Archived entries for pie

Love makes you do the wacky: Blueberry pie.

Looking at my Con Ed bill, it’s hard to believe that technically, we’re still at least a couple of weeks away from the real dog days of summer. It is hot here, the sort of heat that renders asparagus limp and rubber-soled shoes sticky to touch. It’s the kind of weather that complicates my relationship with my kitchen; I love it dearly, I do, but I can’t bear the thought of a single second in its sticky embrace.

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Usually, this doesn’t present much of a problem–after all, there are plenty of delightful no-cook meals out there–but it does offer up a heavy dose of irony: it’s the perfect time of year to make fruit pie (berries! peaches!), and I can barely stomach the thought of turning on my oven. Combine that with the…complicated relationship that pie and I have cultivated, and you’re looking at a whole world of missed opportunity. At least, until recently.

Turns out, there is nothing on this green earth that Dr. Boyfriend enjoys so much as blueberry pie. And there are few things I enjoy so much as perfecting dishes that I know people love. Also, winning. Duh. Combine these three characteristics, and one thing becomes clear: I would master fruit pie. Oh yes.

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In order to achieve this, there were two problems I needed to overcome: first, I needed to find an idiotproof crust recipe. Second, I had to figure out how to keep the filling from being too runny–typically, my fillings collapse under the weight of their own deliciousness. Not a pretty sight. As I so often do in these situations, I turned to the internet. And hoo boy, internet, did you deliver.

First, I found what must be an utterly idiotproof crust recipe. Unsurprisingly, it came from Cook’s Illustrated. Surprisingly, it kind of recast everything I know about crust. Example: the dough that I set to rest in the refrigerator was very moist–kind of tacky, actually. It meant I had to flour my rolling surface heavily–which I’d been warned against doing in the past–an absolutely necessary step that somehow left the crust still tender and flaky (rumor has it that overflouring one’s crust makes it tough).

Second, I discovered the secret to a non-gelatinous, non-runny pie filling: quick-cook tapioca. I can’t really offer any further commentary, other than to say that this crazy ingredient achieves what flour, arrowroot, and cornstarch have all failed to conquer: it makes the filling cohesive, coherent, and not the least bit icktastic. Amazing.

All in all, the result was beyond what I’d hoped–I have a new crust recipe, and a newfound confidence in the kitchen. Also, someone for whom I’ll cheerfully turn on my oven in July. If that’s not winning, I don’t know what is.

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Do I Dare Disturb the Universe? I shall eat a peach pie.

I don’t think I can put it off any longer: I apparently need to enroll in Remedial Pie Crust 101. Try as I might, I just can’t seem to achieve the requisite amount of flaky tenderness that a truly magnificent pie deserves. Are my crusts delicious? Absolutely. But are they the apotheosis of pie? No. Not hardly. And it’s not for lack of trying–I’ve spun around the list of variables in all kinds of directions (pastry flour! No pastry flour! Whole Wheat Flour! High-fat Butter! Shortening! Vodka! Water! Ground nuts! Small children!), but I cannot seem to bend it to my will. Which is a tragedy–especially when dealing with the kind of filling I was mucking about with yesterday.

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You may have caught a word or two on my twitter feed the other day about the seductive capabilities of the peach; I am not ashamed to say I recently fell prey to it. I was headed over to Lady A’s apartment to hang out with her awesome kittens when I passed the 5th ave farmer’s market, and out of nowhere was caressed in a nearly inappropriate fashion by the luscious scent of peaches. I kid you not–the smell was so delightful, it skated dangerously close to the obscene. Before I could gather my wits, 9 perfect yellow peaches had smooth-talked their way into my bag; I was powerless to resist.

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After much deliberation, I decided that the finest tribute I could pay these peaches was to put them in a pie, and so I set about it. I ended up making a filling with a bit of sugar, warmed by the addition of some cinnamon and cardamom. So simple, and yet any further adornment would have been a slight upon the fruit; as it stood, the spices were an excellent pairing with the sweet, bright flesh. Together, they were delicious enough to stand up to the travesty of a crust I spent far too long clubbing into submission; imagine how lovely it will be when it is no longer a case of crust vs. filling!  Dare to dream, I say–and to ask the audience: anyone have any tips?

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Karin’s Curried Clam Pie

It’s not that often that I am introduced to a dish that’s completely new to me. Recipes so often seem like variations on a theme, the same old dish spun a little differently. Show me something new, and I’ll race over to your place for dinner.

Which is how we found ourselves at our family friend Karin’s apartment the other night. When Karin first mentioned the phrase clam pie to us over Thanksgiving, I couldn’t picture quite what she was talking about—did she mean a clam pizza? Or some sort of chicken pot pie filled with clam chowder?

Not exactly—this clam pie was rich with ginger, coconut, and turmeric, and spiked with fresh jalapeno and cilantro. The recipe was inspired by a fish curry from Macau, but with clams instead, and served inside a savory part-whole-wheat pie crust. The key, Karin revealed, was to just barely steam the clams open, then use the resulting broth for cooking the potatoes, thus infusing them with perfect sweet clam flavor. Genius.

So we scored ourselves an invitation.

While I admired Karin’s gorgeous kitchen remodel and drooled over her well-planned cabinet space, she grated the aromatics and sliced some long beans to add to the curry. Soon, the yellow curry was secured under softly folded pie dough, and the rich scent of coconut and spice filled the kitchen.

Studded with shelled clams and rich, creamy potatoes, it made for a warm and comforting winter meal—and a new, refreshingly exotic one at that! We all had seconds, and I demanded the recipe on the spot.

Are there any completely new recipes in your lives these days?

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Heirloom Thanksgiving: My Mother’s Pumpkin Pie

Some of my food memories are so vivid: the scent of my grandmother’s potato pancakes cooking, the bratwurst my grandfather would saute with mustard and serve with breakfast, the meatball stroganoff that was my brother’s favorite dinner and the crunchy baked chicken that was mine. I did love all those foods, but I make them these days for the memories they stir up, and in order to feel a little closer to home.

If I had to pick one iconic recipe of my childhood, it would be this pie. My father always requested this pie for his birthday (my family isn’t all that into cake). We’d usually have it for Thanksgiving too, and carve off  slivers for days afterward. The texture improves and flavors deepen after a day or two in the fridge, which makes it the perfect dessert for those of us who like to start cooking for Thanksgiving a few days ahead.

This pie is dark with molasses and cloves, deeply spicy and smooth. I make it at least once every fall, sometimes for Matt’s birthday and otherwise just for me, a connection to home during a holiday I haven’t celebrated at my parents’ table out west for nine years now.

I called my mom to ask for a little more background on the recipe, and it turns out that she found it in a little cookbook assembled by the Cleveland Council on World Affairs in 1964. It was called  A Taste of the World, and it also included a recipe from a family friend of ours, Hope. Hope gave my mother the sweet little cookbook at my mother’s bridal shower in 1970, and this pie (along with Hope’s sesame chicken) has been a family favorite ever since. The cookbook is a bit of an old-fashioned affair—all I know about the contributor of this recipe is her husband’s name.

Addendum: a friend was kind enough to dig this up…a little info on Mrs. Demmy here—there’s even a Portland connection!

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Apples from the Moon: Quince-Apple Pie

I am probably not the only one who looked at the September 2009 cover of Gourmet and thought, what IS that? An apple from the moon?

That strange fuzzy green fruit was a quince, of course, and as soon as my farmer’s market had some I scooped them up. I have to say, even if you don’t plan on making this pie, buying a few quinces is a good idea just for the scent. Sitting in a bowl in your kitchen, they give off a sweet perfume for days.

In the oven, they’re even better. This pie is a bit of a business, since quince are too tough to just throw into a pie filling. Roasting the sliced quince in a bit of orange juice softens them enough to toss with slivered apples and pile high into a pie crust.

Their taste is a little musky, a little floral, and not quite as sweet as they smell. It makes for a grown-up pie with slightly rosy, spicy filling. If you’re plotting out pies for Thanksgiving, I’d suggest roasting the quince a day ahead and storing in an airtight container in the roasting liquid overnight. With the help of a big food processor, you can whip up several pie crusts the day before as well and store in your fridge until you’re ready to roll them out.

Happy November, everyone!

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