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"We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie." David Mamet

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Summer in a pie


There's a Seinfeld episode with a subplot about Kramer trying to score Macinaw peaches during their fleeting peak season. It turns out there's no such thing as a Macinaw peach, but we all know the swoony taste of a perfect peach - the extract of summer.

My Mom was not a big baker, and almost never made pies. But every summer she'd go to the farm stand on Pond Road (Stamford people would need to confirm this) to buy fresh peaches by the bushel in woven baskets for her annual peach pie. Because it was the 70s  I'm guessing she made the crust herself and in my mind's eye see her digging into that classic red gingham Betty Crocker cookbook for the recipe. I do remember our un-airconditioned kitchen steaming up with the scent of peaches parboiling in big pots, extracting them with slotted spoons, then peeling and slicing them into juicy harvest moon quarters. Somehow a pie would appear and no matter the temperature, Mom served it hot, topped with vanilla ice cream.

I could practically taste her peach pie when I came across a recipe last weekend in Deb Perelman's fab blog, Smitten Kitchen. My sister was coming over for dinner, and I thought it would be fun for us to make the pie together in honor of Mom - and have it ready for my husband who had been working hard toward an opening of a new music exhibit at the Museum of the American Indian, Up Where We Belong (fantastic, btw.) We followed the recipe to all but a few letters - I didn't add nutmeg (which I hate and never have on hand) and I didn't peel the peaches. This latter omission might have accounted for the pie's slight shortcoming: it could have been sweeter for Karren and my 15 year old, Jack, and the peach skin might have contributed to that. Pete and I loved it as it was. So if you like your pies sweet, add a little sugar to the recipe. 

Now I feel like my summer's complete.

And here's how I served it -  with caramel vanilla ice cream in a bowl melting over the still hot pie.

And here's the recipe from Smitten Kitchen (go to the site Deb's great tips on making a crust.)

Smitten Kitchen's Peach Pie

2 1/2 cups (315 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting surfaces
1 tablespoons (15 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
2 sticks (225 grams, 8 ounces, or 1 cup) unsalted butter, very cold
1/2 cup water, very cold

About 3 1/2 pounds peaches (approximately 6 large, 7 medium or 8 small)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, from about half a regular lemon
1/4 cup granulated sugar (see note up top; use 1/3 cup for a sweeter pie)
1/4 cup light brown sugar (ditto)
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Few gratings of fresh nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons minute tapioca, ground to a powder (see note up top), or 3 tablespoons cornstarch or potato starch
To finish
1 tablespoon milk, cream or water
1 tablespoon coarse or granulated sugar
Make your pie dough: Whisk together flour, sugar and salt in the bottom of a large, wide-ish bowl. Using a pastry blender, two forks or your fingertips, work the butter into the flour until the biggest pieces of butter are the size of small peas. (You’ll want to chop your butter into small bits first, unless you’re using a very strong pastry blender in which case you can throw the sticks in whole, as I do.) Gently stir in the ice water with a rubber spatula, mixing it until a craggy mass forms. Get your hands in the bowl and knead it just two or three times to form a ball. Divide dough in half. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and flatten a bit, like a disc. Chill in fridge for at least an hour or up to two days. Slip plastic-wrapped dough into a freezer bag and freeze for up to 1 to 2 months (longer if you trust your freezer more than I do). To defrost, leave in fridge for 1 day.
Meanwhile, prepare your filling: Bring a large saucepan of water to boil. Prepare an ice bath. Make a small x at the bottom of each peach. Once water is boiling, lower peaches, as many as you can fit at once, into saucepan and poach for two minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to ice bath for one minute to cool. Transfer peaches to cutting board and peel the skins. In most cases, the boiling-then-cold water will loosen the skins and they’ll slip right off. In the case of some stubborn peaches, they will stay intact and you can peel them with a paring knife or vegetable peeler and curse the person who made you waste your time with poaching fruit.
Halve and pit the peaches, then into about 1/3-inch thick slices. You’ll want 6 cups; it’s okay if you go a little over. Add to a large bowl and toss with lemon juice. In a small dish, stir together sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and cornstarch until evenly mixed. Add to peaches and toss to evenly coat.
Preheat: Oven to 425 degrees.
Assemble your pie: Flour the heck out of your counter, unwrap your first dough (if the two pieces look uneven, go for the smaller one) and put it in the middle and flour that too. Be generous, you’ll thank me later. Start rolling your dough by pressing down lightly with the pin and moving it from the center out. You’re not going to get it all flat in one roll or even twenty; be patient and it will crack less. Roll it a few times in one direction, lift it up and rotate it a quarter-turn. And that’s what you’re going to continue to do, roll a couple times, lift the dough and rotate it. Re-flour the counter and the top of the dough as needed–don’t skimp! You should be leaving no bits of dough on the counter and none should be stuck to your pin. If at any point, the dough starts to get sticky or soft, it’s warming up and will only become more difficult to work with. Transfer it back to the fridge for a few minutes (or even the freezer, but for just a minute) to let it cool, then resume your rolling process.
Once your dough is a 12- to 13-inch circle, transfer pie dough to a standard pie dish by folding it gently into quarters (making no creases), arranging the folded corner into one quadrant of the bottom of your tin and gently unfolding it to fit over the base. Trim the overhang to one inch.
Scoop filling into bottom pie dough, including any accumulated juices (they contain the thickener too, also: tastiness). Roll out your top pie dough using the same procedure, until it is 12 to 13 inches in diameter. If you’d like to make a regular lidded pie, use it as is, cutting some decorative vents in the pie lid before baking. To make a lattice-top pie, cut the pie dough into strips anywhere from 1/2 to 1-inch wide with a pastry wheel, pizza wheel or knife. Arrange every other strip across your pie filling in one direction, spacing the strips evenly. Fold back every other strip gently on itself and add the longest remaining strip in the other direction. Fold the strips back down, repeat with the other strips until a full lattice-top is formed. Trim the lattice’s overhang to the diameter of the pie dish’s rim (i.e. no overhang; only the bottom crust will have that and this is a case of do as I say, not as I do, because I totally forgot this detail when I was making the above pie). Gently fold the rim of the bottom crust over the lattice strips and crimp decoratively.
To finish:Brush pie with milk, cream or water and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake pie: For about 20 minutes in the preheated oven, until the crust is set and beginning to brown. Reduce oven temperature to 375 and bake pie for another 30 to 40 minutes, until filling is bubbling all over and the crust is a nice golden brown. If the pie lid browns too quickly at any point in the baking process, you can cover it with foil for the remaining baking time to prevent further browning.
Cool pie: For three hours at room temperature before serving. I know you won’t listen to me — there’s hot delicious pie to be eaten, after all — but if you’re concerned about the runniness of the pie filling, keep in mind that the pie filling does not fully thicken until it is fully cool. Pie can be stored at room temperature or in the fridge; from the fridge, it will be even thicker.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Kate's Kale Salad (adapted from Esalen)

Last weekend my niece Kate Brill was visiting from Portland, Oregon and made the best kale salad I've ever tasted. It seems that all I eat these days is kale salad and this one is tops. Better than City Bakery. Better than my own version of City Bakery with caramelized (almost crisp) onions. It is beautiful and fresh, and adapted from the Esalen Cookbook with all of the crunchy wholesomeness you expect from Big Sur.

Kate's Kale Salad
(adapted from the Esalen Cookbook)

1/4cup tamari soy sauce
1/4cup lemon juice
1/4extra-virgin olive oil
½medium red onion sliced thinly and cut into half-moons
¼cup sunflower seeds toasted
¼cup pumpkin seeds toasted
¼cup sesame seeds toasted
1pound fresh kale, sliced into 1/4" ribbons
1avocado diced (optional)
Combine soy sauce and lemon juice in a blender or whisk in a bowl. Slowly dribble in the oil as the blender turns or as you whisk vigorously to emulsify. Marinate sliced onions in the dressing as you prepare the rest of the salad.

Toast the seeds in a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat until seeds are just golden and fragrant. Toast each seed type separately as their size requires varying roasting times. Cool to room temperature.
Toss the seeds and kale with the onions, and as much dressing as necessary to lightly but completely dress the kale. Thoroughly mix with your hands. Let the dressing macerate the kale for at least 15 minutes before serving at room temperature. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Jack's Nutella-Drop Flap Jacks

The idea for these marvy pancakes came out of a Spanglish exchange with Jack this morning. 

“Que quieres comer this morning, hijo: pancakes or waffles?”
What do you want to eat, son: pancakes or waffles?”

“Tenemos Nutella?”
Do we have Nutella?


“Quiero pancakes, por favor.”
I want pancakes, please.

Like our language skills, this pancake recipe is a mashup that somehow works. It combines our regular frozen waffle topping (Nutella!) with a yogurt-based batter.
     I fretted over whether the Nutella would create moist spots in the pancakes and I’d end up with overcooked edges or undercooked innards – or that the Nutella would melt onto the pan and cause a crusty mess. This didn’t happen. I think because I followed the advice of the venerable Deb Perelman (Smitten Kitchen) to make the griddle real hot at first, and to drop it to medium/medium-high after adding the batter. Oh, yes, and smearing a stick of butter over the pan between each batch.
     These pancakes met my ideal - billowy yet substantial - thanks to the use of yogurt and that extra egg. That plus the use of Nutella instead of chocolate chips makes them (arguably) healthier than our everyday variety.

They were muy delicious.

See recipe after the jump.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Tagine Dream No. 1: Chicken tagine with chickpeas and dried cherries

My new tagine
I've wanted a moroccan tagine  for years - and finally got one for my birthday from dear Pete and Jack. I love the aspirational heaven-toward funnel shaped lid, and the way food looks served in it at the table. Mostly, I adore the food that's cooked in it. I've eaten tagines for years, notably at my Aunt Clotilde's in France and Cafe Mogador on St. Mark's where I treasured the rich, layered spices and aromatics that compose their base. 
     Oddly, my North African-born mother never made or used tagines. All of her crazy-good meals, from the most basic hamburger to her fresh salad, had a Mediterranean cache, and she would break out some truly middle eastern recipes for holidays or special occasions. Also, unlike me, she never did cozy up to stews or soups. The closest she got was a memorable Julia Child-inspired Chicken Marengo, a similar dish with Italian flavors, which were probably more appealing to our American-born father and to us suburban kids.
     Last night I gingerly approached my earthy-orange tagine, not sure how to actually cook with it. But I am here to tell you that it was so easy and so gratifying. The most time-consuming part was grinding up the Ras El Hanout spice blend. Everything was done in the same pot, and it took no longer than any braised stew.
     There seem to be as many varieties of tagine as there are lasagna. The traditional tagine has several components: some sort of meat, usually chicken or lamb, arabic spices, and dried or preserved fruit, which is stewed and served over couscous. I happened to have on hand chicken parts, canned garbanzos, quinoa and dried cherries and quinoa. With a tip of my tagine lid to the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen, my first adventure with tagine was a big hit with Pete and Jack.

Click below to jump to recipe...