Archive for November, 2009

Texas State Fair Pecan Pie

Not cooking anything for Thanksgiving didn’t really leave me satisfied. Sure, it was much more restful than it has been in previous years, but I felt like something was missing after the weekend started to roll on and I still had not made anything. After I was invited to have dinner with a few friends, I volunteered to make a pie because I just couldn’t take it anymore. Although I looked through recent years’ Thanksgiving food magazines, I had been craving pecan pie ever since I didn’t see it on Blue Duck Tavern’s Thanksgiving dessert menu, so my mind was pretty much made up on what to bake. The only question, which version? I found this one in a November 2007 Food & Wine, along with the description that sold me on it: “This extraordinarily rich and sweet dessert was the winner at the 1996 State Fair of Texas State pie competition, which Dean Fearing helped judge. “‘Out of 140 pies, this one was it,’ he says. “Her name was Bobby Lee; she never told me her last name.”‘

The recipe requires a 10 inch pie dish, and I think mine must have been a little smaller, because the filling seemed to just about overflow over the edge of the dish. I cooked the pie for a full hour as opposed to the recommended 45 minutes, and it still didn’t really set in the center. I guess I could have cooked it longer, but I was worried about the edges burning.

This pie is riiiiich, sweet, and really, really filling. Think super dense, super gooey, super nap-inspiring. The crust is also fantastically light and flakey, a good balance against the decadent filling.

Texas State Fair Pecan Pie
(original recipe Food & Wine November 2007)

Ingredients
Pie Shell
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon ice water

Filling
1 1/2 cups pecan halves (51/2 ounces)
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
3 tablespoons whole milk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs

Directions
Make the pie shell: In a food processor, pulse the flour with the sugar and salt. Add the butter and pulse until it is the size of small peas. Add the ice water and pulse until the pastry is evenly moistened. Turn it out onto a work surface and knead 2 or 3 times, just until it comes together. Form the pastry into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry 1/8 inch thick; transfer into a deep 10-inch glass pie plate and trim the overhang to 1/2 inch. Fold the edge of the pastry under and crimp the edges. Prick the bottom with a fork in a few places. Freeze for 30 minutes.

Line the pie shell with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until lightly browned around the edge. Remove the paper and weights and bake the shell for 15 minutes longer, or until it is lightly golden. Leave the oven on.

Meanwhile, make the filling: In a pie plate, toast the pecans for 8 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the brown sugar, granulated sugar, corn syrup, milk, flour, vanilla seeds and salt. Cook over moderate heat just until the mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes.

In a heatproof bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Gradually whisk in the hot sugar mixture until thoroughly blended. Spread the toasted pecans in the bottom of the pie shell and pour the filling on top. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the center is just barely set and the crust is golden brown. Transfer the pie to a rack to cool completely. Serve with unsweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

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Thanksgiving Dinner at Blue Duck Tavern

Blue Duck Tavern
24 and M Streets, NW
Washington, DC 20037

Nothing puts me in the Thanksgiving spirit quite like spending all week cooking. Last year I hosted Jay’s family for one of the best and most memorable Thankgivings I’ve had, and I spent a solid 2 days standing up in the kitchen cooking. Some might call this tiring, some might call it torture, but the days of non-stop cooking and preparing were some of my favorite. I could plan my own menu, roast my own turkey, bake my own bread, and gladly feed the results of my labor to my extended family.

Last year was my first turkey, but this year brought another first: the first Thanksgiving without any visiting family. It was hard, I didn’t like it, but it was decidedly more relaxing. It never really felt like Thanksgiving because I didn’t make anything, but it let me enjoy my couch a lot more, and I got to spend a lot of time with just Jay.

Rather than cooking just for 2 this year, I made reservations at Blue Duck Tavern after reading an article in Bon Appetit magazine about the best restaurants in the country for Thanksgiving dinner out. Jay and I had visited Blue Duck over the summer for an anniversary dinner, so I knew it was good, and I thought, why not? Already this Thanksgiving wasn’t going to be traditional, so why not let someone else do the cooking?

Blue Duck Tavern serves most of its dishes family style in large copper dishes, and you spoon your own portions onto your plate. This friendly and interactive mode of presenting food is somewhat reminiscent of a traditional Thanksgiving, so it was comforting to eat a dinner away from home in this setting. To add to the comfort and familiarity of the meal, the furniture in the restaurant is more rustic than fine, with thick wood tables and wooden Amish chairs. The kitchen itself almost merges into the dining room, with no walls to divide the cooks from their patrons. It’s almost if the cooking staff wants to include its diners in the preparation of their own meal, and remind them that a good Thanksgiving meal can be made by someone else.

My first course was a salad of sautéed brussel sprouts, mushrooms, and carrots in a creamy sauce with a parmesan crust. Although the sauce was rich, the vegetables were delicately prepared and cooked  just enough to bring out their flavors without becoming mushy or bitter. The crisp on top was also very light, and the flavors of each component retained their independence while also working together with each bite.

Jay’s salad was a little more deconstructed: roasted quince, mix green salad, gorganzola cheese, and fresh-made brioche. Again, each element of the dish had a strikingly individual character, but brought together the flavors played one after the other in the mouth, starting with the sweet quince and rounding out with the deeply creamy Gorgonzola.

There’s nothing quite like my mom’s turkey and gravy, so it’s unfair to expect even Blue Duck turkey to live up to that near-perfect expectation. The turkey at Blue Duck was alright, nice and moist, but it wasn’t the rosemary and herb infused southern style turkey that I grew up on. At least the white meat. The turkey leg was presented almost like turkey bbq, pulled off the bone and minced, soaking in giblet gravy, and excellent twist on the tradition.

Roast turkey with giblet gravy
Rather than have two servings of turkey, Jay decided to go with the braised beef rib. Served on the bone, the rustic presentation was in contrast to the buttery, melt-in-your-mouth texture of the beef.

For the side dishes, we tried to stick to both the simple and familiar. Of course, at Blue Duck nothing is really “simple,” but for example we opted for garlic and chive mashed potatoes over a sweet potato gratin or fingerling potatoes with bone marrow (which part of me was screaming to order). Other side dishes included a tart and chunky cranberry and orange sauce, croissant stuffing with pears and sausage, and creamed spinach.

Cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes

Croissant, pear, and sausange stuffing

Creamed spinach

Dessert also centered around the traditional and familiar: apple pie and vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce. It was almost as dessert should be, with simple yet powerful ingredients that brought back countless years and memories of family and other holidays.  And, unsurprisingly, each dessert was phenomenal. The crust on the apple pie was so light it almost crumbled just by looking at it, while the apples were tart and firm. You can’t get much better than fresh made ice cream, and the chocolate sauce was so thick that you couldn’t pour it out, you had to spoon it onto your ice cream. Think less of sauce and more like viscous fudge.

Apple pie

Nothing can replace a Thanksgiving meal with family and time-tested recipes, but the Blue Duck Tavern did a good job of making us feel at home and giving us a good time.


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All posts and images copyright 2008 & 2009 Jenny Robertson, unless otherwise specified. All rights reserved. Any use of images without prior written consent is prohibited.
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