Life of Pie

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If your family is anything like mine, the pie to human ratio on the Thanksgiving table is appallingly equal. In fact, there’s usually also at least one cake present as well to celebrate my Grammie’s late November birthday. Every year, by 6pm, everyone is ready to sink faster than the ship in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. We are all so stuffed that, like the title character in the novel, our reality and fantasy blend together, and we cannot think straight until well into Friday morning.

The real trouble is that we are spoiled for choice. If we commit ourselves to only one slice of pie, we miss out on the other glorious flavors. If we favor apple, we deprive ourselves of pecan, cherry, and pumpkin. Instead of sacrificing pie in the interest of saving our stomachs, perhaps the solution is to shrink the portions. Miniature pies allow for the same variety of flavors but prevent the heaping helpings that bend even the sturdiest of paper plates.

To get a sense of scale:

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Pumpkin Tartlets

Pastry measurements are pretty constant, so I just used Martha Stewart’s pie dough recipe plus an extra pinch of sea salt. Click on the link for ingredients and method!

Filling:

1 can pumpkin puree

1/2 pint evaporated milk

1 egg

1/2 tbsp cinnamon

1 tbsp vanilla extract

3/4 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

Instruction:

1. Roll out dough to about half centimeter thickness, then fit into tartlet dishes (I found mine at Whole Foods). Blind bake (using ceramic beads) in 375 degree oven for about 10 minutes, until edges start to turn golden. Remove beads and cook for an additional 7-10 minutes, until entire crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool.

2. To make filling: whisk all ingredients together. When crusts have cooled, pipe in pumpkin filling to the top of each, leaving a few millimeters so the tartlets don’t overflow.

3. Bake in oven for 25 or so minutes – until a toothpick comes clean out of the middle of the filling.

Enjoy pumpkin tartlets with Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

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All’s Well That Blends Well

In keeping with the Shakespeare theme on the blog this week, I turn to another tale of deception, confusion, and general mayhem. In All’s Well That Ends Well, hidden elements surprise and delight the audience at every turn.

The plot is reminiscent of the old TLC show “Trading Spaces,” in which two couples traded homes and work with a designer to makeover one room. Each episode could produce feuds and deceit, clashes between designer and couple, attempts to pump the carpenter for classified information. Ultimately, though, as in Shakespeare’s beloved play, everyone reconciled at the end of the drama.

Though I primarily watched “Trading Spaces” for Genevieve’s hippy coolness or Frank’s quirky baldness, I did pick up on several real points. For example, color can set the mood of a room, and perhaps even evoke a feeling. The same can be true of color in cuisine. I associate warm orange with Bryn Mawr in November, leaves crunching, a cinnamon scented candle lit, an extra warm blanket shared between snugglers (usually my dog and me). This autumnal puree’s hue makes it a bit easier for me to be abroad this autumn, because I can think about all of the things I love about home.

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Puree:

3 parsnips

5 carrots

1 onion

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup apple cider

Salt to taste (up to 1 teaspoon)

 Instruction:

1. Peel parsnips and carrots; chop them (and onion) roughly. Over medium-low heat, sauté with lid on until all vegetables are tender.

2. Pulse vegetables with cinnamon in blender, gradually adding in cider. Season with salt, if necessary. For a completely smooth texture, pass through a strainer, pushing the lumps through with the back of a ladle.

Enjoy this autumnal puree with William Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, and check in at warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

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Much Ado About Stuffing

My actual boyfriend was the one who broke the news to me about my make-believe boyfriend’s engagement. When Benedict Cumberbatch made his grand announcement in the Times last week, Sherlock devotees all over the world took the news quite hard. But he’s not the only Benedict causing trouble. In William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, Benedick toys with Beatrice in a variety of ways and surprises everyone (players and audience alike) with a sudden shift of his views on marriage.

All of Shakespeare’s comedies make for very pleasant reading (or viewing) material. Like a proper Thanksgiving stuffing, something that has gone stale (seemingly past the point of being salvaged) can indeed be the foundation for all of the other components. In this dish, different textures keep each bite interesting, and the playful combination of smooth honey and punchy ginger teases the consumer’s palate.

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Ginger Honey Stuffing

6 pork sausage links, casings removed

10 strips of bacon

3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced

1 onion, finely diced

2 loaves of stale bread, crusts removed

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

1 small egg (or half of a larger egg), beaten

1/4 cup honey

3 tbsps ground ginger

3 tbsps unsalted butter

1. Cube bread and lay out in baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with half of the ground ginger. Bake in 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes, then remove and let cool.

2. In the meantime, cook sausages (casings removed) over medium heat in olive oil, breaking up with a wooden spoon into small bits. Remove and let cool on paper towel (to soak up extra fat). Dice bacon and cook in same pan until crispy. Remove and let cool on paper towel (to soak up extra fat).

3. In excess bacon fat, cook diced onions until translucent and soft. Let cool, then combine with sausage, bacon, diced raw apples, and cooled bread cubes.

4. Beat egg with warm (but not hot) chicken stock. Toss dry ingredients in the liquid, then spread entire mixture evenly in baking dish. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle the rest of the ginger. Dot the stuffing all over with bits of cold, cubed butter.

5. Bake stuffing in a 350-degree oven until liquid is absorbed and top is golden brown.

Enjoy ginger honey stuffing with William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

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Grate Expectations

I was a late blooming chef and didn’t start cooking until my senior year of college. It was not the best time to dive into the world of cuisine, as my budget was tight and the kitchen facilities were a bit lacking inside the dorm apartments. Though not quite as desolate as a young Pip in Charles Dickens’s Great Expecations, I immediately recognized the importance of a meal that required few ingredients, less pots and pans, and almost no finesse in the kitchen. I’ve held onto what I learned during those years as a fledgling chef, and now that I’ve had formal training, I am able to dress up the minimalist recipes I mastered early on. For example, a simple potato pancake of three basic ingredients can be brightened by the right amount of seasoning and a citrusy dip.

Dickens was paid by the word, and it’s definitely apparent in his verbose character descriptions and minute observations. But like each potato shaving in the pancake, every single word in Great Expectations plays a vital role. Though easy to write any one morsel off as superfluous, one must recognize the importance of each and every part to the cohesiveness of the final product.

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Grated potato pancakes:

4 Maris Piper potatoes (can use another starchy potato)

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

1 egg

1 tbsp salt

1 stick clarified butter (to clarify, melt a stick of unsalted butter on very low heat and skim off white fats)

Sour cream dip:

1/2 cup sour cream

1 tbsp lemon juice

Chives to garnish

Instruction:

1. Grate potatoes onto a tea towel. Squeeze over sink to extract moisture.

2. Combine potatoes, breadcrumbs, egg, and salt.

3. Heat three or so tablespoons of clarified butter over medium heat. Form potato mixture into very thin pancakes and place in skillet. Fry for several minutes, until golden brown. Occasionally press down on pancakes with spatula to flatten. Flip and fry other side of pancake for two or so minutes (until golden brown). Repeat until mixture has been used up, adding a couple of tablespoons of clarified butter into the pan for each new batch.

(For extra crispiness – dry out pancakes in a 300 degree oven for five to ten minutes.)

4. Combine sour cream and lemon juice; garnish with chives.

Enjoy potato pancakes with Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, and check in at warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

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This Is Where Olive You

I decided at a very early age that I had a particular disdain for olives. I’d stand even firmer in this opinion when people would tell me that olives were ‘an acquired taste.’ The option of snacking on these small but potent little spheres was ruled out years ago. There are things in life we claim not to like. Certain foods, certain chores, certain people. But perhaps if we were to treat these things differently we’d see a more redeemable side.

Jonathan Tropper’s This is Where I Leave You describes a dysfunctional family’s reunion while sitting shiva. Longstanding feuds and silences have left the grieving process compounded by awkwardness and hostility. The novel follows the main protagonist through his return home to a catastrophic reunion with his family, and the path to reconciliation paved with changed attitudes and a few surprises.

As I grow older and maybe even a bit wiser, I’ve begun to change my own attitude towards olives. Instead of ignoring them and wrinkling my nose, I have approached them in a new way, applying a new technique, discovering different textures and flavors, and growing to appreciate – and perhaps even like them.

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Deep-Fried Stuffed Olives

1 jar (about 20) black olives : pitted, soaked, dried

1 log (350 g) goat cheese

1 red pepper: roasted in olive oil, salt, pepper

For pané: 1/2 cup flour (mixed with a teaspoon of salt), 1 egg, 1/2 cup breadcrumb

Instruction:

1. Soak olives in water for an hour to reduce brine flavor. Rinse and dry thoroughly.

2. Roast red peppers (with olive oil, s&p) in 350 degree oven for about twenty minutes, then peel skin and dice flesh finely

3. Combine goat cheese with peppers. Pipe mixture into olives.

4. Dredge olives in salted flour, dip in egg, and cover in breadcrumbs.

5. Fill a pan with veg oil, about quarter of an inch deep. Heat oil until shimmering, but not smoking. Add olives until slightly golden brown, then flip and fry the other side.

Enjoy deep-fried stuffed olives with Jonathan Tropper’s This is Where I Leave You, and check in at warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

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A Farewell to Parms

For the first ten years of my life, my family lived in a quaint house on a quiet street – Rosedale Avenue. The downstairs did not have doors; instead, the complete circle of living room, den, kitchen, and dining room was divided by open doorways. Every Saturday night, my father would make some elaborate dish – often chicken parmesan. As Andrea Bocelli or another Italian divo crooned, smells of garlic, bay leaf, and a happily simmering tomato sauce would drift throughout the downstairs rooms. My mother made a similarly divine eggplant parmesan every once in a while, incorporating the same ingredients in a vegetarian option.

I absolutely adored my parents’ respective “Parmesan” recipes, but often bemoaned the hour at which they were finally served. After cooking out the sauce to perfection, breading the chicken and shallow frying it, melting the cheese under the broiler, and assembling the various elements, Saturday night dinner often did not begin before a spouse grew hungry, daughters cranky, and chef positively exhausted.

Like Ernest Hemingway’s writing style, this recipe takes the essential flavors and leaves out all things superfluous. It is minimalistic but still complete and complex. With only five basic ingredients, this ratatouille (and it’s very own cheesy carrying case) is still vibrant, colorful, and satisfying. As Hemingway used the omission technique to describe the relationship between Frederic and Catherine in A Farewell to Arms, this vegetable parmesan marries very few flavors (but encompasses all that is necessary to achieving the warm Italian dish).

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Ratatouille-Filled Parmesan Baskets

1/2 aubergine (eggplant)

1 courgette (zucchini)

1 red pepper

1 tbsp tomato paste

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Chives to garnish

Instruction:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grate a thin layer of parmesan cheese onto parchment paper (into a disk shape). Melt in oven, remove after about 4 minutes, immediately mold into small basket shape using espresso cup or shot glass. Let molded parmesan rest in dry, cool place until set.

2. Chop aubergine, pepper, and courgette into tiny cubes. Cook in olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Finish by binding all vegetables in tomato paste. Season with salt.

3. Let ratatouille cool. Serve in cooled Parmesan basket. Garnish with chives.

Enjoy vegetable parmesan with Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, and check in at warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

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Mushroom With a View

I have called Philadelphia home for my entire life. We’re known for our cheesesteaks and frightening sports fans, but the city has both historical and cultural charm, and the surrounding towns add to the richness of the area. The Main Line is studded with sweeping estates, renowned universities, and my beloved high school (where my love for literature flourished). Nearby is Kennett Square, the mushroom capital of the world. I wanted to take advantage of this incredible local commodity during my brief time at home this summer, so this dish is truly a celebration of where I’ve grown up and learned so much about classical literature.

I first read E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View during my final year of high school. I was in my seventh and final year at the Academy of Notre Dame, but it was the first time I truly felt the Main Line history surrounding me. English class was held in the mansion, the main and most beautiful building. Our campus had once been the grounds of a country estate, and the stone mansion’s wraparound terrace and sweeping great hall made class feel much more glamorous. After reading certain books, our universally adored teacher, Dr. Califf, would host movie nights in the old library. He’d project onto a large screen whichever film adaptation coincided with our curriculum. A Room With a View is one of the few works that I find equally enjoyable on screen and in print. Being able to discuss the text and watch the film inside the walls of a glorious Main Line estate only heightened the experience further. The film and book adaptations appeal to all the senses, transporting the consumer to both the bustling streets of Florence to the pleasant lawns of the English countryside. These stuffed mushrooms similarly engage the nose, eyes, and tongue. The stars of the show – the mushrooms – are only enhanced by surprising lemon and smokey bacon.

I can look back on home as the place that shaped my interests and education, and it is somewhere I can continue to return to enjoy the world’s most sought after mushroom (and the occasional cheesesteak).

SONY DSCStuffed Mushrooms:

20 or so button mushrooms

1/2 small onion, minced

3 strips bacon, diced

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

2 tbsp lemon juice

1/4 cup white wine

4 tbsps melted butter

Instruction:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash mushrooms and remove stems. Dice half the amount of mushrooms and set aside. In each whole mushroom, make a small well using a melon baller.

2. In sautee pan, cook diced bacon until crispy. Remove bacon to drain on paper towel but save about two tbsps of fat in pan.

3. Sweat onion in bacon fat. Add diced mushrooms and cook on medium-high heat until moisture has evaporated. Add lemon juice and white wine to pan, scraping up bits that have stuck to bottom. Cook until moisture has evaporated again, then add bacon back to pan and combine all ingredients.

4. Assembly: spoon about a teaspoon of mixture from the pan into the remaining mushrooms. Place stuffed mushrooms in baking pan with melted butter. Bake in oven for about twelve minutes, or until mushrooms are tender.

Enjoy stuffed mushrooms with E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews! 

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