The Great Pumpkin (…and how to roast it!) - Peach Perfection - Sammies to Scream For</br>Chocolate Wafer Ice Cream Sandwiches - Bring On the Berries! </br>Strawberries and Cream Pie - Dressed to Impress; Mastering Classic Vinaigrette -

The Great Pumpkin (…and how to roast it!)

Grab your hammers and cleavers, we’re roasting pumpkins for holiday pies, cakes, breads—and the most scrumptious pumpkin pancakes around. So are you up for roasting pumpkins? “No, no, no, no”, you say. “That’s not for me.” As a novice cook, I felt the same way. Pumpkins came in a can from the supermarket for the express purpose of making pies once a year. Who knew that fresh pumpkins were easy to use—and suitable for so many dishes? My friend and produce expert, Dan Avakian, encouraged me to start roasting my own pumpkins then taught me how. It was painless from the start, and now it’s so easy that I can roast and freeze a year’s supply in one afternoon. Today, my kitchen counter is filled with edible pumpkins that I bought at Dan’s open-air produce market last Saturday. I stocked up on my favorite, orange Sugar Pie variety. Dan showed me other possibilities like the Green Fairytale, Cinderella, Australian Queensland Blue (aka Jarradale) and Lumina whites. With so many choices, I had lots of questions and felt lucky that someone as knowledgeable as Dan was there to answer them. It reminded me that you should always get to know your local produce people and fearlessly ask them anything on your mind. Not only will they guide you to your best options and values, but they’ll also suggest new ideas that will enhance your menus.

The one thing about roasting pumpkins that most people don’t know is that you cannot eat the decorative varieties grown for Halloween jack o’ lanterns. If you have some uncut ones left over, use them as autumn decorations.

Let’s get to work. The pumpkin roasting process takes a few hours of prepping, baking and pureeing—so if I’m doing a large batch, I set up an assembly line to move things along efficiently. Of course if you’re just doing one pumpkin it’s all even easier. Either way, it’s great fun to knock off the pumpkin stem with a hammer, split it with one good whack of a cleaver and scoop out slimy pumpkin goop and seeds with your hands. Your reward is a deeply flavorful and marvelously textured product that beats anything in a supermarket can.

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2.  Remove the pumpkin stem by giving it a good whack with a hammer.

3.  Cut the pumpkin in half—top to bottom—using a sharp cleaver or chef’s knife. NOTE: Never use a dull or thin knife or you may cut yourself or break the knife.


 4.  Pull the sides of the pumpkin apart.


5.  Scoop out the stringy pumpkin goop and seeds with a large spoon or your clean hands. Save the seeds for roasting.

6.  Place the pumpkin halves—cavity side down—on a baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes.


7.  Remove the pumpkins from the oven and turn them over—cavity side up. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake an additional 15–30 minutes, or until a fork goes through the flesh easily.


 8.  Remove the pumpkin halves from the oven and let them cool for one hour.

Peel the outer skin away with your fingers. (The peel comes off easily once cooked.)

9.  Puree the pumpkin using a food mill, food processor, blender or immersion blender.

Add a few tablespoons of water to the pumpkin get the process going.

 10. Store the pumpkin puree in the refrigerator for several days or freeze it in airtight zip-top bags. Be sure to lay the freezer bags on a cookie sheet when freezing so that they will remain flat and easy to handle. Otherwise you’ll end up struggling to pry bags off of your freezer shelf.

Print out my illustrated step-by-step How To Roast Pumpkins and recipe for Pumpkin Pancakes for easy reference.

Peach Perfection

Trips to the farmers market always yield a treasure or two that aren’t on my shopping list. So when a vendor approached with a large sample platter of sliced, golden peaches I couldn’t resist. They were perfectly ripe, packed with flavor and dripping juice. Pie! They would make an amazing fresh peach pie.

I savored a second sample and started creating the recipe in my head. This pie would be stacked high with glazed, sliced peaches in a basic pre-baked crust. Fruit this good is best showcased with a simple glaze made from peaches, sugar and water and thickened with cornstarch. No need for a lot of spice here—let the pure peach flavor shine. And the topping—clouds of whipped sweet cream generously spooned on each slice. Perfection!

Making my way through the crowds to the peach stand, I was disappointed to see that not all of the fruit was as ripe as the samples. Maybe this pie wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. Since I was going to need 10 to 12 medium-large peaches for both the glaze and filling, I asked the salesperson for help. She set about selecting the best fruit for today’s project. “We’ve sold a lot of peaches today and had to put out a new batch—some are less ripe.” After checking her reserves, she found what I needed and rang them up. I thanked her and headed home to start the pie.

Back in the kitchen, the peaches needed skinning. Rather than using a knife or peeler—which seems to waste a lot of fruit—I rely on this easy blanching method:



1. Remove the peach stem with your fingers.
2. Cut an “X” into the bottom of the fruit.
3. Submerge the peach in a pan of boiling water for 10 to 30 seconds. They are ready when the skin around the “X” begins to curl. A ripe fruit peels more quickly than an under-ripe one.


4. Remove the peach with a slotted spoon and place it in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and loosen the skin.


5. Slip the skin off with your fingers or a paring knife.

Peeling and slicing the peaches for this luscious pie is a quick process. And it’s especially satisfying to breathe in their intoxicating scent that soon permeates the kitchen as you work.


Assembling the pie is a breeze. Have your peach glaze and pre-baked crust ready and then build the pie in layers. I like arranging the peach slices in a pretty circular design, and then slathering it was a generous coating of the glaze before starting the next layer. My biggest problem is not eating the peaches while I work. It’s utterly hopeless—all those juicy bits and pieces of fruit just waiting to be plucked from the bowl. Who can resist?


Once the pie is finished and chilled through, I top each slice with a dollop of freshly whipped cream. Here have a piece. Close your eyes and savor the moment: this is the essence of great summer eating.

Print a copy of my Fresh Peach Pie recipe and illustrated, step-by-step How to Peel Peaches for  your convenience.


Sammies to Scream For
Chocolate Wafer Ice Cream Sandwiches

Go on, take a bite. Just one and you’ll know why everyone screams for these ice cream sandwiches. To my mind, the wonderfully soft, dark chocolate wafers made with Dutch-process cocoa and deepened with espresso powder are perfection. Fill them with a generous scoop of your favorite flavored ice cream and you’ll never go back for store-bought again!   Kid sized ice cream sandwiches Big eyes. Little tummies. The tiny-fingered crowd at my house loves the 2-inch rounds, especially when joyfully decorated with brilliantly colored sprinkles. Gone are the days of sticky, gooey puddles of abandoned too-big treats…or worse yet, tummy aches.   Chocolate wafer ice cream sandwich with star sprinkles Big, full-sized ice cream sandwiches all decked out with red and blue stars for Independence Day tickle my fancy. What’s not to love? Be it declared: absolutely no guilt allowed. None. I bought my first chocolate wafer “sammie” off the ice cream truck that drove through my neighborhood on hot summer days. What a treat! Years later, there were no trucks in the hills of MillValley, so I made the sandwiches for my kids. We got creative and cut the wafers into our favorite shapes and filled them with what seemed like a million flavors: mint, vanilla, banana, cherry pecan, coffee and all the crazy Ben & Jerry mixtures.   One thing is for sure, they are super easy and stress-free when you know a few tricks. 1. Roll the wafer dough 1/8-inch thick instead of the standard 1/4-inch. You want a thin, soft wafer that melds into the ice cream as you bite, finishing with wickedly good chocolate crumbs. 3. Bake the chocolate wafers until just set. You may fret thinking they’re still raw, but trust me and remove from the oven. They firm up as they cool and remain soft through the freezing process. Over-baked wafers become crisp and break easily. 4. After baking, place the cooled, empty, parchment-lined cookie sheets in the freezer for 15 minutes before filling. This helps prevent melting as you work—especially when the kitchen becomes hot during the summer months. 6. Soften the ice cream slightly—just enough to scoop—approximately 12 to 15 seconds in the microwave. 7. Working in batches, place six cookies on a flat working surface and fill with ice cream. Top with a second cookie. Lightly press the sandwiches to distribute the ice cream. Using clean hands quickly press the sprinkles or decorations on the sides of the sandwich. 9. Set the sandwiches on the cold cookie sheet in the freezer and firm up for several hours. Repeat the process until completed. 10. Hide your favorite ice cream sandwiches deep in the freezer or they’ll mysteriously disappear when you’re not looking. Today’s indulgence is tomorrow’s sweet memory.   Print a copy of my Chocolate Wafer Ice Cream Sandwiches recipe for your convenience.

Bring On the Berries!
Strawberries and Cream Pie

 Hello Gorgeous!

What makes this summer pie is so irresistible? Perhaps it’s the whole, glazed strawberries or the luscious layer of whipped cream cheese filling in a graham cracker crust. Or the fragrance that wafts up from the ripe, deep red berries? Then again, consider tossing your fork and swirling the strawberries in the cream with your fingers. No matter what—it’s pure pleasure to the last bite.

For the cook, it’s an easy, make-ahead pie. Just one important thing to remember: select the strawberries with care as the pie depends almost entirely on them for its flavor. Here are a few tips that will make your Strawberries and Cream pie a delicious showstopper.

First, trust me when I say never, never buy supermarket strawberries for this pie, as they will disappoint. Bred for size, shipping and long shelf life, these berries lack flavor, fragrance and depth of color.

Count on a trusted farmers market, independent produce dealer or farm stand and don’t be afraid to be picky. You’ll find the most wonderful small to medium sized, older strawberry varieties that are delicious and nutritious.

Selecting Strawberries:

Once picked, strawberries do not ripen further—so don’t waste your money on mediocre berries in hopes that they’ll improve over time. It’s better to select perfectly ripe berries and enjoy them within a day or two.

  1. Smell and examine your strawberries carefully. They should be fragrant, fairly firm and a deep red color with attached green caps.
  2. Promptly discard any moldy, shriveled or soft, squishy strawberries found among the good ones. Also get rid of berries with loose, discolored caps. All of these flaws are signs of age and possible mold, which can spread quickly and ruin the whole bunch.
  3. Do not purchase tightly packed baskets of strawberries that only reveal the top layer. They could be damaged and decaying underneath.
  4. Reject bleeding baskets of strawberries—another sign of age and decay.

Storing Strawberries:

Strawberries are best eaten within a day of purchase, but will keep for 2–3 days in the refrigerator when stored properly. For very best flavor, bring them to room temperature before using.

  1. Store berries unwashed, then rinse just prior to use.
  2. Store strawberries in the refrigerator in a paper bag or an airtight plastic container lined with paper towels to absorb moisture. Never store them in plastic bags, which speed decomposition.
  3. Do not store strawberries on the open counter exposed to sunlight and high temperatures.
  4. Check stored berries daily and remove any moldy, shriveled or soft ones. This helps keep the rest from rotting as well.

And now, the Strawberries and Cream Pie.


Print out a copy of my Strawberries and Cream Pie recipe for your convenience.





Dressed to Impress; Mastering Classic Vinaigrette


Growing up, bottled salad dressings were the norm at my parent’s house. Italian and Thousand Island mainly, sometimes French. Who knew how long they’d been in the refrigerator because they always tasted the same with their flavor enhancers, stabilizers and additives. I just poured, swished and consumed. Then as a novice cook learning the five mother sauces, I discovered vinaigrettes. Oh my, salads were never the same again.

Vinaigrette’s  in their simplest form use highest-quality oils and vinegars or freshly squeezed citrus juice with a little salt and pepper before whisked into an emulsion.  More complex versions may include a variety of fresh herbs, garlic, shallots, onions or mustard.

There is no definitive vinaigrette recipe. Classically, one begins with four parts oil and one part vinegar, or a more tart mixture of three parts oil and one part vinegar.

When conjuring vinaigrette, think of yourself as a chemist selecting the perfect components, measuring, whisking, tasting, adjusting—ultimately balancing the flavors and seasonings so that your palate sings. First, what greens are you using? A mild Boston or Bibb lettuce calls for a light dressing while crisp Romaine, red lettuce and stronger greens require a more robust sauce.

A first cold-press extra-virgin olive oil is one your best all-around choices because it blends well with many different vinegars. Hazelnut and walnut oils lend a deep, nutty richness to salads with pears and apples. Flavored oils like lemon and blood orange provide a subtle zing, while flavorless vegetable oils add structure.

Vinegars come in a huge variety of flavors and strengths and can make or break your vinaigrette. Experiment with red wine, Champagne, sherry and apple cider vinegars as well as the fruity varieties like raspberry. Remember one cardinal rule: never buy cheap acidic vinegars, as you will get exactly what you pay for— the puckers.

I love salads every day, especially simple mixed greens with freshly picked herbs, torn not chopped. My vinaigrette of choice is three tablespoons of extra-virgin oil with one tablespoon of Cabernet red wine vinegar. Add a clove of crushed garlic, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and a pinch each of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and I’m in alchemist heaven.

Preparing vinaigrette isn’t difficult, but it does require mastery of a technique known as “emulsion”—vigorous whisking to bring oil and vinegar together into a homogeneous blend. Give it a try.

1.Place the base ingredients in the bowl as directed in your recipe.



2.Add the oil in a thin, steady stream while whisking the mixture vigorously.



3.If at any time the emulsion begins to look “broken” or curdled, stop adding the oil and continue to whisk until smooth.



4.Continue adding oil very gradually until finished.


Toss the greens with vinaigrette.


Wash and dry your greens thoroughly before dressing. Excess water will dilute your vinaigrette. Add just enough dressing to lightly coat each leaf.

Vinaigrettes are best made a few minutes before using, but can be stored a day or two and re-whisked. But why? Fresh is best.


Print a copy of my How To Make an Emulsion for your convenience.