Foodie Tuesday: Another Birthday, Another Pie in the Face

Ours is one of those households where pie is held in greater reverence than cake. Don’t get me wrong; I can drool over a fabulous cake just as well as the next person. But given that my husband’s grandmother was the sought-after pie maker in town, both at home and at a restaurant, and his mom carried the pie art into his childhood home, and my own mom’s famed pies were also justifiably the stuff of local legend…well, when it comes time to pick the perfect favorite dessert, either of us clearly has good reason to request pie. And since neither of us is particularly fond of clowns, per se, the pie had better be more impressive than a plateful of whipped cream and the delivery system had better be more sedate than the slinging of it in one’s face.photoFor my guy, as I’ve mentioned before, apple is the number one choice of filling, though he’s fond of nearly any sort of good fruit pie in a fine crust, and other staples like chocolate or pecan or Key Lime never really go amiss either. I’m a bit more likely to wiggle and waver about what is my favorite-du-jour, but still as inclined as he to think pie is eminently birthday- and other- celebration worthy. Since His Eminence was the one with a birthday last week, of course the first part of the birthday meal that came to my mind was apple pie. Dessert first, and all that.photoWe had only three apples in the fridge, and I’m trying not to eat wheat [so far, it seems that avoiding wheat decreases my old-lady hot flashes a bit, and that makes it quite worthy of the effort, in my book], so standard apple pie would be a little bit of a problem. When it comes to food, however, my policy has always been to find as many options as possible and choose the best one for the occasion or to, in short, Improvise. So I added the gorgeous pear from our stash to the apples, and worked on an experimental pastry solution. Here’s what I made:

Apple Pear Pie in an Extremely Freaky Flaky Crust

Pastry: Combine 1-1/2 cups gluten-free flour blend, 1/2 cup almond meal, 1/4 cup tapioca flour and 1/8 cup each masa harina and potato flour in a large mixing bowl; add 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon salt and blend it all with a pastry blender or fork. I will confess to you right now that I always liked the wire-style pastry blender better than the blade-style one (Mom used the former, of course) until I realized that I was waaay too aggressive in assessing its capabilities and crushed the wires into useless sculpture one too many times to bend them back. I have since seen the error of my ways, and in this ‘recipe’ it really paid. Because the step of adding the fats (1/2 cup each of pure leaf lard and salted pasture butter) is best done with them cold, cold, cold. And if you’ve refrigerated them thoroughly or even frozen them, that’s going to make them hard, hard, hard. Which is great, assuming you use the right tools; using the sturdiest, studliest pastry blender you can find is far easier for making the old standard ‘pea-sized meal’ out of the mix than two knives, the alternative method I see proposed from time to time. Although I’d give good money to see a sword-juggler version of pie pastry making.

But I digress.

The last step in the dough prep [what a nice little jingle that makes] is the addition of some icy liquid, traditionally, water (6-8 tablespoons). I’ve heard many a recipe in recent times suggesting that vodka is a great substitute for the water, because it creates the proper steam for building flaky pockets in the baking pastry but evaporates more completely, leaving things nice and crispy in its wake. My tiny brain said several things in response to this: 1 – if alcohol is good in it, why not flavored alcohol that might add to the pastry’s taste? 2 – apples are spectacularly good friends with caramel; why not something with a hint of caramel to it? 3 – if I use some dark rum and the pastry experiment is a noble failure, will not a splash from the now-opened rum bottle be far better consolation to the birthday boy and me than a splash of ice water???

Well, that’s settled, then. Of course you with any scientific bent whatsoever know that this ‘recipe’ is/was bound for self-destruction, lacking sufficient glutenous binders, but since I am in no way opposed to a good crumb crust, I didn’t worry overmuch that it would be inedible, only knowing that it would clearly be no competition for any of my gifted predecessors’ work. I dutifully froze the pie crust shell when it was formed and docked, then glossed it with some heavily sugared whole-egg wash shellac before putting it in the oven at a moderate temperature [remember, out there, that my oven is a glass-blowers’ kiln wannabe and incinerates nearly all things at their prescribed temperatures, so you’ll have to do your own research for temperature ideas; after all, what I’m describing here is an unsuccessful attempt at GF pastry anyway. Enough dallying; I shall cut to the chase. The crust still melted into inglorious nothingness, and I took it out in its toasty yet depressively slumping state, thought to add another egg and some flavorings and steam that sucker into a semblance of a Hasty Pudding, a last-ditch attempt at forcibly altering its apparent ennui to an ‘Ah, oui!’, if you will. At least I could get some snacking out of the whole mess. Which, naturellement, I could not do in the least, as it was so powdery in its anti-piecrust form that with additives it was bound to simply become cement. Yes, this might have made a fine doorstop, but really, who needs the aggravation.

Though I’d shed any delusions that this pastry was going to be a starry delight, I went ahead and made a pretty fine pie filling and figured we could eat it in, out of, with or instead of a store-bought piecrust when the time came, and given the disaster I’m glad I did. I’m savvy that way.photoThe pie filling: three apples and one pear, pared and cored and chopped/sliced (I like to mix the textures for variety), tossed with a hearty splash of lemon juice, about 2 tablespoons of minute tapioca, a hefty pinch of salt, a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste, a big teaspoon of Vietnamese cinnamon, and small amounts of ground mace and cardamom and cloves. I glued it together with a quarter cup of ready-made all-apple applesauce. Adding, as is my fat-craving wont, a dollop of about 2 tablespoons of butter, I cooked the lot until just tender and left it sitting covered on the counter for later. And yes, because I am also the queen of laziness, I did the cooking in the microwave. It works great and takes the over-the-cooktop sweating out of making pie filling when I’m already busy clowning around with my three-ring circus of a pastry experiment. There’s only so much humiliation any one kitchen fool can take from one simple dish.photoPlus, if there’s no store to be shopped for ready-made pastry and all else fails, a freshly made fruit pie filling makes a really dandy ice cream sauce. And the next best thing on our list of favorite foods is ice cream.

Foodie Tuesday: Pork Chops Go with Everything

There might not be any ‘universal donor‘ food anywhere, the sort of food that’s perfect with all other things and at all times, but if you’re a pork eater, it’s mighty close. Seasoned pork becomes, in turn, seasoning when it’s great bacon, pancetta, guanciale, and that sort of thing. Because it has a very mild flavor on its own, pork takes on flavors of all kinds readily. It’s a culinary chameleon, becoming subtle, spicy, bold, sweet or savory; takes readily to being ground, sliced, shredded; blends with other meats or fruits or vegetables, and once prepared, is delicious cold or hot. Large numbers and quantities of flavoring agents make pork delicious, but it’s pretty grand with very little added as well.

photoSo there’s this dinner, then, where thick pork chops, though lean and not heavily flavored, become the centerpiece of the meal. They’re cooked simply, sous vide, with butter and salt and pepper, and seared at the last. When I cut open the sous vide packets to pat dry and sear the chops, I collected the juices in a pitcher, covered it and microwaved it to cook and thicken them, then blended them with a spoonful of [Kewpie brand] wasabi mayonnaise to make a warm sauce for serving with the pork. Some oven roasted wedges of Russet potatoes with a hint of coconut oil and salt sopped up the sauce that spilled over from the chops. Coleslaw being a consistent favorite in our house (as you’ve undoubtedly figured out long since if you visit here at all often), there was some in this dinner, garnished with black sesame seeds for a little visual pizzazz.

photoFor additional sides, there was a fruit compote of sliced and peeled apples, canned-in-juice peach slices, a little butter, honey and cinnamon and a pinch each of ground cardamom and cloves, and a tiny salad for each diner of avocado mash with lemon, cumin, lemon zested salt and a little bit of butter, each hearty-spoonful-sized helping topped with a small tomato and a dainty flower. Between these, there was a bit of piquancy and juice, color and textural variety so that all of them helped to keep the chops from seeming dull or predictable.

photoDessert couldn’t have been much simpler. Cream, whipped until Chantilly-soft with a touch of almond extract and then blended with an equal amount of lemon curd (I had some ready-made curd in the refrigerator) was served as a lemony mousse topped with a couple of small pieces of home-candied peel and a handful of toasted sweetened coconut. Really heady stuff. The end.

Foodie Tuesday: India Calling

Who needs call centers in India, I ask you. India calls me all the time, without any help from batteries of trained phone service representatives, using only its myriad delicious foods. Works all the time!photoFor a recent sit-down, for example, I was lured by the siren song of Tikka Masala. Too short a lead time for cooking on the occasion meant I’d need to doctor up some ready-made sauce, and there are certainly plenty on the supermarket shelves, so I picked out a jar and took it home to sauce some leftover roasted chicken and serve over leftover chicken broth rice. On tasting, the sauce proved to be a bit insipid and not quite what I had in mind, but it served as a fair base for a good dish with just a few little additions.  A bit of tweaking with cloves, cardamom and cayenne got it going slightly more brightly. A toss of coconut is seldom amiss, so yeah, I threw that on top.

Buttery peas, freshly cooked pappadums and a spoonful of raita rounded out the meal. I was delighted to discover that ready-to-fry pappadums from the grocery could be easily prepared in the microwave, of all things, which made my dinner’s trip over from India just that much shorter, a good thing indeed. Raita is such a grand condiment, jazzing up many a different dish or meal with its cool and refreshing blend of plain yogurt with a few flavor enhancers like, in this instance, finely diced cucumber, dill, fresh mint and a touch of salt and pepper.photoThe leftovers, since the raita was eaten and gone after the first day of this batch of Tikka Masala and there wasn’t a lot of chicken left in it either, got further doctoring. I added some plain yogurt directly to the dish, and a good sprinkling of my favorite homemade curry powder along with some brown mustard and black sesame seeds. I didn’t want to fix or add more chicken at the moment but wanted to expand the dish enough to fill me up, so I thought I’d love some palak paneer alongside. I love that spinach puree with farmer’s cheese in it, but, erm, it’s hard to make when there’s no spinach around. And no actual paneer, either, it turns out. So I took the similarly slow-melting cheese I did have on hand and cubed it directly into the sauce along with the chicken and peas. I’m pretty sure that this iteration of mine departed so far from true Tikka Masala dishes that it would be virtually unrecognized by any real Indian cook (no matter how far the true Indian versions vary, from what I’ve heard), so I guess India can’t be blamed for what I have perpetrated. But then again, the inspiration, the motivation–that’s all India’s fault.photoAnd I, at least, thank her.

Foodie Tuesday: Best of the Wurst

 

photoLong before anyone imputed a less well-mannered meaning to the phrase ‘sausage-fest’ there were plenty of people who appreciated the finer points of delicious minced and seasoned meats in casings (or patties) enough to not only dine upon them but celebrate them as well. Among those people, families and cultures where sausage is known and admired, it may begin in early childhood with tasty little links at breakfast or frankfurters, better known in much of the US as hotdogs, served up for lunch or supper, and from there it’s off to the races.photoWhat goes with sausage? What doesn’t? But I have to ask as well: does good sausage really have to have anything go with it? Okay, maybe it’s got to have an accompanying drink to be at its best, and a good beer is hard to beat as a way to wash down a good sausage, whether it’s a fine adult beverage or an outstanding root beer. All ages covered by serving different versions of one libation!photoNow, if I’m hungry for a good southern-style sort of sausage, say perhaps a savory hunk of Andouille or a juicy smoked Texas sausage, a piece of skillet-baked cornbread is a perfect taste to enjoy on the side and ideal, too, for sopping up the sausage’s drippings. Did I say smoked Texas sausage? Oh, yeah, maybe a whole bucketful–nothing like a classic Tejas BBQ joint with a tub full of smoky rings of hickory-scented sausage to get the salivary juices flowing just as fast as the hot-links‘ juices.photoOf course, the American south is far from the only place on earth producing miraculously delicious kinds of sausages. I have devoured plenty of fantastic ones on foreign turf, and gladly. Another accompaniment that nearly always appeals is the ever-welcome potato. From plain boiled, baked or mashed potatoes to crisps and chips and all sorts of fried ones, there are endless wonders that can be wrought from potatoes to enhance to beauty of sausages. One of my favorites, both in the German-speaking lands and at home, is Rösti, a crispy-tender variant of what we know as hash browns in the States, and since it’s so quick and easy to fix and sausages are too, it’s not an uncommon meal hereabouts.photoSometimes having an exclusively meat-and-potatoes meal isn’t entirely enough, and a bright vegetable addition becomes a delightful contrast in texture and flavor and a palate cleansing lightener of the occasion as well. Often, a simple, quick salad like a melange of Mandarin orange segments and cut sugar snap peas, toasted sliced almonds and pine nuts, and light lime-honey-ginger vinaigrette makes just the right complement to the fat happiness of sausages and starch.photoAnd sometimes the sausage is most welcome incorporated into a well-loved main dish. It might be Italian sausage in a classic red sauce; could be chorizo in a glorious paella; may be a welcome casserole of Cassoulet. Last week, it was Gumbo loaded with minced ham, crawfish tails and both pork and beef sausages all playing along nicely with the okra, corn, carrots, celery, onions and bell peppers cooked for a long, low, slow simmer in homemade bone broth and store-bought fire-roasted tomatoes and a bottle of Czech beer, seasoned with bay leaf, cloves, black pepper, cumin, smoked paprika and premixed Cajun spice and thickened at the last just a little further with the traditional filé (sassafras powder) before being spooned over broth-cooked rice. Next week, it might be time for bangers and mash, kielbasa and noodles, or possibly just some marvelous eggs, scrambled until custard-like and served with sage-scented breakfast sausage.photoAnd no, all of this goodness is not reserved for those of the manly persuasion (slangy phrases notwithstanding). This here girl-type person, for one, will fight for her share of the feast, so I guess it doesn’t qualify as a total sausage-fest, if you know what I mean.

Foodie Tuesday: Good Housekeeper Cooking, or One Man’s Baking Disaster is Another’s Ice Cream Starter

Every cook of any skill or talent level knows–or should–that one of the best inspirations for the next dish or meal is found in cleaning and tidying the kitchen. It doesn’t mean I have to completely reorganize and sanitize every square centimeter of the place constantly, though undoubtedly I could stand to do both a little more often. But even the most cursory, quick cleanup of fridge, pantry or cupboards can remind me that I’ve stashed away a number of tasty items that ought to be used before they become lost in the mists of time. Petrified vegetables and mossy fruits, sandy-bleached spices and unrecognizable bogs-in-jars are all interesting science projects in their way, I suppose, but rarely likely to serve the purpose of good taste or nutrition for which they were initially acquired.

So I’m setting out on a mission, albeit at a sauntering pace, to see if I can’t catch up with some of my longtime plots and plans in the culinary realm and get a neater and more easy to clean workspace in the bargain. Today’s inspiration came from a fellow blogger who offered a recipe that sounded like a wonderfully easy mash-up of a traditional German chocolate cake’s glaze (with the broiled coconut topping) and a raisin spice cake. Mostly, it made me want to bake a gooey cake, something I’ve simply not done in forever. In my typical style, it was not that there was the remotest chance of my following the inspirational recipe even to a mild degree of accuracy, but the initial concept that thus urged me on was greatly appreciated all the same. In honor of the inspiration I went through my stores of dry goods like a little tornado and came up with a few ingredients that I thought would suit the occasion pretty well. I give you:

Texas Tornado Cakephoto

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9×13 baking pan.

Blend together the following ingredients. I did so by pulsing it all together in the food processor until it was a coarse flour-like consistency, but you could certainly hand shred, chop and mince the ingredients and then blend them.

1 cup of raw cane sugar

1/2 cup dried apricots

1 cup shredded raw carrots

2 Tablespoons of candied orange peel

2 Tablespoons of candied ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon of more of ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

In a saucepan, bring to a boil 1/2 cup of butter and 1 cup of water, adding the prepared coarse meal of previously blended ingredients and cooking briefly to blend. In a separate large bowl, blend together 1-1/2 cups of mesquite pod flour, 1/2 cup of coarse almond meal, and 1 teaspoon of baking soda. When the wet ingredients have come to a boil, pour them into this dry mix and blend quickly. Pour the batter into the greased baking dish and level it as needed, and pop it into the oven for about 15 minutes.

While that’s baking, mix together the sticky topping ingredients. I just squished it all together quickly with my hands.

1/2 cup butter

1-1/2 cups brown sugar

1/2 cup almond meal

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon crunchy flake salt (I used Maldon sea salt)

When the cake comes out of the oven, crumble the topping mix over it fairly evenly, and pop it under the broiler just until it caramelizes. Cool, cut, eat. A little ice cream or whipped cream would not, of course, be amiss with this, but it can be eaten like a brownie or blondie just fine, too.photo

The problem is this: the stuff is too darned tender to even hold the shape of a small bar or square of cake. Needs better structure. Flavor? Oh, yeah–I mean, after all, look at all of the butter and spices and the mesquite flour and apricot and orange nuances. But it’s as crumbly as heck. What are gooey cake crumbs good for? Yes, that’s right folks: ice cream add-ins. So now I give you Texas Tornado 2.0:

Texas Tornado Ice Creamphoto

Yes, it looks mighty mish-mashy, like it’s right in the middle of the tornado. But by golly, it’s a lot pleasanter than being pelted with flying cars. In fact, it tastes pretty danged delicious. All it took was to crumble the whole pan of erstwhile cake up into chunky crumbs and stir them into unsweetened vanilla whipped cream. Yes, unsweetened–you saw how much sugar went into that cake, y’all. 1 pint of heavy cream, whipped up with a generous 1 teaspoon splash of good vanilla; fold in all of the delicious ‘dirt’ you made of the cake, put it in a sealed container, and freeze it. If you can wait that long. It really makes a pretty tasty pudding without ever freezing it, if your sweet tooth is aching already. So I’ve heard.photoThe surprisingly spiced-mocha scent of the mesquite flour is quite strong when the cake bakes. So much so, that I almost forgot it wasn’t actual brownies or chocolate cake in the oven. Which in turn may mean that I have some chocolate baking to do soon too. Something that holds up structurally, I should think. But I’m not sure I care. There’s always an alternate use for good food-parts. These things happen when I start rummaging around in the kitchen stores, don’t you know.