My partner`s sister Joanne cooked us dinner last night. She prepared a splendid meal that was reminiscent of the holidays. A dear friend and an amazing cook, she laid out a spread that included roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and all of the fixin’s. Lucky us! Just as an aside, Joanne (Hudspith) is also a wonderful yoga therapist and can be found in Hamilton, Ontario.
It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is around the corner, both American and Canadian. This reminds me of a program I was listening to on CBC radio the other day. The hosts were discussing the seasonal flavours of Autumn and of course pumpkin came up. The woman speaking called pumpkins an abomination, the wart of all vegetables! She was discussing how everything in North America is flavoured with it, from beer to M&Ms. It cracked me up. I for one, really enjoy pumpkin both in savoury and sweet form (although I steer clear of pumpkin flavoured M&Ms ;)) but it was interesting to hear the perspective of someone who does not share my affinity for pumpkin pie.
Which brings me to holiday traditions. What makes a holiday a holiday? Most of us would say food, family and friends. The word tradition comes from the Latin root tradere, meaning to hand over or surrender. Recipes and behaviours are passed down from generation to generation. As children we wait for the environmental cues that indicate the holidays are neigh. The leaves start to turn colours in this neck of the woods and Halloween decorations and candies hit the shelves. When this happens you know it’s only a matter of weeks before Thanksgiving arrives and then soon thereafter Christmas. A whirlwind of social gatherings commence, the booze flows AND in our house the meals are planned – roast turkey, oyster stuffing, mashed potatoes, another veggie side with gravy. The meal is then wrapped up with pumpkin, apple or possibly mince pie – and if you are lucky and enough people attend a trifecta thereof????!!
So the question for the day – am I blindly immersing myself in holiday traditions because I adore them and they remind me of home – or am I making food simply because it`s what was done by generations before me at this time of the year? A great example is turkey, the meat that seems to dominate holidays in our house. Why turkey? Don’t get me wrong, a roast turkey leg is a lovely thing…but year after year? Wouldn’t it be nice to switch it up? How about some roast beef? Lamb? Pizza??? My Momma would not approve! Hahaha, I jest…sort of. But in all seriousness I think if I were to bust out a piping hot pizza and crisp salad for Thanksgiving people would question my sanity.
This revelation has prompted me to explore traditional and non traditional holiday foods. For the next two weeks I will take a closer look at pumpkin. I came across this glorious recipe for picarones, Peruvian sweet potato and pumpkin doughnuts. They provide a unique vehicle to carry traditional pumpkin. Not to be confused with your typical Tim Horton’s doughnuts, these delights are not light, fluffy and cake-like. They have a bit of a spongy texture, but they are crisp and particularly delicious fresh out of the frying pan and tossed onto some vanilla ice cream.
Let me know what your holiday traditions are. I need some inspiration to switch it up this year.
Picarones (adapted from About.Com, South American Food) – Doughnut Ingredients:
1 pound uncooked pumpkin (you can substitute 3/4 cup of canned if time will not allow for fresh – but be forewarned. It’s not nearly as good).
1 pound sweet potatoes (peeled and chopped into cubes) Seasoning for water: 3 Cinnamon sticks, 2 tsp whole anise seed, 1 tsp whole cloves
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup Pisco or brandy
3 cups flour
1 quart vegetable oil
I adhered to the About.Com recipe for the picarones, as I was unfamiliar with the end product. One thing I changed however was the manner in which the pumpkin was cooked. Before I read the recipe I had already roasted the pumpkins in the oven for pumpkin shortbread (more on that next week). Here`s what I did: 4 small pumpkins halved and cleaned they were placed face down in 1/4 inch of water. I roasted them at 325 for about 30 minutes or until soft. When cooled I scooped out the flesh. Don`t forget to save the pumpkin seeds and roast them with a bit of oil and salt! YUM.
For the sweet potatoes I used the spiced water. Fill up a medium pan with enough water to boil the sweet potatoes then add the anise seeds, cloves and cinnamon. Add the peeled and cubed sweet potatoes and boiled them in spiced water until soft. In total you want to have 3/4 cup of sweet potato purée and 3/4 cup of pumpkin purée.
Reserve 1/2 cup of the spiced water you boiled the sweet potatoes in (it should be only just warm) and dissolved the yeast and sugar into it. Let the mixture stand for 5 minutes before adding the eggs,sweet potato and pumpkin purees and brandy. Stir until well mixed. Gradually add the flour until a smooth, sticky dough is formed. The recipe states that you can add up to a 1/2 cup more of the flour if you find the dough is too liquid. This was not the case for me. Cover the dough with a cotton tea towel and let it rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size. This can take up to 2 hours, but my kitchen was so warm it only took 1 1/2 hours.
About 10 minutes before the dough is ready to be fried, add oil to a large, heavy pan and bring it to 350 degrees (you should use a thermometer). The dough is very sticky and unlike anything I have handled before. The best tip was to keep a bowl of salted water next to me to dip my fingers in before handling the dough to keep it from adhering to my skin. I grabbed palm size balls of dough and then poked two fingers through to create the doughnut shape, dropping rings into the hot oil three at a time. It takes some practice because of the fluid consistency of the dough. The recipe stated that the doughnuts need only be cooked for 20 seconds on one side and then flipped for an additional 30 seconds on the other side. Mine took longer, probably because I could not maintain the 350 degree temperature of the oil on my old stove. I cooked mine for about a minute on the first side and flipped them for a minute on the other (I guess some of this also had to do with the amount of dough you use). You will know when the doughnuts are done because they will turn golden brown. I warmed the oven to 200 degrees and kept an oven proof plate in there lined with paper towels to keep to keep the doughnuts warm as I was frying them.
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1 lemon (the rind of – and juiced)
1/2 cup water
The original recipe called for molasses instead of maple syrup and orange juice (which I left out entirely because I did not want the sauce to be too fruity). I also used a lemon instead of limes because it`s what we had on hand. With 20-20 hindsight I would not make this syrup. I would only use heated maple syrup with a dash of cinnamon, because I found this sauce to be a bit rich. Don`t get me wrong. It`s delightful and I do recommend trying it – but the lighter touch of plain maple syrup would be more to my taste.
Place the maple syrup, lemon rind- juice, brown sugar, lemon juice, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp cloves, and 1/2 cup water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for approximately 10 minutes or until the mixture looks syrupy. Remove the rinds and pour over the doughnuts and ice cream when they are ready to be served.