Tag Archives: sage

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.


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.

Pie Night Out: Holly Bush

27 Jan

Tonight I went out with my friend Lucia, who has just moved into an adorable flat in Hampstead. She always manages to choose adorable, cozy restaurants, and tonight brought me to her local pub, Holly Bush, located in a 1790s house just north of the tube at the entrance to a winding residential alley. Hampstead is a twee little suburb, mostly built up by Yerkes in his tube expansion plan – he invested in large amounts of land just outside the city and then engineered the tube to go through those areas, earning millions. I thought it was all 1890s, but I guess parts of it are, well, much older and cuter (and not corporate, although that hardly matters when a) your corporation is 120 years old and b) the corporation is the London Underground, which I believe to be man’s greatest achievement. More on this later).

Anyway, the pub had a perfect atmosphere for pies – dark and wood-paneled, with twists and turns and those mysteriously-appearing stairs that characterize historic homes. It seemed to be a free house, but we didn’t order any drinks; Beer in the Evening gives it a 6.8/10 for ales, which is pretty good (the BITE raters are quite harsh). I looked down at the menu and knew there was only one option for me: a butternut and goat cheese pie. YES. The rest of the food was great, too: we greatly enjoyed the carrot and parsnip soup, especially as the bread was thick, fresh, and just slightly charred, making the combination of bread and soup taste gloriously  roasted, and Lucia loved her trout with Jerusalem artichokes, although it looked a bit difficult to eat as it was wrapped in string. But this pie: oh lord, there is no way to go wrong with butternut. It came STEAMING, and even after eating the rocket salad (with a very light butternut-mustard dressing) and roasted cherry tomatoes, I still burned my mouth on the first bite. The pie was two-fist sized with a circular slice of goat cheese on top; the crust was moist and buttery, not crumbly in the least. It was shiny, so possibly coated with egg. The interior seemed to only contain three ingredients – butternut cut into chunks, thin slices of shallots, and thin slices of garlic. Oddly, it was not as garlicky as I would expect for something with slices in it: perhaps it was overwhelmed by the butternut. I couldn’t place the spices, but there might have been sage. The whole thing was sitting on a bed of butternut mash.

I really wish I could have identified the spices in it so I could recreate it, but I was just enjoying it too much to tell. I think I’ll attempt one of these on Sunday and see how it goes. My one change, though, would be to put the goat cheese inside the pie where it could melt in. MMMMMMM.

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.