish, middle facing down. Brush occasionally with reducing liquid. When it is reduced to one cup, baste the pears again.
  • Drizzle the remaining rediuction over the pears. Serve right away, or store for another day.

Notes

Use reserved tea leaves to make tea to serve alongside the pears. Fine quality oolong can be re-steeped at least a half a dozen times. 
To make the tea again, heat filtered water to 85°C (185°F) and pour over tea leaves. Always bring the water to the tea, not the other way around. Steep for 3-4 minutes, then strain into teapot. (For a first steeping, try 2 -3 minutes.) Do not leave the tea in the water too long—it will become too bitter. 
Jasmine tea would be lovely in this recipe. A white tea is often too delicate to impart much flavour, so I’d recommend a jasmine oolong or green tea, but experiment as you please. The cost of the tea will likely guide any decisions. 
Try this recipe with a chai blend, or Earl Grey, or blackcurrant tea with blackcurrant juice or syrup instead of honey and juice. 
You could also make pears sous vide with a few tea leaves and some honey – omit the juice, as the pears will create their own juices as they cook. Sealed in a vacuum-packed bag, sous vide pears can be prepared a week in advance.
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Lady’s Slipper and Black Currants

I was delighted to be a guest blogger for Lady’s Baker Tea in PEI. I stumbled across their blog after finding mention of their beautiful teas on a friend’s post, and then I was thoroughly impressed with the care and expertise that goes into their curated offerings, especially the house blended teas. I begged them to allow me to develop a recipe using my favourite, Lady’s Slipper.

Little did I know that black currants are native to North America. Why are they so popular in England, France, and the rest of Europe, but an imported food in North America? The US of A made them illegal in many northwestern states, because their thick foliage interfered with pine tree logging. A few farmers across Canada are trying to reignite the domestic black currant market, but they need a little promotion to put them back into the hearts and minds of Canadians. Here’s my two cents worth:

https://ladybakerstea.com/blogs/blog/ladys-slipper-and-black-currants

Lady’s Slipper and Black Currants

Black currant has been a favourite of mine since childhood, like many Canadians with some British heritage (Scots, Irish and English on my mum’s side). We had it mainly as a jam, and it made me feel a little closer to the Enid Blyton novels I read as a child. It was at once exotic and comforting, cozy, yet refined. I grew up loving black currant tea, as well, although I thought of it as a family preference, not something I thought to serve to friends.

On a family trip to France last summer (remember those?), I was surprised by the presence of black currants everywhere: in the ubiquitous cassis liqueur, as a savory sauce for pigeon or duck, or in cakes, puddings and of course, as a spread. This should not have surprised me, as the north of France would have similar growing conditions to England.

Little did I know that black currant is also native to Canada. It lost its early popularity among Canadian and American settlers when several American states banned the black currant bush as a nuisance that impeded the logging of pine trees. Since then, it’s been seen mainly as an import, a quaint reminder of British teatime. Black currant, however, is as Canadian as the Lady’s Slipper flower, and every bit as deserving of being in this lovely tea blend as any other local berry.

Earl Grey has also long been a favourite of mine, either on its own or in a vanilla-infused London Fog. So I was delighted to discover this precious flavoured tea, Lady’s Slipper. A hint of bergamot, reminiscent of Earl Grey, a touch of black currant, and vanilla to tie them both together. This fragrant, unique flavoured black tea seems quite fitting with shortbread or plum cake in the afternoon but is gentle enough that it is welcome at my breakfast table, too.

I have paired the Lady’s Slipper tea with black currant jam and infused it into cream for this icebox cake, so as to best appreciate all the different notes at play. Adding the black currant jam, made into a syrup with the addition of tea, hints at a trifle, the more complicated British version of an icebox cake. Add some cassis liqueur at your own discretion, if you please, on top of the cookies, but don’t whip it into your cream. You want to savour the delicately balanced flavour profile of the black currant, bergamot and vanilla—as well as the tannic undertones of the Yunnan black tea leaves – in your whipped cream. Bright and familiar strawberries are a welcome addition here, and blackberries fit nicely if you can find them.

The glory of an icebox cake is that you make it a day ahead. It is so easy as to be the culinary version of child’s play. The presence of sugar and vanilla extract in the cream is very low, because there is already enough of each in the tea and cookies. The only trick here is that I ask you to infuse the cream for a few hours, then wait again overnight as the cookies meld and bloom into their layers of jammy tea-syrup, berries and cream. But I promise it’s worth the wait. This sophisticated flavour profile makes a homey dessert once again seem fancy, like the elusive but homegrown black currant itself.

Lady’s Slipper & Black Currant Icebox Cake

4 cups whipping cream

2 tbsp Lady’s Slipper tea leaves

¼ cup granulated sugar

½ tsp vanilla

2 tbsp Lady’s Slipper tea, brewed

1 cup black currant jam or syrup

3 pints strawberries

2 pints blackberries

½ box vanilla wafers, such as Nilla brand

Infuse the whipping cream with 2 tbsp of dry tea leaf overnight, if possible, or 8 hours. You can pop them right into the container in the morning and reach for them in the evening when you are ready to construct your dessert.

Bring brewed tea to a boil in a small saucepan. Turn off heat and stir in jam until thoroughly blended. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Reserve one pint of whole strawberries and one pint of blackberries for the top layer.

Rinse your berries. Slice 2 pints of strawberries and toss with one pint of blackberries. Stir in jam mixture to coat thoroughly.

Strain the whipping cream with a fine mesh strainer. Add the sugar and vanilla and whip into soft peaks.

Using a clear glass bowl, place a thin layer of cream on the bottom of the dish. Lay cookies over the cream, fitting a few broken cookies into any big gaps. Scatter berries over the cookies, then top with cream. Smooth whipped cream gently to fill in any large air bubbles. Follow the layers in the pattern of cookies, berries and cream until you reach a final layer of cream. Top with whole strawberries and blackberries, and chill overnight.

 Serve with a sprig of black currants, if you can find them. Enjoy with a cup of delicious Lady’s Slipper Tea.

Best-Ever Pumpkin Spice Muffins

AKA The Ultimate Pumpkin Loaf

It is NOT too soon. It’s not! 

I can see you rolling your eye and groaning. I know, I know. Wait for bloody October for the pumpkin spice business to begin. It’s like ads for Christmas paraphernalia before Hallowe’en. Just hang on, dammit! 

I’m getting this out there now because if I don’t, you’ll go ahead and make some other silly pumpkin spice muffin recipe and there is absolutely no need. This is it. Full stop. 

Ûber-pumpkin-spice muffins. Ultimate pumpkin spice muffins. Top-tier, best-ever, incomparable, essential, supreme, perfect pumpkin spice muffin recipe. No need to trust me. Try it yourself. You’ll see. 

This definitive pumpkin spice muffin recipe, which works equally well as a loaf, is a variation on a recipe I found in an old Food & Drink magazine around 15 years ago. I’ve tried others but they don’t deliver like this one does. Everyone—and I do mean EVERYONE—who has tried it loves it. Obviously pumpkin-spice haters don’t even try. 

I swapped out the whole wheat flour for almond flour to make them even more rich and moist. With the added fat, however, I needed to cut it down a touch to avoid making them heavy and soggy. You would think almond flour would be too hearty but it was not, adding a nice heft along with some protein and fibre. They do last longer with the almonds, in fact, they are better the next day, making them ideal as a make-ahead recipe. 

I found the original recipe a little frustrating because you had to mix all your spices, then parcel a bit out and set it aside, and then stop yourself from accidentally mixing up the bowls…all too much for an early morning. Plus I needed more topping for muffins than I did for a loaf. So I’ve upped the spice, added white pepper as a further nod to lovely speculaas. You could do a cream cheese topping, if you’re feeling decadent. 

Best Ever Pumpkin Spice Muffins

Pumpkin spice muffins stay moist
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Course: Breakfast, Snack
Cuisine: American, Canadian
Keyword: #muffins, #pumpkinspice, #pumpkinspicemuffins
Author: Theresa

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (250 mL)
  • ½  cup almond flour (175 mL) or ¾ cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder (10 mL)
  • ½ tsp baking soda (2 mL)
  • ½ tsp salt (2 mL)
  • 1 ½  tsp cinnamon (7 mL)
  • ½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg ( 2 mL)
  • ½ tsp ginger ( 2 mL)
  • ¼  tsp ground cloves (1 mL)
  • ¼  tsp allspice (1mL)
  • ¼  tsp white pepper (1mL)
  • 1 ¼  cup brown sugar (300 mL)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin (250 mL)
  • 1/3  cup vegetable oil (75 mL)
  • ¼  cup orange juice, fresh or concentrate) (50 mL)

Topping

  • ½ cup brown sugar (125 mL)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (2 mL)
  • ½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg (2 mL)
  • ½ tsp ginger (1mL)
  • ¼  tsp allspice (1mL)
  • ¼  tsp cloves (1mL)

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
  • Place flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and stir until well mixed.
  • Place spices and brown sugar in a bowl; add eggs and orange juice beat until smooth. Stir in canned pumpkin and oil.
  • Stir flour mixture into pumpkin mixture until just combined.
  • Stir together topping ingredients until well mixed. Spoon a little on top of each muffin, or spread equally over the loaf. 
  • For muffins, place cupcake liners in a muffin tin. Divide batter equally and top with sugar-spice mixture. If using almond flour, bake for 20 minutes.
    With whole wheat flour, bake for 12-15 minutes, or until a piece of spaghetti comes out clean. 
  • For a loaf, line a loaf pan with parchment paper and fill with mixture, then add topping evenly across the top. Bake on middle rack of oven for 50 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick (or spaghetti!) inserted in centre comes out clean. Let pan cool on rack for 15 minutes; turn loaf out and let cool completely.
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