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: Quick Fixes & Peach Treats

I enjoy a good paella, when I can get my hands (and teeth) on it. But it’s not one of those things that in its truer forms can exactly be thrown together in a trice just because I happen to get an urge for it. But, being a fan of fried rice as well, I have been known to think to myself that there might be a hybrid incorporating a bit of both processes that gives me a plate full of paella-like food in a hurry and at least tide me over until the occasion for the real deal arises again. Having so often kept a batch of cooked rice at the ready in our refrigerator, not to mention the gifts of freezer, dried goods and canned foods, I had at least a reasonable chance of putting a faint facsimile of paella on the table at speed.photoPretend Paella

For this highly simplified variant, I made the batch of rice with a blend of broth and dry sherry and a pinch of saffron (should have used a bigger pinch, though). On top of it I put a very simple combination, which while it didn’t replicate paella closely, was reminiscent enough of that grand dish that it served as a reasonable place-holder until I can once more indulge in a beautiful slow-simmered paella. This time, I chose to saute a half cup of diced celeriac (celery root) and a cup of roughly chopped carrots in bacon fat, add a generous cup of sliced chorizo, heat that through, and add about a dozen or more large peeled, cleaned uncooked shrimp, adding water or broth or sherry as needed to keep everything plump and moist while cooking through and caramelizing a little. I didn’t season this further because the bacon fat and well-seasoned chorizo gave everything plenty of flavor. At the last moment, I stirred in a good three cups or so of the cooked rice and a cup of frozen peas, blending it all together just until the peas were heated through. One pot meal, with a touch of nostalgia, and as ever, infinite possible variations depending upon what’s in the kitchen waiting for me.

Having eaten this light and refreshing meal in warm weather, we didn’t need much except some cool drinks (icy water and a bit of cold sangria and chilled Sauvignon Blanc worked well for us three on the particular occasion), but we weren’t so over-filled that we weren’t of a mind to have dessert as well. A one-dish meal, after all, has a reasonable chance of not making diners feel coma-proximal. The afternoon trip to the grocery store, the one wherein I ascertained that there was no giant inspiration that steered me away from my thoughts of insta-paella, did inspire me with the produce section’s wafting scents of fresh fruit, and the image of underripe peaches made me salivate for the late-season ones not yet on hand.digital artworkSo I shamelessly fell back on preserved peaches for dessert shaping. The strawberries in the store had come into seasonal ripeness, but had clearly already been snapped up by earlier shoppers, so although the slightly over-aged ones remaining smelled sweet enough, the flies perched on them were a deterrent as well. Those, then, were substituted for by some freeze-dried strawberries. A ragtag pantry is not a problem in nearly the way that a lack of pantry would be, after all.

Coconut Soft Custard with Peach-Berry Coulis

While we sat eating our Pretend Paella, I had a cup of freeze-dried strawberry slices macerating in the liquid from a pint of canned-in-juice peach slices in the fridge. Also in the refrigerator waiting was a soft custard: one can of coconut milk, three eggs, two teaspoons of vanilla paste, and a half cup each of dark rum and dark maple syrup, and a pinch of salt, then whipped up and heated until slightly thickened, cooling and setting up in the fridge to thicken more fully. After supper, dessert finalizing was simply a matter of pureeing the strawberries in their liquid plus a cup of the peach slices into a smooth coulis, spooning the puree and custard in layers into dessert dishes, and topping them with a sprinkle of toasted sweetened coconut. In theory, this will serve five or six people, but we three are not theoretical exemplars by a long shot, so I’ll just say the dessert was as completely gone after our attacks as the rice dish had been earlier. Proper portions? You be the judge.photo