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Pumpkin Season

19 Oct

It’s fall, and that means pumpkin season! Trader Joe’s falls in love with pumpkins, and Serious Eater Erin tried to eat all of them. The excellent blog The Awl chronicled all the pumpkin items featured in the advertisement.

The SE article was accompanied by this adorable chart (by Roboppy!):

Courtesy Serious Eats/Robyn Lee.

Another article by Kathy YL Chan reviews a delicious-looking pumpkin custard at Cha-an in New York, which sadly I will never get to eat as I have no plans to be in NY this fall.

And, lest you think I devote my life to just reposting SE:

I am now ordering weekly veg boxes from Riverford Organic; last week I ordered a squash box as well, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Apparently if kept well, they last all winter.

I also had a birthday pie night this week, with a  Lee’s Pie and a Lentil Shepherd’s Pie. I tried to make a gluten-free crust for the Lee’s Pie, but I don’t think I added enough water; it turned into a crumble. No worries! Still tasty!



3 Oct

Serious Eats is having their own Pie Night!!! Jealous I can’t be there. The first pie night this year will be Sunday the 14th (birthday pie night). It’s Pie Night’s second anniversary!

Serious Eats

(Although theirs supports a charity and has an adorable illustration by Roboppy. Roboppy, will you illustrate my pie night???)

Lentil Shepherds Pie

24 Jul

So, I have gone kind of vegan-in-the-home to see if it would help my cholesterol and allergies. My mom is overjoyed, and we’ve been making quinoa and lentils out the wazoo. Last week for her birthday I made a vegan shepherds pie that was actually delicious – it tasted exactly like it would with meat!!! And much healthier, too.

I adapted the recipe from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Appetite for Reduction, but since I can never follow a recipe exactly, I’ll put it in as I made it and note the differences from the book.

First, mashed potatoes. My dad made these with his own mental recipe. Basically: peels and roughly chop 1 sweet and 4 white potatoes; parboil until squishy. Drain, let cool, mash. Then he added a bunch of herbs per my request and salt and pepper. Usually he adds Benecol, but the sweet potato was creamy enough to not need it.

Then the “meat”:

olive oil (for sautéing)

1 finely-chopped onion

2 zucchini (ICM calls for 1 zuch and 4 oz shiitake shrooms, but I don’t like those)

3 minced garlic cloves*

fresh tarragon (she uses dried)

fresh thyme (she uses dried… but I have in my garden!)

1/2 tsp salt

black pepper pinch

1 cup tiny-diced carrots

3/4 cup de Puy (French) lentils

3 c veg broth

1/2 c frozen peas (reheat them first!)

1 tbs Worcestershire sauce

Sauté the onions and then the zucchini (and shrooms, if you have).** Add spices and herbs and cook for another 5 minutes. Add carrots, lentils, and broth; cover and bring to a boil. Simmer for 25 minutes, or until the lentils are squishy and have absorbed all the broth. If it’s boiled away and the lentils are still hard, add more broth (and lower the heat). Add Worcestershire and peas; let sit 10 minutes.

The recipe then calls for the serving of the lentils over the mashed potatoes (or, rather, caulipots – cauliflower mashed potatoes), but since it was a special birthday meal we decided to make it look more like a real shepherds pie and bake it for a bit. We half-filled a Corningware with the lentils and then covered them with a thick layer of mash. This was excellent, as it really crisped up the top and the sweet potato gave it all that orange color that usually comes from the fat (absent in this dish). It was missing just a little something, so we individually added ketchup. Wha-bam! Excellent. Next time I may add Pomi into the lentil mixture instead.

*I got to use my new OXO garlic press! So much easier than my old method (slicing and chopping).

**The recipe says to saute the onions for 4 minutes. However, onions taste best caramelized, which takes much longer. Please, by all means cook your onions half an hour or more, carefully watched. Longer on lower heat makes for more delicious.

Double Event!

14 May

Hello, pieists! Apologies for the delay. I had 10,000 words to write and chemistry problems to solve and et lag to get over. But in return for your patience you get a DOUBLE EPISODE. A double event, one may say, to borrow the term from Ripperology. Two pies, one post.

The near-absence of pies on my travels (save Lee’s eponymous pie) was redeemed by my cooking an entire dinner centered around a Greek pie. My granny, an avid follower of this blog, came to visit Atlanta and requested a pie. Having pretty much never had the opportunity to cook for her, I decided to make a Greek extravaganza. (Note that my family is not, in fact, Greek. I just wish we were.) I decided on the Greek Vegetable Pie as it’s a guaranteed winner, a Greek salad, and a reprisal of my Greek chicken.

First the pie: I guess I’ve already written about it, but just to remind you, it has sautéed zucchini and onions stewed with tomatoes and finished with feta. The only spices are s+p and oregano.

The salad: first off, a Greek salad should NEVER have lettuce. If your Greek salad has lettuce, something has gone terribly wrong in the mind of the chef. Lettuce never appears in Greek food. A proper Greek salad at its simplest contains coarsely chopped cucumbers and tomatoes with cubes of marinated feta. Optionally, you can drizzle a little bit of olive oil on the top or add in some kalamata olives. The salad I made for this pie night was a little sad as I forgot to marinate the feta (in a mix of good olive oil and oregano), but it was also hindered by the feta being low-fat. Listen: low-fat feta is great in cooking. It keeps the feta taste and appearance while cutting the fat by about 800 calories (just a rough estimate). But in a salad, where the raw ingredients contribute their unmixed flavors, low-fat feta is a killer. It’s dry, hard, and has a quarter of the taste. Fortunately, though, I am a pie-maker and not a salad-maker, so it wasn’t a huge deal.

The chicken: this is pretty much the simplest chicken recipe known to man. First, whisk together olive oil and honey in a baking pan. Honey is an amazing product: it may solidify over time, but it never goes off. According to legend, Alexander the Great’s body was preserved in honey for 300 years. If one was talking about formaldehyde, which also preserves bodies, one might ask whether it was safe to eat; fortunately, honey is an amazing natural product with numerous health benefits that just happens to also preserve bodies! A recent study in Connecticut came to the conclusion that eating local honey doesn’t decrease allergies, but it’s still worth a shot. It’s the lowest-fat, lowest-calorie natural sweetener. It comes in more varieties, flavors, and textures than other sweeteners, can be produced locally pretty much anywhere (including the roofs of urban buildings), and is just all-around awesome. I just bought some acacia honey from Sardinia at a festival this weekend with a thick, grainy texture and a crazy fruity taste. Once you try real honey, you can never go back to the bear. Anyway, the honey I used for the chicken came from the Friday food market in my neighborhood in Athens two years ago. Once the oil and honey are blended, add the juice of 1 lemon and oregano (or a Greek spice mix if you have – this will generally contain rosemary, ground olives, and more oregano). Roll the chicken around in some s+p and then rub the sauce all over it. Slice the used lemon and lay the slices decoratively on top of the chicken pieces. (Oh yeah, I use chicken breasts and thighs, but you can do this with a whole chicken – just stuff lemons inside it!) Cover and stick it in the oven (200 C). In the meantime, caramelize some thin-cut onions. When the chicken has been cooking for about half an hour, put the onions on top and cook for another 10 minutes.

This was so delicious I can not even tell you. You just have to try it.

Now, on to the second. This Sunday I went to the Real Food Festival at Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre (which I will write about later). I am pleased to say that I have never had more free samples of cheese in my life; it was wondrous. The best by far was the original type from a small Welsh creamery called Bleanaefon (pronounced Blen-AYVon). I tasted this cheese and pretty much started dancing with joy. Literally. I was jumping around and waving my hands (when they weren’t reaching for more cheese). I decided to buy the cheese and include it in my pie: a Welsh cheese pie!

I got home from the festival and promptly googled “traditional Welsh food” and discovered that Wales, once famous for nothing but sheep, is experiencing a culinary renaissance, part of the back-to-the-farm movement. Cider is apparently huge, and recent cider popularity has increased interest in traditional brewing methods and heritage apple varietals. Pork is big, but so are heritage breeds of sheep, which look amazingly picturesque wandering around the countryside. Root vegetables of all types have always been popular. The NYT even had a feature on luxury camping in Wales where you can stay in an old caravan or on a farm and eat in Michelin-starred country restaurants. I hopped off to TPS and bought a variety of root vegetables and a boatload of parsley.

The veg: turnip, parsnips, potatoes, sweet potato, purple cabbage

The spice: s+p, parsley

The rest: cheese, milk, pastry

The method: Peel and chop the root vegetables and boil til edible. Chop and boil the cabbage separately. Drain and put into a large mixing bowl; roughly mash, then add in the cabbage. Add in about half a cup of milk and, well, as much cheese as you like. Season with s+p and about a handful of parsley. Cover with pastry and bake til the pastry is done.

This pie night was so successful! 8 people showed up, and we had lots of additional food. Anna made pizzas, Katy brought dessert fruit, Ben made gluten-free pastry and covered the little pies beautifully, and Laura J brought wine (and her new bf!) and potatoes (both were very helpful in the kitchen!) I also made cheesy bread (one could call it Welsh rarebit, but it wasn’t really) and potato scones, which are basically mashed potatoes made into little patties and roasted. Everything was delicious!

Lee’s Pie Avec Lee!

6 Apr

SO I presume by now that everyone has noticed the conspicuous absence of a pie post as I am on my travels. I apologize to the 22 of you who dutifully checked the blog on Sunday and were surely disappointed. HOWEVER, you will now be rewarded with the greatest of pies: Lee’s Pie cooked with the eponymous Lee!

I am in Silicon Valley, home of the oft-mentioned Lee and Ramya (who does not yet have a pie named for her). Although San Francisco is full of amazing restaurants, we decided that it would be THE HEIGHT OF AWESOME to make this pie on Monday night. Late Sunday, we went to the Safeway (which is 24-hour) and bought all the ingredients. Unfortunately, chanterelle mushrooms were only sold by the pack, which came with about 15 dried mushrooms and cost $8.99. (PS, America: adding tax at the till is stupid.) Thus I decided to skip them and find some other way to add in the earthy nuttiness of the mushroom. We also bought Pillsbury shortcrust, which was enough to make a top and bottom crust and was beautiful. It’s much better when the pie crust is sold in a circle instead of a square dough.

I went to visit friends in Berkeley on Monday, and my late return necessitated some prep work being done by Lee, Ramya, and their friend Alejandra. Let me tell you: it is wonderful to arrive home and have the vegetables already chopped and parboiled, and the cauliflower steaming. Although as a correction to the original recipe, the cauliflower must be chopped before it’s steamed. I arrived to find everyone painting their toenails, which I was not allowed to do as I had to cook. I used the same process as before, but added these spices:

salt and pepper, nutmeg (ground from whole), allspice, rosemary, and thyme.

Ramya also had some ground flax seed, which we have been adding to our cereal. I thought this could be a good way to add nuttiness and also a little bit of extra fiber. I also added super extra parmesan and seemed to almost approximate the flavor of the last one.

Lee arranged the crust so that it looked really nice. The friends were doubtful at first that four people could eat an entire pie. As you can see, everyone enjoyed it. It was all gone, except for a tiny slice Alejandra took for lunch.

π day!

14 Mar

Unless you are living under a rock, you should already know that today is pi day! Pi day – or 3/14 – celebrates the Greek letter pi, used in math to represent the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter as expressed in this equation:

This means, of course, that you can rearrange it and have C=πd etc. If you’re not mathematically inclined, this means that the length around a circle is equal to the length across the circle times pi.

It is an irrational number, which means you can’t express it as a rational fraction like 1/2 or 3/4 – when expressed as a decimal, it goes to infinity. There are contests to see who can recite pi to the nth digit, but generally it is expressed as the Greek letter or as 3.1415926… Pi day on March 14, 2015 will be very exciting indeed.

As it is a homophone of pie, it’s a nerd tradition to bake pies, particularly ones with the letter π on them as decoration. In the math world, pie contests abound. Max Falkowitz of Serious Eats is staying with me this week, so I coerced him into helping me cook a pie bonanza! It took two days of discussing what to put in to actually arrive at any decisions. Eventually we hit on a British lamb pie and a poblano butternut squash pie. Sadly, this country appears to be severely lacking in poblanos, so we used chipotle paste instead. I must credit him with these recipes though, especially the butternut – I would NEVER have thought to do this.

Pie 1

The lamb pie is based on one cooked for the original meat pie party back in undergrad. It was the richest, most filling pie I have ever had. Basically, it was minced lamb in its fat in a pastry. We decided to make this one a little more British by adding some vegetables and using puff pastry.

The stuff: 2 pounds minced lamb, 2 large potatoes, 2 white onions, frozen peas (about 1.5 cups)

The spice: SALT, pepper, rosemary, sage, allspice, coriander, 1/3 cup scotch

The rest: puff pastry

The method: Cut the potatoes into 1-cm cubes and parboil til nearly done. Brown the lamb in olive oil; salt well. Remove from the wok. Dice the onions and fry them in the lamb fat. Put everything together and add in the peas and seasoning. Add some flour to stick it all together. Put in a pie pan and cover with puff; bake.

[Max took photos with his really nice camera. They will be inserted later after an upload!]

Max also made a minty vinegar for the lamb using muddled mint, apple cider vinegar, and sugar. It was waaaay to vinegary for my taste at first (and made my kitchen smell horrible), but it actually tasted really good with the lamb after settling in the fridge for a few hours. The pie was absolutely delicious, but could have used some improvements. First, we could have cooked it down in a stock to save on salt. Since we didn’t have that stocky flavor, we had to be a little more inventive with the spices, I feel. Second, we should have added more flour to make it stick together – it was difficult to serve and just fell apart when it hit the plate. Third, it would have benefited from a bottom crust. I was going to make a gluten-free crust to use as a bottom and top, but my gluten-free friend couldn’t make it and I decided to be lazy and use commercial puff. Next time.

Pie 2

The butternut pie is based on a vegan chili Max made for Thanksgiving (he has vegan roommates). Unlike my vegan chili, though, which uses soy protein in place of meat, his is chili-flavored but it kind of a thick vegetable mess.

EDIT (3/20): This was not based on a chili, but was a separate side dish.

The veg: 2 butternuts, 2 red peppers, about 20 cherry tomatoes, 1 red onion

The spice: chipotle paste, cumin, s+p, Vulcan’s Fire Salt, MAX NEEDS TO TELL ME WHAT HE DID!

The rest: puff pastry, creme fraiche

The method: First, here’s my mom’s method of preparing butternut squash: Pierce a couple times, then microwave for 5 minutes. Watch your hands! It’s hot! Peel, then cut the bulbous bottom section in half. Scoop out the seeds. Dice.

Ok, with that done: Cut into 1-inch even cubes. Cover with cumin, s+p, and Vulcan’s, then massage with oil (I wish I had a picture of Max massaging the butternut cubes). Roast at 300 C until they’re caramelized. Cut the red peppers so they lie flat (big boats, basically) and put them on the used butternut tray. Slice the tomatoes in half and do the same. Roast at 300 until the pepper skins are getting carbonized. Add the tomatoes into the butternut mixture. For the peppers:

As soon as they come out of the oven, throw the peppers into a paper bag and close the top. Leave for 5-10 minutes so they sweat. When you take them out, the skins should peel off relatively easily. Chop.

Mix those in. Dice the red onion really, really small and mix in. Add the chipotle paste and other spices. We were going to make a cornmeal crust, but unfortunately they don’t call it cornmeal here and we bought corn flour — which turned out to be corn starch. So I used puff. Serve with creme fraiche.

I must say, I didn’t like this pie at first. The first few bites I was skeptical. But then, woah, it hit me! This was amazing. I just wanted to eat more and more! It was incredible! The chipotle is a very deep flavor, I’d say, magnifying the sweetness of the butternut. The roasting makes everything nice and carbon-y, which is picked up by the chipotle. And there’s a gentle spiciness to it, but definitely not overpowering. OMG, I think I have to go finish those leftovers RIGHT NOW.

[Pictures to come!]

Max also made a granita out of Strongbow. (If you don’t know, Strongbow is kind of the Bud Lite of ciders.) I didn’t think Strongbow had any redeeming qualities, but he mixed it with sugar and lemon juice and put it in the freezer and ended up with what was basically a Strongbow slushie, and it tasted better than any quality cider.

Pi night was a huge success! There were eight of us. Hillary was lovely and brought a chocolate mousse pie. Thanks to everyone for bringing thinks – Robert made a delicious flatbread with beetroot and capers, Laura T brought bread and hummus (from TPS, I presume?), Laura J brought cupcakes, Chloe Z brought cake and wine, and Young Katie brought nuts seasoned with pumpkin pie spice (yay for themes!). Loads of fun.

Of all the pie joints in the world, she walks into mine

7 Mar

Tonight’s theme was Moroccan! As usual, I took a recipe and altered it: this time, it was a veg tagine from my Africa & The Middle East cookbook, but of course I had to throw in a few extra vegetables.

I was super excited because last night in Camden I found a shop selling yams! I lifted one up – it weighed probably four pounds – and asked the guy what it was just to be sure. I didn’t want to carry it around the whole night, so I promised to return later; unfortunately I forgot on my way home and Laura J had to go back and buy it. The man at the store was even nice enough to pull out his machete and chop it into pieces for her. Oddly, it was white inside, sort of coconut-textured – I was expecting it to be orange. The sweet potatoes she bought at that shop were also white inside! According to wikipedia, yams (Dioscorea spp.) can vary in color from white to orange to purple. However, sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are apparently referred to as yams in some parts of the US. Although I’ve never heard anyone refer to sweet potatoes as yams, I guess it’s percolated into my mind enough to make me think they could be orange. Confusingly, the page on sweet potatoes says that they come in soft, orange varieties and firm, white varieties, but that the orange one is called a yam to distinguish it from the white one. Sweet potatoes and yams are in the same family (Dioscoreacae), but note that this is not the same family as the common potato (Solanaceae, specifically Solanum tuberosum). (If any of you can make some sort of infographic to sort this out, that would be greatly appreciated.)

In addition, “yam” apparently is Brummie dialect for “I am”.

Leaving the matter of nomenclature to rest, suffice it to say that I was very excited to have white sweet potatoes and also a giant yam. On to the pie!

The veg: 2 sweet potatoes, yam, 2 carrots, cauliflower, 2 onions, 2 zucchini, 1 can of chopped tomatoes

The spice: s+p, cinnamon, honey, ras el hanout, oregano, fresh coriander, 3 saffron threads, veg stock

The rest: filo dough

The method: There are a lot of vegetables! Mis en place is important! Cube the peeled sweet potatoes and yam, which you’ll have to peel with a knife. Parboil these together.

Slice the onions into strips or rings, whichever suits your fancy. I chose strips, and apparently also chose to slice a large slit into my thumb. Caramelize them in olive oil; when they’re about half-done, toss in the thin-sliced zucchini rounds. When this mix is nearly done, transfer into a bowl or other storage container. (I mean, you don’t need to do this, but I only have one pan.)

Put the parboiled mixture into the pan with chopped cauliflower, sliced carrots, and the canned tomatoes. Add in veg stock and water to about 3/4 the level of the potatoes with the saffron threads. Cover and let simmer. When the potatoes start to feel done, add in the onions and zucchini and season. I used a whole bunch of cinnamon (it was an accidental pouring), two squirts of honey from a bear, about 2 T ras el hanout, and a little bit of oregano. Leave until it’s a big mass of delicious-looking mush. Add in the coriander at the end.

Butter a square pan and layer filo and pie mixture. (Alternately, mix with couscous or put in a wrap.)

This was a really good pie. I think I would use orange sweet potatoes next time as I think they’re sweeter than the white variety, but this was a good shot; I’d also use butternut because I love it so much. The ras el hanout (Arabic for “top of the shop”) and cinnamon balanced really well, a savory-sweet blend I’d definitely repeat. The yam was really interesting – quite sweet, but with sort of a bitter aftertaste. There was so much of it we made yam chips as well, just roasted. The bitter aftertaste might have been my lack of skill at making chips, though; I originally tried to fry them. It tasted great in the pie though.

Only three people showed up (!) so I have lots of leftovers. Laura took home the rest of the yam to cook with. We decided a yam is about equal to eight potatoes, and you only have to peel one big rind.

Thanks to Laura J for buying some veg and helping cook! Thanks to Laura T for the oatmeal cookies and Shimam for the choco biscuits! And thanks to mom for the idea.


22 Feb

Yesterday was GREEK-THEMED PIE NIGHT, which was probably my second-most fun pie experience. I love Greek food pretty much more than life, and maybe slightly more than Persian food. Greece is a wonderful country for pies, as I found out while living there two years ago. They love layering in particular, and of course stuffing vegetables into things. Here are some of the best:

  • spanakopita (σπανακοπιτα): spinach pie. Blanch about 3 pounds of spinach and mix with 2 chopped and caramelized onions and a big bunch of dill. Mix 1 pound of feta   (yup, a a pound of feta) with 3 eggs, then combine this with the greens mix. Season to taste. Butter a square pan and make layers: (1 sheet filo dough+brush of olive oil)x10, plop of cheesy spinach, repeat. End on a filo layer, and brush the top with some beaten egg to make it shiny. Bake at 200 C for about 25 minutes. This amount of filling will make about 2 medium pan-fulls, maybe enough for 10-15 people depending on how much you like spinach. These are the most filling creatures known to man though. When Sam HRB and I were Masters Cooks, we made something like 8 zillion spanakopitas one night. I don’t remember the exact quantity, but I know we bought enough spinach that I had to use a rolling suitcase to get it from the car to our building. Fortunately the spinach was cheap, so we could afford the $25 of feta squares. (It was enough for Sam to make the same face he did for six pounds of ginger, which was a great moment. Kind of like an “ohgodwhy” mixed with amazed fascination.) In Greece spanakopita is served both in slices and as individual dumplings, usually in a pasty/empanada shape.
  • tiropita (τυροπιτα): cheese pie. Basically the same as above, but with ricotta and no spinach. Some recipes recommend cinnamon, which sounds like a fine idea. You could even sass it up and add some other Greek cheeses.
  • moussaka (μουσακάς): mmmm. The best kind is with lamb, but without eggplant. I can’t really comment on the recipe as I’ve never made it, but it seems to be lasagna noodles layered with ground lamb, tomatoes, sometimes potatoes and zucchini, and topped with bechamel.
  • pastichio (παστιζιο): kind of the same as moussaka, but with more bechamel and macaroni instead of lasagna. More like a casserole.
  • dolmades (δολμαδες): the epitomic Greek dumpling: rice/lamb stuffed into grape leaves. I made the rice mixture on Sunday – after cooking rice and allowing to cool for about 10 minutes, add oregano, chopped mint, s+p to taste, and the juice of 1 lemon. One should then proceed to wrap the mixture in the leaves, but since I thought of this at the last minute I had none. Anna P told me it’s best to steal them from your nearby vineyard. Sadly, we can’t all live in Tuscany.
  • One can also make dolmades with cabbage leaves (lahanodolmades/λαχανοδολμαδες), or stuff the same mixture into zucchini with the seeds removed (kolokythakia/κολοκυθακια). Or into tomatoes, or peppers, or…
  • Oh wait, we can’t forget baklava, which is filo layered with nuts and honey.

Uh, so I believe I was going to tell you about my pie. I made a version of my Greek pasta – not actually Greek, but rather invented in Greece by my hungry room-mate and I after a market trip – with filo. I don’t know if anyone at TPS has ever bought as many zucchini as I did – 8, I think. Here it goes:

The veg: 8 zucchini, 5 smallish tomatoes and 1 can diced tomatoes, 5 red onions, 2 big handfuls spinach

The spice: s+p (fresh-ground is very important!), oregano, dill, ~100 grams feta, filo dough

The method: Slice the onions into rings and caramelize. Slice the zucchini into short spears and either roast or sautee. After removing about half the seeds, salt the tomatoes and blend them to small chunks; cook on the stove with salt until some of the liquid is gone. Blanch the spinach and set aside. When the tomato mush and the zucchini spears are almost ready, mix them together and add in the onions, spinach, and tomato paste. Add the oregano, dill, salt, and pepper to taste. Note that although it may taste ok now, the cheese really rounds of the dish. Feta adds a sort of coolness to all the warm vegetables – maybe that’s why a Greek salad tastes so good (cool with cool, warmed by tomatoes). Butter a pie pan and layer filo at the bottom as in a spanakopita. Add about an inch of vegetable mix, some crumbled feta, and then some more filo. Continue until you run out of vegetables; end on a filo layer and try to tuck it in at the corners.

Τα ρεστα: [This is a Greek phrase that means “the change”, but I always think of it as “the rest” as it’s spelled – as in, the rest of the work is complete, go have a rest with your full stomach.] I used olive oil to to cook everything in this meal instead of Flora. It makes things taste much more Mediterranean (accepting that the idea of Mediterranean food” was really only cemented 25 years ago, but that’s another story). Also, be sure to use either fresh or really, really good dried oregano. This is so important.

I have no further comments. It was delicious. The meal was supplemented by tzatziki, Laura J’s cucmbers and hummus and Greek salad, Anna P’s Greek yogurt dessert with honey and pine nuts, and Laura T’s bread.


UPDATE: I completely forgot about the cheese, which is UNACCEPTABLE. I tried to make saganaki by frying breaded slices of halloumi, but they just wouldn’t catch fire. Despite their inflammability, they were the highlight of the party. I originally made one slice per person but ended up using the rest of the block, which was devoured by the guests like the raptor scene in Jurassic Park.

Now with Double Pie Action!

7 Feb

Today was a GIANT day for cooking. My hands hurt from chopping.

First, I went to The People’s Supermarket to make a pie. I’ve been in discussion with them to get an evening job, but based on my irregular student-y schedule I might just be a “special event”  two days a week (paid, though! £7/hour!). They have a lunch deal called The People’s Kitchen where they try to use all that day’s “best-before” food and slightly-wilted vegetables – thus lots of stews, soups, curries, pies, et cetera with little side salads, usually £1.50-4 each; anything not sold that day gets put into the ready-meal section to sell the next. They have a board where they list how many kilograms of waste they’ve saved that week, and the maximum was 210 kg. I mean, wow. The difficulty with starting to serve dinner is that they would have to use groceries as they’d have used up all the waste at lunch. SO they’re trying to do a small pilot program and I’m being tested out for some type of future position once they get it started, hopefully in the next couple of weeks.

Of course, I decided to do Lee’s Pie. I tried to use as much waste as I could, which ended up being potatoes, onions, and chanterelles (I hate thinking of them as waste, but they were starting to get all shriveled) and bought the rest on the kitchen account (came to £4 and resulted in two pies – classy!) I hung out in the kitchen, talking to people while cooking, running out to help find things with butter all over my hands… fun times. Laura T showed up just to do her grocery shopping and stayed to help for a bit.

Here is the first mistake I made: I sugared the potatoes. The water was boiling and I reached over to the container of white crystals and threw some into the pot. Only later, when it came time to season the filling, did I take a closer look: indeed, ’twas not NaCl. The kitchen was out. The whole store was out. I was about to run to Waitrose when I remembered the friendly Italians at Ciao Bella. Ciao Bella is a wonderful restaurant. Truly lovely. I think the food is Sicilian in origin, but in the interest of common appeal has dishes from all over. It is always full, even the outdoor party table, even in winter. They have posters of old movies and Italian beer and, above, all, it’s served the way Italian food should be served. Typical scenario: a middle-aged, balding, mustachioed Italian man with a big belly asks what you want. “I don’t know if I wan’t the margherita pizza or the penne arrabiata,” I say. “Oh, have the PIZza, the PIZza! Mwa! Delicious!” he replies. It is delicious as promised. “I don’t think I’ll have dessert,” is met with “Nonono, dessert! The dessert is delicious! Delicious!”

So, instead of running all the way to Waitrose to buy the salt, I went to Ciao Bella. The man I asked (for a description, see above paragraph) told me to hold on and he ran down the stairs. One of the other waiters asked me about the TPS documentary airing on Channel 4. After a few minutes, I started to lose hope, but then I saw a sight of sights: the man was bounding up the stairs with a bucket – A BUCKET – of salt. I’m sure I must have had a look of absolute joy on my face.

I am only eating Italian at Ciao Bella in future.

My second mistake was forgetting the sage, but I think the excessive amount of parmesan I used was fair compensation. The pie turned out nicely – I even attempted a crust from my Easy Pies book (175g flour, 140g butter, 3 T ice water, mix, chill 30 minutes). I split the contents into two smaller pans rather than making it too thick. We’ll see tomorrow how it turns out – I left it unbaked so it’ll be fresh for serving at lunchtime.

While I was waiting around for the filling to cook and the pastry to chill, I thought back to that giant pile of rhubarbs in the waste fridge. Oh wait, I forgot to mention that there was a GIANT PILE OF RHUBARBS. Laura T had not ten minutes before found a recipe for rhubarbs in my Easy Pies book and said how delicious rhubarbs are, and we discussed how to cook rhubarbs. The recipe called for: rhubarbs. brown sugar. pastry. I didn’t want to make another batch of pastry, but when I looked in the fridge, someone had left an extra blob of sweetened pastry yesterday. This was fate. This was b’shert. I was making that rhubarb pie. First I had to pick out the really inedible rhubarbs, which was a lot. However, the remainder were the perfect size to fit in the crust I’d laid out. I covered them in brown sugar and threw in some cinnamon and sultanas (raisins) for good measure and set it in the fridge for tomorrow’s baking.

Although I meant tonight to be pie night, I changed things around a little bit and decided to have Superbowl Chili Night – not for any love of sports but because for the last four years I’ve been the champion spicy chili maker in my college dorm. I figure I’m a real grown-up now, so I should go for flavor rather than just burning people’s mouths. (I did have two chili-burn incidents tonight, fortunately both in my mouth. Much better than eyes/nose/open wounds/etc.) As usual, I made a meat and a veg. The veg used soya mince, which seems to be the British name for TVP, an odd “food product” I came to love on camping trips in high school. (And in college – unlike meat, it never goes off!) It’s the easiest thing to cook: literally, just add boiling water and it puffs up. I only wish rice did that instead of being so annoying. I hate cooking rice. It also had green bell peppers, onions, celery and carrots, all chopped to large chunks and quickly stir-fried; I then let it simmer with tomato sauce and vegetable stock for about 1.5 hours. I seasoned it with chili peppers (the long thin red ones), cumin, garlic, paprika, chili powder, oregano, s+p, and garnished with cilantro springs. It definitely tasted better than the Bob’s Red Mill chilis I used to make, but it did take a lot longer. Worth the effort.

For the meat, I used 900 kg lean beef  (couldn’t find ground turkey), browned and salted, combined with red and green bell peppers, onions, and celery, all simmered in stock and 2 cans for about 2.5 hours. For seasoning I used the same spices as above, but replaced the chilis with aji amarillo and 90% cacao dark chocolate. I was always planning on using my ajis – I had lots of aji dishes in Peru, and really like its warm flavor – but only hit on the chocolate today at about noon. My downstairs neighbor has a very romantic flat, decorated with roses and candles and silk (and it always smells like flowers!), and she keeps a bowl of dark chocolate out on the coffee table. I only used 2 squares of chocolate, but it tasted amazing – it didn’t make it taste like chocolate, but gave it that kind of chocolately smoothness and color, perfectly matched by the ajis. Wonderful. And I have leftovers!!!

Also, the tzatziki is no more. The 1,450 grams of yogurt are now happily gone. I think I can wait a bit before I make more…


UPDATE: I was told that the Lee’s Pie needed a bit more spice (I was missing the sage, after all) but that everyone loved the rhubarb pie.

Pie Night: Butternut Bonanza

31 Jan

Great turnout tonight! Nine people seems to be the limit, as we were almost out of glasses and would have been out of knives had everyone decided to use one. We had three new guests, two from class and one whom I met in the grocery store and realized shared my love of pies. I love this city – I feel like it’s so easy to meet people.

For appetizers, I made tzatziki and butternut-pepper dip. I’d been meaning to make tzatziki since Wednesday, when Laura J had her “paella night” as a weekday meal (it was great! Nice theme!) but after visiting every grocery between the lab and home, I was unable to find a single cucumber and thus settled for pre-made tzatziki. (Isn’t it a little weird that I found packaged tzatziki but not cucumbers?) I have been craving it since then. It’s your regular old tzatziki – Greek yogurt, cucumber, garlic, dill, and I added a little bit of mint to make it more like the Persian yogurt dip I had on Tuesday (Simurgh Persian Restaurant: marry me). The butternut dip was an idea I had yesterday while shopping in M&S – they had a butternut dip with harissa topping, but I thought it would be better economically and as a cook to make my own.

The stuff: butternut squash (about 100 grams), big slice of red pepper, half an onion, 3 cloves of garlic, juice of half lemon

The spice: cumin, paprika, chili pepper, s+p

The method: Roast the butternut squash in a little bit of oil. In a blender, puree the onion and garlic and add the spices and lemon juice. When the butternut has cooled, add it into the mixture and puree. Cut the red pepper into chunks and puree that as well. Serve room temperature with chili sprinkled on top.

I felt this recipe – adapted from a few I found online – was overwhelmingly oniony. It was missing a certain sweet element to bring out the roasted butternut. Maybe some brown sugar? Maybe caramelize the onion? However, it tasted quite good when blended with the tzatziki. I served both of them with little strips of puff pastry for dipping.

In addition, Laura J brought a lettuce and sundried tomato salad with balsamic dressing and Laura T brought crackers and brie.

The main course was, of course, the pie. I somehow (miraculously) managed to make two different dishes with only one pan (confirming the American wok’s place as Best Kitchen Instrument Ever) plus a roasting dish.

The stuff: butternut squash (400 grams cubed), 4 potatoes, 1 large leek, 1 clove garlic, flour, and EITHER [about 2 handfuls venison] OR [fresh plain goat cheese]

The spice: the Simon and Garfunkel quad (parsely, sage, rosemary, thyme), nutmeg, allspice, s+p

The method: Roast the cubed butternut and potato with a little bit of oil and salt until they’re squishy enough to eat. Concurrently, caramelize the leeks in the wok. Remove from the wok and pan-fry the cubed venison. When it’s good and cooked, set in on a plate to rest and wash the pan.

Put the pan back on the heat with 3 cups (approx) and a crushed cube of vegetable stock. Put the leeks and the contents of the roasting pan into the wok and cover. When everything starts to get squishy, add all the spices and keep cooking. When the water has almost soaked away, add some flour to thicken. It’s pretty much ready to eat now.

The amounts in this section are rather arbitrary – since I invited more vegetarians, I made more without venison. I put about 3/4 of the butternut filling into the pie dish; once in, mix it up with goat cheese and cover with the pie crust. Put the venison back into the wok and mix it up with the butternut; season to taste, and throw it in a pie pan with a crust. Bake until the crust is ready!

I would say that these were pretty much perfect. There was not as much general mmmmmming as for Lee’s pie, but everyone enjoyed it all. I think the butternut definitely benefited from being roasted rather than microwaved or simply thrown in the pan. It was also a much simpler process than usual! My kitchen is too small to allow mis en place, but cooking everything in the pan really saved on space and dishes. I think I preferred the sweetness of the venison and pumpkin pie I made in the fall – this venison was much gamier (I think venison is really an autumn meat). The butternut and goat cheese, though -mmm. The goat cheese was one Anna P bought at a market this week – a very simple one with a brie-like exterior but the typical chevre on the inside. Delicious. Unfortunately Anna was not here this week to share in the pie or bring wine per usual, but Liam compensated with a few bottles of red.

Liam, in a brilliant pie night move, brought a New World-themed squash salad with roast squash, pumpkin, small potatoes, wild rice, balsamic, and sunflower seeds. It went really well as a not-overwhelmingly-similar side: it shared elements but had a completely different flavor.

Also, I decided to weave the crust this time! It makes them just darling, eh? Top left is the veg, top right is Liam’s salad, and middle is the meat. For more butternut recipes, check out Hungry Girl’s “Salute to Butternut Squash“. After realizing just how tedious it is to peel whole butternuts, I decided just to go with packs of cubed. This week M&S had some for 80p. Ah, until next week!

EDIT: Oh wait, I forgot to mention that there were nNO LEFTOVERS.

Pies on the Menu

30 Jan

Sunday Night is Pie Night! Tonight’s theme is butternut squash and tonight’s goal is a constantly clean kitchen.

I’ve already made an appetizer – spicy butternut and red pepper dip, to be eaten with either pita bread or pastry puffs. The pies will be butternut-goat cheese and butternut-venison. Excited!

No pie today, the pies have gone away

24 Jan

Sadly, there was no Pie Night tonight, as I was attending my friend Alex’s gig (he’s in a band called Andy and the Prostitutes who are really good and play about once a month). Instead, I present to you a picture of the beautiful apple and pear pies that Kathryn B made last week. They were absolutely delicious – she made all the crust herself (and also contributed crust to the big pie). They also looked absolutely perfect.

I really can’t comment on how she made them – I know it involved peeled and sliced fruits, flour, sugar, and cinnamon – but that is all.

Leek and Gruyere Tart

22 Jan

My first attempt at making a tart: not so hot. I think I’m just not a big fan of things that taste too much like egg. However, I was trying to use some leftover leeks and found a recipe in my Easy Pies book  that I could easily modify. The original, called Caramelized Onion Tart, sounded quite delicious, and my version tasted ok, just not really what I felt like. At least I didn’t feel sick like I always do with the museum’s cafeteria quiches.

The Stuff: leeks (I used 4), about 75g gruyere, 1 egg, some milk, puff pastry, parmesan

The Seasoning: salt and pepper

The Method: Caramelize the leeks in butter. Line a small pie tin with puff pastry and blind bake at 190C until mostly cooked.

Meanwhile, beat the egg and mix it with a small amount of milk, the gruyere, and seasoning. When they’re ready, add in the leeks and pour the mixture into the crust. Top with parmesan and bake for 15 minutes; let sit for 10.

Clearly, I can make some improvements on this. I liked the taste of the leeks, but I would definitely use fresh-grated gruyere from Neal’s Yard instead of store brand pre-grated. Cheese is just better fresh, yes? (I will probably write more about cheese later. It deserves its own post.) I don’t know the chemistry of eggs and whether I could replace a whole egg with two egg whites, but I’d definitely try it: in addition to being lower in cholesterol, they don’t seem to have that characteristically eggy taste (sulphurous, I read). However, I’ll have to check if they will work in a tart.

Second, a tart should have a certain look. It should be evenly spread and fit nicely into the crust. As you can see in the picture, I messed up big-time. My friend Ramya’s mother Lee’s father, in an oft-repeated phrase, said that the foods that look the worst taste the best. The leftovers of Lee’s Pie, which look like a disaster, taste absolutely fabulous. That is not true in this case, where I think the look is integral to the sensation of eating (if not the actual taste). Part of the reason for my oversize crust is my use of puff pastry in places where it doesn’t belong, and another part is my laziness in actually shaping the pastry to the size of the pan. These are things to work on.

Anyway. Next one should be better.

Lee’s Pie

21 Jan

After a few weeks of experimenting with recipes, in early December I branched out and made an all-new pie from my own head. I was thinking of my good friend Lee, who likes to boil things in cream: I have witnessed her joyfully boil a variety of vegetables in cream, none of which I have eaten. Instead, I stare at them with hungry eyes (and at her with sad eyes) as she tells me how these dishes will clog my arteries and kill me. I might note that she ate all of these while sitting in a dilapidated armchair facing a beautiful bay window and sipping tea. Her life: full of delicious. My life: salivating over her delicious.

So I decided to make a (reasonably) healthy pie for me based on her sumptuous preference for cream. I substituted low-fat cream and skim milk for full-fat cream and decided to boil the things up. And lord, was it delicious.

The Veg: shallots, turnips, 3 potatoes, 1 medium-size cauliflower, parsnips, other white/cream vegetables of your choice

The Other Bits: cream (or milk) – probably about a cup and a bit, flour and butter for a roux, 2-3 chanterelle mushrooms, pie crust (generally puff pastry)

The Seasoning: nutmeg, sage, parmesan, salt and pepper

The Method: Cube everything. Parboil the potatoes.

Steam the cauliflower in milk. That’s right, steam it in milk. It should be chopped into bits as small as possible as it will form the creamy base of the pie.

Make a roux in an American wok or big soup pot. Then pour in the cream. When it’s hot, put in all the vegetables and cook on medium heat until they get mushy and all look like one big wet lump of vegetable. It should be the consistency of one of the curries I make (that is, not liquidy, but still a mush).

While the filling is cooking, lightly fry the mushrooms (cut very, very tiny) in butter. Add in the chopped sage. When the vegs are almost cooked, add this in with some salt and pepper. Add parmesan to taste.

With the crust, make it into a pie. Put a little more parm under the crust just for fun. Bake per the crust directions.

The first time, I spent about an hour trying to get the spices right. It tasted excellent, but the flavor just didn’t stick in my mouth. Fortunately, Max (who is magnificent at all things spice and writes a column for Serious Eats) was available by skype and suggested I put in nutmeg, which really rounded out the flavor. I added more parmesan for a little more umami (my favorite taste, by the way). It was pretty much the most perfect winter taste ever. I have since made Lee’s Pie twice more, and I can not attest that it does NOT taste better with sweet potatoes or without sage (it was an emergency pie situation). This recipe WORKS. It also tastes delicious as leftovers.

Oh yeah, pie leftovers: if you put it in the microwave with crust, it gets squishy, and nobody wants a squishy pie. Instead, save whatever pie filling is left in ramikins. When you’re ready for round 2, put a new crust on the mini-pies and bake. Yay.