Monday, November 21, 2011

Cherry Pie and Other Sweetness

When Lila was just 3 weeks old, my mother and I decided to take an afternoon off from the 24/7 care that a newborn needs. Both of us love to cook and bake, and we both are lifelong students who enjoy learning new things. Fighting our sleep deprivation and exhaustion, we left the babe in her dad's expert care along with a bottle of expressed breast milk and spent a lovely Sunday afternoon taking a pie making class at a local cooking school called the Kitchen Conservatory.

I thought the class would be a fun way to have my mother taste some all American flavors like cranberry and maple and indeed it was. I've made pie many times but there was much to learn that afternoon. We did a hands-on class under the skillful guidance of Anne Cori who has a reputation for being a "pie whisperer". I've only ever made all-butter pie crusts but tasting different crusts side by side, I concluded that a half-butter half-shortening crust is terrific- it tastes great and is so flaky that it shatters under the fork and melts in the mouth. Anne reminded us that pie dough needs to be made with a very gentle hand and handled as minimally as possible, and that cold dough and a hot oven makes for a great crust. After we got home with recipes and notes, my mother wanted to practice making pie- like I said, she is a lifelong student and takes learning very seriously. So we made this cherry pie- my first double crust pie.

There's nothing quite as American as pie, so it is only fitting that I should send this post to Sreelu to celebrate Vegetarian Thanksgiving, as part of the healing foods series. What could be more healing to the soul than friends and family gathered together over good homemade food?

Cherry Pie
(Adapted from a recipe by Anne Cori of Kitchen Conservatory)

Pie Crust
  1. Mix together 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp. salt and 2 tbsp. sugar
  2. Use a pastry blender to cut in 8 tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter into the flour. 
  3. Then cut in 8 tbsp. shortening. I used no-trans-fat shortening from Crisco that is sold in the form of sticks. 
  4. Add just enough ice water to moisten the dough so that it comes together when you pinch a small portion. 
  5. Collect the dough roughly in a ball, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

  1. Thaw about 2 cups frozen cherries. Halve/quarter them and let them sit in a colander for an hour or two to drain away excess juice. 
  2. Place the cherries in a bowl and mix with 1/2 cup sugar (or more depending on the sweetness of the cherries and on the level of sweetness you prefer), 3 tbsp. cornstarch and 1 tbsp. rum

Baking the pie
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. 
  2. Divide the pie dough into two portions. Roll one half to fit the bottom of a 9 inch pie plate. 
  3. Pour in the filling. Dot with a few small cubes of butter.
  4. Cover with the other half of the rolled dough. Crimp the edges well to seal the two halves of the dough together. 
  5. Cut small slits in the dough to let the steam escape while baking. 
  6. Bake for 45 minutes or so, until the juices inside the pie are thick and bubbling.
Oh, this pie right out of the oven was such a treat- we made it at tea time and kept slicing slivers off "just to taste" all evening before officially eating the pie with vanilla ice cream for dessert. My parents enjoyed  it very much.

To all those in the US, Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have a wonderful holiday. I have much to be thankful for in general, and this year in particular, V and I are grateful beyond words for our precious baby daughter. Lila is cuddled up with me in a ring sling and napping peacefully as I type this post. Dale says he is grateful that the baby has stopped wailing much at night, it was wrecking his beauty sleep.

We are planning a quiet Thanksgiving feast with friends who have a son just a week older than Lila. The plan is to cook together, eat early and enjoy our new babies. Here's the menu I am thinking of making: broccoli cheddar soup, vegetable biryani, carrot-radish-cucumber raita, sweet potato fries and chocolate pecan pie for dessert.

As always, I am thankful for my blog and all of you who take the time to read it and be a part of my life. The food is in the form of pixels and the words come from  keystrokes, but there is nothing virtual about the friendships that develop here- they are warm and deep and very real.

I'll leave you with some more sweetness- pictures of a chocolate cake I baked this weekend to celebrate Lila's 2 month birthday. It is a one bowl chocolate cake, and I used the adaptation for natural (non-Dutched) cocoa. Instead of a loaf pan, I used an 8 inch cake pan and it worked well, yielding a tall festive cake. I was on a tight schedule so instead of frosting, the cake got a simple shower of powdered sugar (using a tea strainer). And I decorated the edges with some apple roses and mint leaves. 

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Green Bean- Potato Bake

Thank you for saying hello to my little girl- I so appreciate all the good wishes and blessings. We read every comment with a grateful heart. Life with Miss Baby has been wonderful and incredibly busy; my mother has been making many quick and delicious meals to keep us well nourished.

One of our family's favorite recipes is green bean patties that I have shared nearly 5 years ago. A spicy green bean filling is encased in mashed potatoes and coated with either an egg wash or a semolina coating and shallow-fried. Delicious indeed, but it is quite time-intensive to form individual patties and fry them. My mom has devised this recipe as a short-cut method to achieving the same great flavor for a fraction of the time and labor.

This is a very forgiving recipe. Use whatever proportions of green beans, potatoes and eggs that you desire. Season the green beans however you like. Any baking dish will do, you can bake it quickly in the microwave oven or a bit longer in a conventional oven, or just go ahead and form the layers in a pan and cook on low slow heat on the stove-top. You can't go wrong.

Green Bean- Potato Bake

1. Potato layer: Boil 4 medium potatoes until tender, then peel and mash the potatoes gently with 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour, salt and pepper. I like yukon gold potatoes (this time we used Trader Joe's golden potatoes) because they mash to a buttery consistency. But over-working the potatoes will make them gluey and sticky so use a gentle hand.

2. Green bean layer: Trim and chop 1 lb. green beans. Saute onions in some oil, then stir fry the beans until tender with turmeric, red chili powder, cumin- coriander powder, ginger garlic paste, garam masala and salt. Use all seasonings to taste, keeping in mind that this mixture should be flavorful to complement the bland potato.

3. Egg wash: Beat 2 large eggs. If you wish, grate some cheese for an additional layer.

4. Assembly: Grease an 8 x 8 (or so) baking dish. Pat down half the mashed potatoes into an even layer, sprinkle evenly with green beans and cover with the remaining potatoes. Microwave for 7-8 minutes (times may vary in different ovens). then pour on the eggs evenly and microwave for another minute.

This quick bake can be cut into squares and served as an appetizer or snack with some ketchup, or eaten as a side dish in a meal. It would be nice on a Thanksgiving table! Each bite is loaded with spicy vegetables and creamy potatoes- a great way to replicate my favorite flavors without a lot of fuss. 

On The Bookshelf

The book The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma was mentioned on a book blog sometime this summer, so I picked it up when I spotted it on the "new arrivals" shelf of the public library. The author is a young woman who talks about her librarian Dad and how they started on a project where Dad would read to her every day for 100 days without a break. 100 days came and went and they continued to read together every single day without fail for 9 whole years (!) until the author went away to college. This childhood memoir was a fun read with many touching moments, even if the writing tended to be choppy at times.

As it happened, I started on this book right after my daughter was born, reading a page or two here and there in between the endless care that a newborn needs. The timing was perfect- in the foreword of the book, the author's father talks about his deep commitment to parenthood in the most moving way. I looked at my brand new infant and promised her that I would do my best- by reading to her every day and in all the hundred other ways needed to raise a child.

Baby Lila's reading career has started, at 6 weeks of age, with this board book.

It goes "Elephants are big; mice are little." etc. Lila says the plot line is riveting and she likes the pictures. I had to laugh out loud at "Ladies are big; ladybugs are little".

I'll see you in a few days with another quick recipe- until then, have a great week!