Friday, September 05, 2014

The Friday Pie Slice: North Carolina Edition


Alright. Gonna try to get this little segment goin' again.

1st slice. My friend April McGreger's new book Sweet Potatoes from UNC Press' "Savor The South" series just arrived in the mail. I can't wait to make sweet potato-habanero hot sauce, sweet potato sonker, sweet potato donut muffins, etc. etc. etc...

2nd slice. Last weekend I trekked down to Asheville, NC to hang out with pals at Harvest Records' Transfigurations II Festival. I made a little country-ish mix for my road trip and thought you might enjoy it too. Find it here.

3rd slice. On that trip I got to finally visit Tara/Smoke Signals Baking's beautiful little enclave in the hills of Marshall. If you're in the area, check out her upcoming pie classes and Saturday PIZZA NIGHTS!

The tasty crumbs. I also got to hang out and make pie for & eat pie with one of my favorite musicians and long-time pen pal Michael Hurley! Check his Nothing in the House post from a few years back.

Find past Friday Pie Slices here

Pictured above: Butterscotch Pie with a Meringue Top and Butter & Lard Crust

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Campfire Skillet Crisp



One of the drawbacks of shooting film, and multiple cameras* at that, is that there can be so much lag time between shooting, finishing the roll, and getting the developed photos back. Here it is September and I'm finally sitting down to share some photos, words, and a campfire recipe from a canoe trip back in May. But there are a few weeks of summer yet, so hopefully this will come in handy for your summer and fall camping trip cuisine.


This spring at NELP, I co-lead a canoe trip to the Debsconeag Lakes, just under the shadow of Mt. Katahdin in northern Maine. I jumped on the trip last minute--I thought I'd be leading a "Rough 'n' Tumble New Age Lumberjack Road Trip" to Rangeley, ME, but when not enough students were compelled by the promise of orgone accumulators and chainsaw collections, I joined up with my friend and co-worker James to even out canoe numbers and do a little tracing of Thoreau's footsteps (and paddle "steps") in the Maine woods.

Because we were paddling and staying at the same campsite for the three days, we didn't have to be concerned with backpacking weight. So I snagged our skillet from the kitchen and started imagining all the campfire cooking and baking possibilities.


The first day we paddled to our campsite among pine trees on a white beach, set up tents, and then paddled to the other side of the lake which boasts an ice cave along its shores. It was a hot day, especially for May in northern Maine, but when we entered the cave, it felt like we were descending back in time to the cold of winter. Judging from the ice stalactites dripping from the ceiling it was probably just above freezing.

That night we took the students out for a night paddle with no lights. It was a magical surrealist experience, seeing the stars almost perfectly reflected in the water (or as Thoreau calls it, "Sky water") which felt strangely thick and dense--like paddling through oil-- but somehow safe and comforting. We read them the passage from Walden in "The Ponds" when Thoreau describes his night fishing, "It seemed as if I might next cast my line upward into the air, as well as downward into this element which was scarcely more dense. Thus I caught two fishes as it were with one hook," and asked them what might be that second fish. 


The next morning for breakfast, I sliced up some strawberries and bananas into the skillet, scattered on a flour and sugar mixture I'd prepared back at camp, put on a lid, and stuck it on the hot embers of the fire. After about 25 minutes, we had a breakfast crisp, warm and bubbling, with a buttery, crispy top.


You could make this with any fruit you have on hand. I'd recommend mixing the flour mixture at home and storing it in a plastic bag until you're ready to use, then cut in the butter at your campsite (don't forget your pocket knife). It makes a fine camp breakfast or dessert and it fueled our mile-long portage and day of exploring waterfalls and lakes, through a rainstorm and all. 


Strawberry-Banana Campfire Crisp

Ingredients
3 large bananas, cut into 1/2-inch slices
12 oz. strawberries, sliced (instead of strawberries & bananas, you can use about 2 1/2 lbs. of any fruit)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, cut into chunks

Directions
1. In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour, oats, sugars, spices, and salt. If you're preparing the crisp at camp, pour into a gallon-sized ziplock bag and bring along with you (along with butter and fruit.).

2. If preparing at home, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cut butter into the flour mixture (if preparing at camp, you can do this with your hands in the ziplock bag). Slice fruit and arrange on the bottom of the skillet. Pour butter and flour mixture over top of fruit.

3. If preparing on a campfire, cover skillet with a lid or tin-foil and place on the hot embers of the fire. If preparing at home, place in the preheated oven uncovered. Bake for 25-30 minutes until fruit is bubbling and topping is golden and crispy. Serve and enjoy!



Related recipes:
Peach-Blackberry Cobbler
Plum-Cherry Crumble

*Camp photos shot on an expired disposable film camera (didn't want my good camera to get wet, so excuse the grainy lo-fi!) and close-up crisp photos shot on my Canon 20D.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Heirloom Tomato Hand Pies with Bacon, Cheddar & Thai Basil Jalapenos


A couple of weeks ago I head the real pleasure of working with the menswear collective MUTINY DC, along with creative director Morgan Hungerford West and photographer Justin T. Gellerson to develop a summer heirloom tomato pie recipe.


I've been keen on Green Tomato Pies this summer, inspired by Richmond chef Travis Milton and the rave reviews I'd heard of his fried pies at the Appalachian Food Summit. When MUTINY suggested using the unripe summer fruit in hand pies, my mind went to savory and to fond memories of this Tomato Bacon Jalapeno Pie I made for a Buckeye Banjo party a couple of years ago.


Subbing in Gordy's Thai Basil Jalapenos gives this recipe its D.C. bearings and complicates the flavor. The result is an adult take on the classic BLT sandwich--my favorite way to enjoy fresh tomatoes--ripe and green--from the backyard garden.

If you end up having leftover filling, save it and scramble it with eggs the next morning for a killer breakfast.


The other delight of this project, was that the folks at Etto generously let us work in their handsome kitchen, meaning I got to bake these pies (and cook the bacon!) in the beautiful wood-fired oven. Ever had bacon cooked in a brick oven? It's practically DOUBLE SMOKED. I highly recommended it.


Heirloom Tomato Hand Pies with Bacon, Cheddar, and Thai Basil Jalapenos

Makes 8-10 hand pies, depending on size

Ingredients
3/4 lbs. heirloom tomatoes, half green/unripe and half ripe (meaty varieties are best), diced
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 1/2 c. sharp cheddar, shredded
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. Gordy's Thai Basil Jalapenos, diced and drained
4 oz. bacon, cooked and diced or crumbled
2 Tblsp. fresh basil, julienned and then halved into small strips
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
1 beaten egg + 1 tsp. milk/cream for egg wash
Flake sea salt, for dusting

Directions
1. Prepare Nothing-in-the-House pie crust as per the directions. Once chilled, roll out dough onto a floured surface and cut into rectangles of equal size. Place cut crust on parchment paper on a baking sheet and return to chill in the fridge while you prepare the filling.

2. Place diced tomatoes in a colander and place in a large mixing bowl or kitchen sink. Sprinkle tomatoes with salt and toss, then let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes while the juices drain.

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl combine cheddar, minced garlic, drained jalapenos, cooked bacon, basil, cayenne pepper, if using, and the drained tomatoes. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine.

4. Remove cut dough from the fridge and mound filling in the center of half of the cut rectangles. Brush edges of dough with cold water and place a matching piece of dough on top. Press the edges with a fork to seal. Brush hand pies with egg wash, sprinkle with flake sea salt, and cut a steam vent in the top of each with a fork.

5. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, bake hand pies for 35-40 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through. Filling will be bubbling and crust will be golden brown when done. Transfer pies to a cooling rack and let cool slightly. Serve still warm.

*Tad suggested using a partial lard crust, and I agree that it would be a great complement to the filling. You can replace half the butter in this recipe with leaf lard, or use your favorite butter/lard pie crust recipe.


See MUTINY DC for the original post. Photos by Justin T. Gellerson

Sunday, August 17, 2014

White Nectarine Frangipane Tart with Homemade Puff Pastry



There's a part in one of my favorite films, Agnès Varda's The Gleaners and I, when she becomes obsessed with the idea of filming her own hands. In a documentary about people who harvest leftover crops from fields, dumpsters, and markets, this could seem tangential, but through Varda's eyes it becomes strikingly relevant, personal. She says, "I can with one hand, film the other one. I like the idea that one hand would always be gleaning, the other one always filming. I like very much the idea of the hands. The hands are the tools of the gleaners, you know. Hands are the tool of the painter, the artist."



I've had a complicated relationship with my own hands. Growing up, I was proud that I could reach an octave + 2 on the piano, but as I got older, I felt these double-jointed extremeties to be a little too large and unfeminine, oddly shaped and overly wrinkled, not to mention constantly cold. A few inconsiderate comments about them from a guy friend in college left me longing for the hands of a Victorian lady--small and smooth and delicate, or at least her gloves so I could hide my own big paws.

A palm reading by my friend Margaret helped me to come around. She pointed out my spatulate fingers, indicating wit and intellect, saw the intersecting lines and size as shape of my hands as those of a maker, an artist, a baker. She helped me to realize that they suit me and are important tools and carriers of memory.



Like Agnès Varda, I too am drawn to "the idea of the hands." They are storied entities, holding so much in their lines and wrinkles. You can tell so much about a person from their hands-- for a quite literal example, I think of the scene in Little Women when Professor Baier runs into Jo on the street. He says, "You know, when I first saw you I thought, 'ah, she is a writer."" When Jo asks how he knew, he points to the ink marks on her hands. My hands are the body part which bears most of my scars-- tissued memories of cleaning mortar off bricks at our old house, the unexplainable white line that helped me to remember my right from my left, the countless burns from baking and callused guitar string fingers. They're also the part of ourselves that we probably see the most, not through the lens of a photograph or mirror, but as they exist in the real world. Our hands are a constant presence in our field of vision. I could pick mine out of a line-up anywhere, but I could I do the same with my ankle? The back of my neck? I'm not so sure. They are such familiar agents and symbols of the self.



One of the most compelling things about baking for me is its tactile nature, of being able to bring something into existence, to shape it in my very hands in all of its stages. I'd been putting off making my own puff pastry for awhile. It seemed too daunting, too time consuming, too much butter (joke)! But some experiments in a wood-fired oven got me thinking about it again, and yesterday I found myself with the air conditioning back on in our house, a full day with nothing planned, and enough butter for the task, so the time was nigh.



For my first experimentation, I used Ashley Rodriguez of Not Without Salt's recipe for a puff pastry shortcut on Food52. It's not the full-on deal in which you work a butter packet into a flour packet, but it takes less time and effort has given me the confidence to go all the way next time. It also makes a BEAUTIFUL, puffed and buttery dough with thin flaky layer upon flaky layer. Maybe not quite as many as you'd get with the more time consuming method, but enough to make me give a little yelp of joy when I opened up the oven... and every time I've taken a bite.

I adapted a Martha Stewart recipe for an Apricot-Pistachio Tart into a White Nectarine-Frangipane (almond) Tart. This was largely because there were no apricots to be found at the farmers' market, and I happened to have a surplus of almonds at home, but you could really make this with any stone fruit (or apple or pear!) and any variety of nut. The beauty of this recipe's simplicity is that it opens up so much opportunity for variation. Put your hands and your imagination to work.



White Nectarine Frangipane Tart with Homemade Puff Pastry
Adapted from Martha Stewart's New Pies and Tarts

Makes one 17x9-inch tart

Ingredients
1 recipe homemade puff pastry (you can also use store-bought)
1 cup + 1 Tablespoon unsalted, raw almonds, toasted
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large whole egg, plus 1 large egg yolk for egg wash
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
All-purpose flour, for dusting
4-5 white nectarines (1 1/4 pounds), pitted and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
1 Tablespoon heavy cream, for egg wash
2 Tablespoons turbinado sugar, for dusting
1/4 cup nectarine, apricot, peach, or plum jam
1 1/2 Tablespoon water

Directions
1. Prepare homemade puff pastry as per the directions. On a lightly floured surface, roll out and trim dough to a 17 X 9-inch rectangle. Transfer to a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and chill in the fridge while you prepare the filling.

2. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse to combine 1 cup almonds and the granulated sugar. Add butter and process until a paste forms. Add the whole egg, vanilla, and salt and pulse to combine.

3. Remove pastry from the fridge and using an offset spatula, spread almond paste evenly over the dough, leaving a 3/4-inch border. Arrange nectarines in 3-4 vertical rows over the almond mixture, alternating direction in which the slices face. Fold in the edges of the dough and use your index finger to create a scalloped border. Refrigerate or freeze the tart until firm, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

4. Whisk together egg yolk and cream and brush over the edges of the chilled tart shell. Chop remaining tablespoon of almonds and sprinkle them and turbinado sugar over the tart. Bake until the crust is deep golden brown and puffed, and fruit is juicy, about 35 minutes. Let cool.

5. Meanwhile, place jam and water in a small saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring, about 2 minutes. Pass through a fine sieve into a bowl and brush the glaze over the nectarines. Serve tart warm or at room temperature.

Related recipes:
Apple Galette at MAV's
Peach Pie with a Sweet Basil Glaze
Whole Wheat Plum Crumble Tart

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Raw Vegan Coconut Cream Pie with Mango



I came back to D.C. in peak summer to find that our air conditioner is not working. This isn't the first time, and honestly it hasn't been that hot here. But the summer weather does make the prospect of rolling out all-butter pie dough seem like a daunting and altogether unpleasant task. In these situations of heat and humidity, I generally turn to an icebox pie (which I suppose this pie is a form of), but I've had this recipe for a raw, vegan, gluten-free, no-refined sugar Coconut Cream Pie in my back pocket for awhile now, so I thought it an opportune time to give it a go.

A few notes before you tackle this recipe--the ingredients are a little on the expensive side and you'll  need to be within striking distance of a Whole Foods or specialty grocery to get your hands on some of them. For the young coconut meat and coconut water, I recommend the Exotic Superfoods brand, which you should be able to find in the freezer section of most Whole Foods stores. You'll also want to eat the pie within a day of making it, as it does not keep especially well. That being said, this is a incredibly refreshing and exotically flavorful pie, especially considering that it is raw, involves no animal products, and contains no gluten or refined sugars! Because my blender is not the most powerful, the texture of my filling was akin to rice pudding, which I have no problem with, but a better blender could get it even smoother. Either way, this is a little tropical island kitchen treat, air conditioning or no.


Raw Vegan Coconut Cream Pie with Mango
From Carla Cabrera of The President Wears Prada

Ingredients
For the crust:
2 1/4 cup dried shredded coconut
1/3 cup extra virgin coconut oil
2 dates, pits removed
1 Tablespoon maple syrup or agave
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup finely diced mangos, to line the crust

For the filling:
2 cups young coconut meat
1/2 cup diced, peeled baby zucchini (the flavor is too strong with larger zucchini)
1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked 30 minutes then drained
1/3 cup extra virgin coconut oil
1 1/4 cup fresh young coconut water
1 1/2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons maple syrup or agave
1/2 cup mango, diced, for decorating the top and sides
Fresh mint sprigs, for decorating the top (optional)

Directions
For the crust:
1. Place all crust ingredients except mangos in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the coconut oil is evenly distributed and the mixture is beginning to bind together. Scoop crust mixture into a deep 10-inch pie plate. Using a spoon, push the mixture up the sides to form a pie crust, approximately 1/4-inch thick. Chill for 30-60 minutes. Spread diced mangos on bottom of crust just before pouring in the filling.

For the filling:
1. Place all ingredients except mango and mint in a blender (I initially used a food processor, as pictured, but the blender achieves much smoother results) and process until smooth, repeatedly scraping down the sides of the blender. Mixture should be smooth, silky, creamy and thick. Pour into mango-lined chilled crust.

2. Chill for at least 4 hours or overnight. Shortly before serving, decorate the pie with additional diced mango and mint sprigs. Serve cold and eat immediately, as this only keeps well up to 1 day.

Related Recipe:
Gluten-Free Chocolate Coconut Pie

Friday, August 08, 2014

Nothing in the House on Food & Wine


It was such a delightful surprise when I got an e-mail from writer Kristin Donnelly, asking to feature Nothing in the House in Food & Wine's Blogger Spotlight! Our interview-- about pie's duality as both transcendent symbol and humble dish, sources and tips for working with vintage recipes, and essential baking tools--ran last week and can be found here.

Thanks so much to Kristin, Jennifer, and everyone else at Food & Wine--I'm flattered to be included and really enjoyed the opportunity to put down some thoughts on these questions. Another big thanks is in order to my friend Elena of Biscuits & Such, who tipped them off to me (check out her feature here).

Photo by Jess Schreibstein of Witchin' in the Kitchen

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Apricot Kuchen from The Joy of Cooking's Megan Scott


To complete the second half of this aforementioned blog trade with the Joy of Cooking, Megan Scott, 4th generation baker and writer in the Joy of Cooking family, brings us a lovely post on her evolving relationship to the classic cookbook, thoughts on taking comfort in an ugly pie, and a beautiful recipe for Apricot Kuchen.

Megan grew up in rural North Carolina where she ate the fruits of her grandfathers' gardens and her grandmothers' and mother's kitchens. This early exposure to home-grown, home-cooked food and its relationship to family, culture, and heritage was the start of an interest that quickly became a passion.

Now she works alongside her husband, John Becker, to bring the knowledge and empowerment of cooking to home cooks everywhere through the Joy of Cooking. Together, they maintain the book, its official website and social media presence, and the Joy of Cooking app. They are currently working on a proposal for the next print edition of Joy, with the hope of keeping the book relevant for modern cooks without succumbing to trendiness or resorting to kitsch. They seek to build on the incredible resource that John's father, grandmother, and great-grandmother created, bringing an understanding and love of cooking to new generations. Now, from Megan...


The first cookbook I ever bought for myself was the Joy of Cooking.

I don't come from one of those families where the Joy of Cooking is passed down or gifted through the generations. In fact, I don't think I knew much of anything about the book before I bought it. I understood that it was meant to be comprehensive, and at the time, that was enough for me.

My mother is a Southern Living fan. She owns every last one of their yearly cookbooks. My grandmothers don't use cookbooks at all. When they aren't cooking from memory alone, they use recipes written on index cards. The women in my family are incredible cooks, but apart from some basic kitchen training, none of them actually took me aside to teach me how to cook.

I can hardly blame them. They were always, it seems, in the process of getting dinner ready, several children under foot, a phone squeezed between ear and shoulder, and a to-do list a country mile long. When did they have time to teach me?

Many in my generation and in generations before me have similar stories to share. Whether or not you come from a long line of incredible cooks, chances are no one taught you the finer points of getting a meal on the table.



Learning to cook can be a nerve-wracking experience. Although it seems like ages ago, I remember what it was like to not fully understand the concept of sautéing or to stand, bewildered, before a chicken with a ball of string in hand, clumsily attempting to truss it without losing my cool. 100 years ago, a mother might have transmitted these skills directly to her daughter. Today, most of us face the challenges of cookery alone.

In this regard, my copy of Joy was like an experienced and infinitely patient friend who lived in my kitchen. No matter how frazzled or unsure I was, the book was a steadying presence. It is easy to forget those early days now that I can step into my kitchen and prepare a meal on the fly, but I was not always so confident.

The Joy of Cooking saw me through my first roast chicken (which, as I recall, I also managed to stuff and truss without incident), my first batch of apple butter (that, for lack of a food mill, I strained through some unused, but probably not food-safe window screening), and my first pie crust.

Those exploratory years in the kitchen, armed with little more than thin and dented hand-me-down pots and pans, a stove with two working burners, and my trusty cooking bible, were formative. By the time I met John Becker (Irma Rombauer's great-grandson), who would later become my husband, a love of cooking and food had been imprinted on me.



When John and I started working on the Joy of Cooking in earnest, we didn't have an agenda. We knew painfully little about the book even though we had both learned to cook from it. Like a cathedral built over centuries, its various wings built in different styles and by different architects, Joy is a product of different ages, sensibilities, and generations. It took us quite some time, and several hundred recipe tests, to even begin to see patterns. The book is, in a word, vast. 

Now that we are more familiar with the book's contents and history, we are able to see the bones underneath and to hazard an ambition or two. We consider ourselves to be stewards more than authors. Our job as we see it is not to re-write, but to revise, updating the out of date, culling the obsolete, adding the new and necessary. Most importantly, we want to translate into a text the sense of empowerment and liberation that comes with learning to cook. We want to enable others to experience the elation we felt after our first successful forays into the kitchen and to allay some of the uncertainty and fear that can cloud a budding cook's enthusiasm.



This is a tall order, and we know it. Which is why we have devoted ample space to pie. Pie is encouragement in food form. Long before I made a pie that was beautiful, I made many ugly, delicious fruit pies. And truly, there is a great deal of solace in an ugly pie. While beautiful pies are a baker's pride, homely pies are like Whitman's barbaric yawp--startling and magnificent and liberating.

And to think--there is an entire genre of pie that fairly exults in homeliness--the rustic fruit dessert. While I am not a scholar on the subject, I imagine the inception of the buckle and the pandowdy, the brown betty and the crisp, to be one of frugality and subsistence. The image of a bonnet-clad pioneer comes to mind. She is drowning in apples or peaches or blackberries but precious little else. Perhaps a bit of flour, some lard, maybe just maybe a little sugar, and no time to spare. This is my own fiction, of course, but I like to think the truth is not far from this.

Possibly my favorite rustic dessert is the buckle. A buckle is a cake with so much fruit in it that the top buckles or sinks slightly. It is a devilishly good concoction, and the sort of thing one makes when inundated with lush summer fruit.

The recipe below, while not called a buckle, is in the same spirit--loads of fruit, a simple cake batter, and a streusel topping. It resides in that delicious no-man's land between cake and pie, making use of the best of both. "Kuchen" is simply the German for "cake," but the designation belies the splendor of this simple dessert--at once pudding-like where cake meets fruit, and crunchy on top thanks to the sugary almond streusel.


Apricot Kuchen
Makes one 9-inch round kuchen

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan or 9 × 2-inch round cake pan.

Prepare the streusel topping first. Combine in a small bowl:
1/3 cup turbinado or granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour or rice flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Blend these ingredients until crumbly. Add:
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 cup chopped or sliced almonds
Set aside.

Peel, pit, and slice, then spread evenly in pan:
1 pound ripe apricots (about 3 cups sliced)

Whisk together:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Grated zest of one lemon 

Beat in a large bowl until fluffy:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar

Beat in:
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Beat in one at a time just until blended:
2 large eggs
Stir in the flour mixture just until incorporated.

Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly. Scatter the streusel on top. Bake until the topping is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake (avoiding the fruit) comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool to room temperature on a rack.


Words and photos by Megan Scott