It's been a while since I've posted much about cooking. Not that I haven't been.... I think I've officially mastered the art of both veggie lasagna and tarts, have created some divine chocolate chocolate cookies, and discovered that split pea soup takes an awful long time (think days) if you're starting with dried break-your-teeth peas (and therefore is *not* recommended for a dinner party....). But not only have I been too preoccupied to relay much of my cooking feats, there are also only about 4 hours of natural light in London these days, and since artificial light and food photography really don't pair well - dishes inevitably come out looking like unappetizing brown slop - I simply refuse.

Anyway, had not one but two success stories yesterday and managed to snap some pics before the sun set at 3: a gingerbread pumpkin pie and a butternut squash gratin. Pumpkin puree is rather difficult to find in the UK and I forked out too much for an imported can of Libby's at Partridge's for my Thanksgiving feast that never happened - and felt *compelled* to use it before I went home for Christmas and came back only to the glum post-holiday aftermath.

I devised a hybrid recipe, drawing inspiration from the Los Angeles Times and what I had on-hand. The dark brown sugar and extra dash of ginger is what makes it more gingerbread-like in taste. And, with absolutely no time to make a proper pastry crust, I made one out of digestive biscuits and oats with a dash of sugar and spice - the result was a struesel-like accompaniment to the pumpkin custard filling. Even Guillaume, Mr. I-don't-like-cinnamon-or-pumpkin-pie enjoyed this pumpkin pie. When you turn someone from espousing hatred for something to conceding that they like it, I always take it as a good sign.

The butternut squash and goats cheese gratin also turned out quite well. I pretty much verbatim used this recipe from Epicurious. Come to find out it is *exactly* the recipe Kasey used for our family's Thanksgiving at home - ha. Apparently, my parents thought it was a little dull, but both she and I (and my guests) thought it was amazing. To me, it seems like a decadent macaroni and cheese with squash instead of pasta. The only minor twist I put to the recipe was to add several dashes of nutmeg and I toasted pumpkin seeds instead of hazelnuts for the nutty flourish - seemed more seasonal, and hey, it was what I had!

Even though it's the holidays and time for baking extravaganzas, this squash-themed feast is likely the last bit of cooking I'll do here in the rainy dark of the UK before I head Stateside. Utah with its proper snowy winter/Christmas - here I come!

Recipes follow. Enjoy!

Anne Spice's Gingerbread Pumpkin Pie (adapted from the Los Angeles Times)

For Crust:
1 1/2 Cups crushed digestive biscuits (or graham crackers)
1/4 Cup Oats
5-6 T Butter
1/4 Sugar
1/4 tsp each of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg

Mix together thoroughly and press into a 9-inch pie tin. Cook at 175 C (sorry! now all my knowledge of cooking temps are all over the board) for ten minutes - or until golden brown. Let cool before adding filling.

For Filling:
1 15 oz Can Libby's Pumpkin Puree
2 Eggs
2/3 Cup Whipping Cream
1/3 Cup Semi-Skimmed Milk (that = somewhere between 1% - 2%)
1 T Cornstarch
1 T brandy or vanilla extract
3/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar (lightly packed)
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. all spice
1/8 tsp. coriander
1/8 tsp. cloves
3 grinds of freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 325 F. In a large bowl, whisk the pumpkin, eggs, whipping cream, milk, cornstarch and brandy or vanilla. In a small bowl, mix the brown sugar and spices. Whisk the sugar mixture into the pumpkin mixture.

Pour the filling into the cooled piecrust. Bake until the pie is set around the outside but still slightly wet and jiggly in the center, about 1 hour. The filling will continue to set as it cools.

Butternut Squash Gratin with Goat Cheese and Hazelnuts (from Bon Appetit)

3 1/2 pounds butternut squash (about 2 medium), peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse kosher salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, divided
3 cups sliced leeks (white and pale green parts only)
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
1 5.5-ounce log soft fresh goat cheese
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, husked, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place butternut squash cubes and olive oil in large bowl; sprinkle with coarse kosher salt and ground pepper and toss to coat. Spread out squash cubes on large rimmed baking sheet. Roast until just tender and beginning to brown, stirring occasionally, about 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons butter in heavy medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add sliced leeks and chopped sage; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until tender but not brown, about 15 minutes. Coat 11x7-inch baking dish with remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Spread half of leek mixture over bottom of prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with half of squash and half of cheese. Repeat layering with leeks, squash, and cheese. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Pour cream evenly over gratin. Sprinkle with toasted chopped hazelnuts. Bake uncovered until gratin is heated through and cream is bubbling, about 30 minutes (40 minutes if previously chilled).

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