Ever since I brought home a tub of leaf lard from Art of the Pie I’ve been itching to use some of it in a savory pie. My chance came this week, as we had a bunch of spinach from Frog’s Song Farm, a bag of mustard and kale greens from Blue Heron, and a wedge of fresh goat feta from Gothberg Farms. If that doesn’t say “savory tart” I don’t know what does.
I began by completely screwing up my pie dough. I usually stick with a part-whole wheat, all-butter crust for my quiches, but I wanted this crust to taste distinctly of lard. Unfortunately I added too much lard, especially given the warmth of the kitchen, and the dough became unwieldy. I ended up patting it into a tart pan with my fingers instead of rolling it out all the way. Then I prebaked it for a few minutes to make sure it would set and not just melt in the pan. It actually worked OK, so I got started on my filling.
I wanted this to really be about the greens and feta rather than the binder, so instead of following my usual quiche formula I made up something a little different. I blanched the greens in salted boiling water, then squeezed the liquid out and chopped them. I mixed up two eggs, then added the cooled greens, some sauteed shallot, the crumbled feta, a dollop of cream, lots of freshly ground black pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. I piled all this into my tart crust and baked it for a while at 375° – sorry, I wasn’t really paying attention, but I think it was about half an hour. Basically, when the egg had set and was beginning to puff up, I called it done.
We let it cool briefly, then carefully (as the crust was very tender) cut wedges and ate them with glasses of chilled rosé. Despite the haphazardness of the preparation, it was really, really good. How about that?
I tend to think I make a pretty good pie. Last Easter I made a strawberry rhubarb pie that vanished within seconds, and the Easter before that the blackberry pie I baked caused grown women to wander around the house moaning softly with delight. Every Christmas I bake sweet potato pie with bourbon (one of my personal favorites), and my Missouri-born husband thinks I make the best pecan pie he’s ever had. That said, however, when Kate McDermott contacted me about taking one of her Art of the Pie classes, you can bet I didn’t turn her down. For every prize winner I’ve turned out, there’s also been a sodden mess somewhere along the line, and I’ve always been curious which things are truly important in pie baking, as opposed to simply customary. In other words, how does it all really work?
So last Sunday, on a muggy afternoon in downtown Seattle, I joined five other women (including my friend Patricia of the blog Cook Local – see her post on the class here), to learn more of the mysteries of pie. Kate sets aside four hours for these classes, which turns out to be about perfect. We sat down at 3, and by 7 we were all walking out with hot pies.
This is ridiculous. Just as I was beginning to feel somewhat recovered (apart from what I consider normal – if irritating – seasonal allergies), Jon’s back went out in a spectacular manner. He’s beginning to feel functional again, but I’ve been keeping busy trying to cook interesting and comforting things that can be eaten while propped up with pillows.
I made braised lemon-olive chicken with couscous, which made a wonderful soup the next day, and baked cookies (my grandmother’s sugar pecan cookies with white chocolate added in), and made an enormous quantity of minestrone, and baked hamburger buns from scratch, which made for some truly fabulous burgers. I also ordered a pizza one night, but I rather felt like I’d earned it.
We have been braising fiends this year, and we’ve begun to make inroads on some of our larger roasts, which means leftovers. Of course, the great thing about braised meat is that it’s better the next day, after the flavors have had a chance to really meld and settle in. Last weekend we pulled out a pork arm roast and braised it on a bed of cabbage, onion, and sauerkraut flavored with paprika, caraway and beer. It was pleasant enough the first night, but lunch the next day was when it really shone.
I had made a batch of buttermilk-caraway dinner rolls (from our go-to baking book for such things, Mary’s Bread Basket and Soup Kettle), which were wonderful eaten hot out of the pan with butter, but were also delightful split, toasted, spread with mustard, and turned into little pork-and-cabbage sliders. A pile of cornichons and a glass of Pacific Rim Riesling completed a rather dreamy lunch.
And because we made a truly enormous amount, I had those sliders again yesterday (maybe today, too). And for dinner last night, I threw together this interesting noodle dish. Some fresh shredded cabbage, sauteed in olive oil until well browned, tossed with some of the leftover braised pork, and mixed with cooked gemelli pasta and doused with Frank’s hot sauce. It came out well, with a sort of spicy Asian-fusiony sort of effect. I liked it.
It baffles me that something as wonderful as a scone can often be so awful.
The scones I grew up with (my mother’s) were like rich biscuits: a little fluffy, a little crumbly, with a sweet butter flavor. They might have some currants or a bit of zest, but the main attraction was always the scone itself, plus whatever fabulous jam you smeared on top. They also weren’t too big, so you could have the pleasure of going back for seconds or thirds, perhaps trying a different jam on each one.
Commercial scones, on the other hand, always seem to be huge, floury and dry. Not to mention full of chunks of things: citron, cranberries, nuts – all distractions, in my opinion. This sort of scone gets you to drink a lot more coffee than you normally would, just to wash all that dry plaster out of your mouth. I can never eat more than a bite or two.
They need to be made at home, and eaten fresh. That’s all there is to it.
Having recently rediscovered the joys of challah, I’ve decided that one of my missions for the next year is to find my favorite challah recipe. I’ve only tasted a few so far, so I’m not sure what my ideal is yet. There’s really only one way to find out, especially since there isn’t a single Jewish bakery in our vicinity. Time to get baking!
For my first attempt, I picked a recipe out of my America’s Test Kitchen cookbook, partly because it made just one loaf – a much more manageable amount than some, especially considering that challah does not keep. Another time I’ll try Jon’s aunt’s recipe, but I’ll need to either scale it down or be prepared to feed an army. It makes a lot.
Here’s something a little different. I wanted to make a pie, but couldn’t decide what kind (pear? apple? brown butter cheesecake?), so I started flipping through a few baking books. What caught my eye was a recipe for “Warm Cranberry Crumble Tart” in The Art and Soul of Baking, one of the books I brought home from the International Food Blogger’s Conference last spring. Festive, seasonal and something I’d never thought of trying – perfect.
In some ways, this tart is kind of odd. The cranberry-orange flavor is so strongly associated in my mind with turkey that I find it hard to remember I’m eating dessert. But it goes great with vanilla ice cream (especially homemade), which makes up for the fact that the tart isn’t very sweet on its own. The more I ate, the more I liked it.
Cold weather, orange and yellow leaves, windstorms, torrential rains, and a stubborn head cold have conspired to make me really feel the onset of autumn. I’ve roasted a chicken, made several pots of soup, and braised a brisket with Frank’s Red Hot chile sauce and dried onion soup mix (not to mention my first kugel – more on that later). I also made dinner rolls, which I haven’t done in a million years.
These aren’t just any dinner rolls, either. They’re sweet potato dinner rolls, which are sweet and earthy and soft and perfect for scenting the house on a cold fall evening.
September is the month of corn. Trucks are parked by the side of the road, heaped high with ears of sweet corn and signs saying ten for a dollar (otherwise known as “Please! Take it!”). Coworkers bring in bag- and boxfuls to work, in desperate hope that someone will be willing to deal with the overflow.
When there is extra corn in the house, but I don’t really feel like eating it straight, spoonbread is a nice option. I’m not a big fan of fresh corn in cornbread, but spoonbread is more like an informal souffle with a bit of cornmeal in it. The version I like to make has both fresh sweet corn and roasted green chiles, as well as plenty of cheese, and the effect is rather like chile rellenos, with more of the fluffy coating and less of the chile. You get both a bit of crustiness and a rather pudding-like interior, and it makes a great accompaniment to roast chicken.
Ideally you should use anaheims, or other mild green chiles. Poblanos would be a great choice for a little more heat. On this occasion all I had were some big (and very hot) jalapeños, so I limited myself to two so the spoonbread wouldn’t be too fiery. You can either roast them in the oven (like I do with bell peppers) or toast them over an open flame with tongs.
We had a rather fabulous Easter brunch (I say modestly) at our house yesterday. It was an excellent way to spend the morning, since the day turned out aggressively wet and windy. Not good egg-hunting weather.
Curried eggs, from the original Vegetarian Epicure, are a must in our family for Easter. They’re some trouble to make, but worth the effort. The eggs are stuffed with their own yolks, which are mixed with sour cream, fresh dill and sauteed mushrooms. The devilled eggs are then baked in a curried bechamel sauce with a sprinkling of paprika.
Jon made his sour cream coffeecake, which turned out spectacularly well. Continue reading