Tag Archives: honey

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!

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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.