Sisters in Pie

cranberry pies (left) and apple pies

The Sisters in Pie held their annual Thanksgiving Eve meeting today, and I believe the results speak for themselves. I so look forward to this each year, when my neighbors Kay and Cathy (aka Queen of Pie) get together to make pies for our respective family dinners and finish off any bottles of red wine that might be in my refrigerator.

Because Cathy is the expert crust-maker, she prepped and rolled every inch of the pie crusts. That’s something like 12 crusts. Kay and I chopped fruit, handed stuff to her and refilled her wine glass. Those tasks we can do.

Cathy taught me to make pie crust, and I can do it. But comparing mine to hers is like putting Pashmina next to a silk scarf. But I have vowed to get there. That, someday, my crusts will be as smooth and flaky as hers and not look like a 4-year-old was let loose with Play-Doh.

Our pie day is a tradition that we all enjoy, and I hope we can keep it going. It really means a lot. And The Hub is even learning to pat and roll.

We made our usual apple pies this year, with fillings full of cinnamon, mace and a dash of cardamom. Plus some spirits: cognac in mine, dark rum in the other two.

Pumpkin? Oh, come now. So overdone.

We added our adapted version of a cranberry pie recipe in “Southern Pies” by Nancie McDermott. Below is our edition – which has a little kick, naturally.

Cranberry Pie from the Sisters of Pie (adapted from “Southern Pies” by Nancie McDermott)

Pastry for a 9-inch double-crust pie

1 cup sugar

1 bag fresh cranberries

1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1 tablespoon flour

1/2 cup golden raisins

Grated rind of half an orange

1-2 tablespoons Grand Marnier

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a pie pan with one of the crusts. In a large bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients. Pour into the pan. Use a pizza cutter to cut the remaining crust into approximately 1 1/2 to 2- inch wide strips. Weave them across the top of the filling in a lattice pattern. Place the pie on a baking sheet to catch any drips. Bake until the filling is bubbly, about 40 minutes.

 

Smile: It’s roast chicken

The Hub walked into the kitchen with a big smile already on his face. He took a deep breath. “Roast chicken is so wonderful,” he said.

And it is. Simple, no fussing, fragrant, pleases everyone but vegetarians. I stuff mine with fresh herbs from the backyard, a few garlic cloves and the halves of the lemon that I first squeeze on the outside of the bird. Rub on some olive oil, salt and pepper.

Roast chicken is such a great thing to have around, too. I usually cook two at a time, because with the wave of a knife they can turn into enchiladas, salad or, my recent choice, chicken pie. I was feeling like a crankypants, and figured comfort food and a beer would do the trick. They, plus The Hub’s smile, did.

I used refrigerated pie crusts. Shreds of chicken in the bottom crust, some black pepper and a small, finely minced onion after that. Then chicken broth, about a cup’s worth. I sprinkle on a tablespoon of flour to thicken. Then, the top crust (remember to vent), 30 to 40 minutes in the oven and even more nice aromas.

Do I need to say any more?

Happy holiday. Mine is apple.

Sky high over pie

cranberry pie by the benevolent sisterhood of pie

The Benevolent Sisterhood of Pie, having convened for our annual Thanksgiving pastry-making festivities, make this proclamation: Pie is the Official Holiday Dessert. The BSP’s current membership – the Queen of Pie, Sassy Kay and myself, plus The Hub as president and sole member of the men’s auxiliary – agreed on one sole guideline for perfect pie: Homemade crust. Yes, I have stooped to the red box in weak moments – forgive me sisters. But this year’s crusts for Thanksgiving were tender as angels’ wings and as flaky as a GOP debate. Just how good crust should be. Tasting it will spoil you for the box.

For a two-crust, 9-inch pie, here are the instructions. It helps to see someone like the Queen, who is a pie crust expert, make it. And just keep trying if the first one doesn’t work out. You’re just out flour and shortening. Also, if you’re using a deep-dish pie pan, as I do, add half again as much of all ingredients so that you’ll have ample crust. Double it, if you like.

Put 2 cups flour (the BSP likes White Lily) in a bowl. Stir in  1 1/4 teaspoons salt. Add 2/3 cup shortening. Cut the shortening into the flour with a pastry blender until it looks like cornmeal and small peas. Don’t overwork the dough. Have a cup of ice water ready. Sprinkle a tablespoon of ice water onto the mixture. Toss it in with two knives. Be gentle and don’t mash. Repeat with up to 4 tablespoons of water, but just enough for the dough to come together without being soggy. The weather makes a difference. Humidity means you need to add less ice water. We also discovered, in a scientific comparison, that the same brand of flour kept in the refrigerator, vs. in a canister on the counter, was drier and required more water.

Turn the dough onto a piece of wax paper, put your hand under the paper and press the dough together lightly, without squeezing. Twist the paper closed and let it sit on the counter for 20 minutes.

For rolling out the dough, I found that using a pastry cloth (I ordered one from Sur La Table) is helpful. Mine also has circles for 8- and 9-inch pans. Flour the cloth and the rolling pin. A sock-like sleeve for the rolling pin (it came with the cloth) helps, too. Roll firmly but gently and smoothly. Don’t pound the dough. With it’s the right size, use a scraper to gently lift the dough and roll it partially on the rolling pin, lift it, and place it in the pie pan. Repeat the process for the top crust.

We’re in the season of red, so grab some cranberries and make this festive pie. It was a hit for the BSP this Thanksgiving. We started with a recipe from the excellent “Southern Pies” by Nancie McDermott of Chapel Hill, N.C. and “doctored it up.” We thought the filling was so pretty that we did a lattice crust instead of a full-coverage crust. Simply cut strips with a pizza cutter and weave them across the top.

Cranberry Pie from the Benevolent Sisterhood of Pie

Pastry for a 9-inch double-crust pie

1 tablespoon butter or margarine, softened

1 tablespoon flour

Finely grated rind of 1/2 of a large orange

1 cup sugar

2 1/2 cups raw cranberries

2 tablespoons Grand Marnier

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the pie pan with the bottom crust. In a medium bowl, mash the butter, flour and orange rind together with a fork until it’s a smooth paste. Add the sugar and continue mashing to turn it into a crumbly mixture. Add the cranberries and Grand Marnier and stir together. Pour the filling into the pie pan. Top with the second crust and crimp the edges with a fork to seal, or turn under with your fingers and make a nice frill of it. If you’re doing a lattice crust, weave the strips across the top. Make 4 or 5 slashes in the top crust so it won’t explode while cooking. (Omit this if you did the lattice technique.) Sit the pan on a cookie sheet in case it overflows a little (better on the cookie sheet than your oven floor, believe me). Place in the oven and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the crust is brown and you can see through the slits that the filling is bubbling. Let cool to room temperature before slicing.

Holiday horrors

It was a frightening day for me as I made my first plunge into the holiday-bedecked edition of Target. It’s no use to rail about Christmas decorations going up alongside the Thanksgiving turkey stuffing – that sleigh has sailed.  But the Christmas CD display that blurted out carols every time someone strolled by – I don’t know why employees don’t smash that thing with a yule log by the end of the day.

Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like a useless, counter-space-sucking small appliance, and I saw three today . One was a cupcake baker. Shaped like a cupcake and colored shiny pink, it can hold six cupcakes, which it purports to bake in 10 minutes. I believe I own a thing called an “oven” that bakes many more cupcakes in the same amount of time. If you wanted to waste your time making cupcakes, that is. The cupcake baker does not frost them for you, unfortunately.

Because every baked good requires its own dedicated machine, right next to it was a doughnut baker. But what I fear is a sign that the deliciousness that is pie is being co-opted by The Man sat next to it: the Pie Magic pie maker. It looks like a George Foreman grill from the outside; inside are spaces for four small pies – tarts, really, I’d say. The description says the contraption has a “unique edge crimper.” So do I. It’s called a fork.

Weakened by these sights, I beseeched The Hub to meet me for lunch. I needed an hour in his peaceful presence, and to consume leafy greens with feta cheese. But the worst vision was still to come.

I gazed up to the restaurant’s TV and saw Paula Deen, holding a Barbie doll version of herself. (Yes, I could tell the difference; Paula was taller.)

What fresh horrors will the season hold?

Food news roundup

Market Restaurant’s got hives, but the buzz is that they’re a good idea. The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) writes that the Raleigh restaurant has started a CSApiary with beehives on its roof. Read more here.

The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer travels around the world in four potato salads here, because they’re more American than apple pie for Fourth of July picnics. Taiwanese apple and ham…mmm.

From brick-and-mortar restaurants to metal-and-rubber food trucks to – pedal-and-foot bikes? Food delivery by bicycle is the next thing, says the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) here.

Make slow-cooked barbecued pork without getting the vapors outdoors in the heat, says the Charleston Post and Courier. Find the recipe here.

OK, if you insist on being stereotypical for the Fourth, the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal has recipes for palm-sized versions of apple pies that you can eat while wandering your picnic. Read more here. Just watch out for Yogi Bear.

Pop a cold one and have a good read about libations. The Kansas City Star has a review of new books on the topic here.

The Hub and I are fans of Stormchasers on the Discovery Channel. All I’ve ever seen these guys eat is beef jerky from gas stations, but Reed Timmer (in “The Dominator”) offers his Top Ten Tornado Alley Restaurants here. Just in case, while you’re on vacation this summer, you need to consume a 72-ounce steak. (No vegetarian restaurants – big surprise.)

Baked goods for good

triangle food blogger bake sale

The first Triangle Food Blogger Bake Sale on Saturday raised $650 for Share Our Strength’s efforts to end childhood hunger. This in a mere two hours of sweet snacking in Durham, just steps away from the Durham Farmers Market. (Hey, you can’t live on organic bok choy alone.)

Sixteen area food bloggers, including your humble Moose, participated. The first item to sell out, not surprisingly, involved chocolate. Claire Cusick of ThePieDaily brought what she called Brassies: Miniature brownie pies based on pecan tassies. I should have remembered that chocolate will always go first and added some chocolate chips to my Bananaville Muffins, which I have posted on this blog in the past. The original recipe is here in bread form, but they muffin-ized quite nicely. I could point out that Claire claimed prime real estate for her Brassies, next to the ticket desk and free coffee, but that would just look like I’m riding the bitter bus.

I spotted a platter of red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing, and had flashbacks to seeing my grandmother dump an entire bottle of red food coloring into the batter when she made the cake. But Magie Lanz of MagiesNoms used beet juice to color her cakes, so they didn’t have that glow-in-the-dark look.

matt lardie & johanna kramer (right)

There were whoopie pies, sweet potato cookies with candied orange peel, maple-oatmeal scones, chocolate macaroons and brown butter blondies. Author Nancie MacDermott arrived with caramel cupcakes and two kinds of pie, buttermilk and rhubarb.

In spite of the dedicated eating, we did end up with some goodies left. Organizers Matt Lardie (GreenEats) and Johanna Kramer (DurhamFoodie) arranged for the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle to pick them up and deliver them to an area shelter.

Ahhh.

After several days of July, it’s back to glorious April here. Fresh air that does not resemble a wet sponge, crystal sky, a breeze that calls. Should I be able to resist it all, which is doubtful, there are pears on my kitchen counter and an idea in my head to combine them with cognac and cardamom in a pie. I have become intrigued with cardamom lately.

Birds making sweet sliding sounds, and the busy clucking of the backyard neighbor’s chickens, are drifting through my office window. Pie, maybe later.

The big payback

There are favors, then there are the kinds of favors that save you $500 on car repairs. A friend did one of those sorts of favors for me and all he asked for was dinner. It was not a burger-level favor, so it required more than a burger-level dinner. After some debate and noting his and his wife’s preferences (they’re charter members of the Carnivore Club), I decided on the ever-impressive standing rib roast. With it, I made pan-roasted rosemary potatoes, asparagus salad with sesame dressing and green beans tossed in olive oil, ginger, garlic and shallots. A smooth Cotes du Rhone in the glasses.

I made a blueberry pie for dessert using blueberries I froze last summer. And there was the problem. In my speed to get things ready, I didn’t thaw them out first. Beneath the nicely browned crust was blueberry soup. But my friends poured it over vanilla coconut milk ice cream (purchased for the dairy-allergic Hub), and after a few accompanying sips of cognac and Godiva chocolate liqueur, we hardly noticed.

Messing up the pie really bugged me, so I consulted my neighbor, the Queen of Pie. She verified that not thawing – and completely draining – the frozen blueberries was likely the problem. She said I might even need to cook them down a bit before putting them in the pie, although I’d like to avoid that to keep the fresh flavor. I will retry the pie until perfection is achieved. It’s just how I roll.

Food news roundup

The beloved-by-bakers White Lily flour hasn’t been the same since production moved away from soft Southern wheat. Now, there’s a substitute – if you can find someone to go in on a 25-pound bag with you.  Andrea Weigl writes about the flour, along with a taste test, in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.). Read more here. Also, the fraud trial begins for the Durham, N.C. bakery that allegedly sold as gluten free breads that weren’t. Read more here. All those products being labeled “gluten free” to meet a growing demand, folks, they’re not regulated. There’s no FDA board that certifies them. So, eater beware.

Fried pies were around long before they were demoted to handy drive-through desserts. Good ones, homemade ones, combine the virtuous self-satisfaction of eating a fruit-based dessert with the deep human need for things dipped in oil. Read more in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer here. It’s in the N&O, too.

The final exam for this Charleston, S.C. class is better than a term paper soaked in bourbon-tomato sauce. The Post and Courier has an account of a school for professional barbecue competitors. Read more here.

A new, mostly Asian, shopping center in Greensboro, N.C. contains 70 spaces for businesses and most of them are food related – international restaurants, markets or food stalls. Durian, anyone? Read more in the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal here.

Grab a copy of the beautiful spring edition of  Edible Piedmont, with the hammy cover. There’s always lots to read, but I must say that there is an article by your humble blogger about rice being grown in Chatham County. Read more here.

Our State magazine offers recipes from Penderlea Homestead in Pender County, plus a church congregation that takes the place of the Easter Bunny by making chocolate eggs as a fundraiser. See more here.

I’m glad I’m not the only person who has wondered about the mound of crispy cabbage that shows up beside many Japanese restaurant dishes. So did John Kessler at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Read what he found out here.