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What are the holidays without butter?

I usually eat a pretty varied diet, and I feel lucky not to have to put any foods on the “no” list, but there have been occasions in recent years–including the past few weeks–when I’ve cut dairy out of my diet.

Long story short, my two babies have both reacted badly to it while they are nursing.

Watching holiday cookies and cakes, bubbly cheese-filled side dishes and butter-filled pastries pass by without being able to indulge isn’t exactly fun, but it is an eye-opening look at just how prevalent dairy is in the American diet.

Adapting to a special diet has made the basic skill of cooking a valuable asset, though.

If I were completely dependent on walking the grocery aisle looking for things that didn’t list “milk” on the allergens warning list, I’d probably be eating a pretty junky diet (Oreo cookies are dairy-free, after all.).

This goes for any food allergy. If you can cook your own food, and control and know your own ingredients, you aren’t dependent on the small (and pricey) “gluten-free” aisle at the supermarket, or the cottage industry of other products that have been reformulated to omit specific ingredients.

This “real food” approach to special diets is the one that King George resident Shirley Braden takes and shares on her popular blog, Gluten-Free Easily. (Braden also recently launched a new blog, “All Gluten-Free Desserts All the Time,” which also includes dairy-free desserts, and which I’ll probably be frequenting as this holiday season continues.)

I put away a lot of pureed butternut squash this fall with the intention of making, among other things, pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. I wanted to stick to that plan while keeping cow’s milk out of my diet. So I adapted my favorite pie crust recipe and did some Internet searching to find a way to rid the custard-like filling in pumpkin pie of milk.

The crust was easy. I used a Julia Child recipe that has stood up to much tinkering on my part. I’ve made it with all butter, I’ve made it with the called-for part butter and part shortening, and now I can say I’ve made it with part shortening and part “vegan buttery sticks,” a product I never expected to enter my refrigerator, but which I can report doesn’t make a bad pie crust.

For the filling, there seemed to be two potential routes to take–tofu and coconut milk. I went with coconut milk. I won’t say that the final product tasted exactly like my favorite pumpkin pie recipe. The texture was a bit different. But it was still the spicy, sweet, smooth finishing touch I’ve come to expect with my turkey and stuffing.

As you welcome people into your house to dine this holiday season, be aware of the special dietary requirements of your guests. Catering to their needs could prove to be a rewarding exercise in culinary creativity on your part.

Dairy-Free pumpkin pie

For the crust:

recipe adapted from “Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom” by Julia Child

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cake clour

1 tsp salt

6 ounces chilled dairy-free margarine or Earth Balance “buttery vegan sticks” (original recipe calls for 1 1/2 sticks butter)

4 tablespoons chilled vegetable shortening

1/2 cup ice water

Place flours, salt and butter substitute in the bowl of a food processor fitted with steel blade. Pulse to mix, until butter is slightly broken up.

Add shortening and, with machine running, add ice water. Pulse 2 or 3 times, until dough is a mass of small lumps that holds together when pressed together in the hand. Add a tiny bit more water if it’s too dry.

Dump the dough out onto a floured work surface. Gather it together into a tight mass and cut in half–this recipe makes enough for two crusts, or one double-crust pie. Shape each half into a tight disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and up to 2 days, or freeze it until needed (It’s great for both sweet and savory pies.).

For the filling:

Recipe from

1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

1/4 cup white sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp salt

2 eggs

2 cups cooked, pureed pumpkin or butternut squash

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup full-fat canned coconut milk

Preheat oven to 425ºF.

Combine sugars, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and salt in a small bowl.

In a large bowl (the work bowl of an electric mixer, if using), beat the eggs. Beat in the sugar mixture, pumpkin, and vanilla until smooth. Add coconut milk and beat until incorporated.

Roll out your pie crust and place in a pie dish. Pour filling into crust and bake for 15 minutes.

Reduce the temperature to 350ºF and continue to bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean.  The pie will look runny and undercooked, but it will firm up as it cools.

Cool on a wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate.