Monday, December 31, 2012

Prawn and Ginger Dumplings

We spent the few days after Christmas in Inglenook, California (just north of Fort Bragg), at a little cottage tucked away down Beal Lane.  At the end of the lane, you can take a small path behind some Cyprus trees to emerge upon the most wonderful of sand dunes.  Rising up hugely, like hills, sometimes higher than houses, the dunes have that particular windswept cleanliness, the sides curdled then smooth.  For a ten-minute walk across the dunes, you are rewarded with the croak of frogs from a nearby river and the roar of the ocean you know is somewhere on the other side of the dunes, but you cannot see it.  A feast of sound and sand.

I walked there one evening with my father-in-law; we talked of ways to make one's life filled with more love and beauty, and I thought a lot about a dear friend of mine who is struggling right now with some major health issues.  She has been on my mind a good deal, and she is good and she is strong and she is determined.  The walk was long--we were out about two hours--but we saw only three other people, one seal, and an astonishing lavender sky. To be surrounded by sadness and frustration and good company and loveliness and a large, open sea: so ends this year.

When we returned from the walk, the husband and I made these very simple wontons for his parents in a small cottage kitchen.  In the next room, a wood-fired stove crackled and puffed, keeping everything warm in the two rooms.  The filling is almost exclusively shrimp, which at first might feel too ascetic; however, the simplicity of gingered shrimp came through in a comforting way.  We dropped the dumplings in a ginger-infused chicken broth to make wonton soup rather than dumplings (we did need to take the chill off from the walk), and I sliced up a quick cabbage slaw.  We sat around a too-tight dining table, knees and elbows bumping, while we drank good wine and talked some more.  Good soup or good dumplings are not cure-alls, but they go a long way to bring about more of the beauty and love that we talked about on the walk. 

And so we end this third year of the blog.  Much has happened in these three years, and I imagine at the end of three more years, I will look back even at this post and see a simplicity.  And that's a good thing.  A beautiful walk.  A bowl of soup.  A family around a too-tight table.   Thoughts of a dear friend.

One Year Ago: Duck Braised with Red Wine and Prunes
Two Years Ago: Irish Whiskey Fruitcake

Prawn and Ginger Dumplings
Adapted from  Donna Hay's Flavours

4 Servings

10 ounces raw shrimp or prawn meat, finely chopped
1 shallot, minced
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sesame oil
20 wanton or dumpling wrappers
2 cups fish stock
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons chilli sauce
1 tablespoon sugar

1.  Place the prawn meat, shallots, ginger, lemon juice and sesame oil in a bowl and mix to combine. Place 1  tablespoon of the mixture onto a wanton wrapper and brush the edges with water.  Press the edges firmly to seal.

2.  To cook the dumplings, place the stock in a saucepan over medium heat and allow to rapidly simmer.  Place a few dumplings into the stock and cook for 3 minutes, or until the dumplings are cooked through.  Set aside and keep warm while you cook the remaining dumplings.  [We skipped this entirely, and put the dumplings in a piping hot pot of ginger-infused chicken broth.]

3.  To make the dipping sauce, combine the lemon juice, chilli sauce, and sugar and serve in a small bowl with the warm dumplings.   [The dipping sauce is quite good (we had it on another night). Don't be put off by the amount of chiles.  This is a hot sweet and sour sauce, and the wontons are good with a little kick.]

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Today, I learned that poet Jake Adam York died, too young.  He loved poetry, barbecue, language, music.  Thus, a poem from this dear teacher, mentor, inspiration and man whose kindness I will remember. 

               By Jake Adam York 

Because my grandmother made me
the breakfast her mother made her,
when I crack the eggs, pat the butter
on the toast, and remember the bacon
to cast iron, to fork, to plate, to tongue,
my great grandmother moves my hands
to whisk, to spatula, to biscuit ring,
and I move her hands too, making
her mess, so the syllable of batter
I’ll find tomorrow beneath the fridge
and the strew of salt and oil are all
memorials, like the pan-fried chicken
that whistles in the grease in the voice
of my best friend’s grandmother
like a midnight mockingbird,
and the smoke from the grill
is the smell of my father coming home
from the furnace and the tang
of vinegar and char is the smell
of Birmingham, the smell
of coming home, of history, redolent
as the salt of black-and-white film
when I unwrap the sandwich
from the wax-paper the wax-paper
crackling like the cold grass
along the Selma to Montgomery road,
like the foil that held
Medgar’s last meal, a square of tin
that is just the ghost of that barbecue
I can imagine to my tongue
when I stand at the pit with my brother
and think of all the hands and mouths
and breaths of air that sharpened
this flavor and handed it down to us,
I feel all those hands inside
my hands when it’s time to spread
the table linen or lift a coffin rail
and when the smoke billows from the pit
I think of my uncle, I think of my uncle
rising, not falling, when I raise
the buttermilk and the cornmeal to the light
before giving them to the skillet
and sometimes I say the recipe
to the air and sometimes I say his name
or her name or her name
and sometimes I just set the table
because meals are memorials
that teach us how to move,
history moves in us as we raise
our voices and then our glasses
to pour a little out for those
who poured out everything for us,
we pour ourselves for them,
so they can eat again.

Click here to hear him read "Grace" and some other poems; in this reading, you can hear his dear humor.

Broiled Salmon with Citrus Herb Crust

Dear world:  Enough with the bad news.  In the mean time, a post I wrote yesterday about salmon.

Salmon.  Mmmmmmm.  Filled with Vitamin A, Vitamin D, B vitamins, protein and omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is the king of fish.  Do you see what I did there?  I made a king salmon pun.

Oh dear.

Anyhoo, for all its glory, one has to be careful with one's salmon.  Wild salmon is better than farmed salmon, as the wild has considerably fewer environmental pollutants in it.  That's important.  However, wild salmon also has less Omega-3.  However, I think that's a fine trade-off.  Less contaminants.  Less fatty acids.  Then to boot, almost 99% of Atlantic salmon is farmed and around 80% of Pacific salmon is wild.  All important to know when you're standing at your local fish monger eyeballing the salmon (and the rock cod is eyeballing you back).

The cookbook that I am cooking from is a new one for the family.  Have you heard of the Sonoma Diet?  On the surface, it smacks of fad diet--and it certainly has some elements of that.  However, for the most part, the eating plan is just a more healthful way of eating.  Fill 50% of your plate with vegetables.   Fill 30% of your plate with protein.  Fill the remaining 20% with carbohydrates.  (To make it easy, I just think 25%/25% for the protein/carb ratio).  While I don't always use this as my guide to eating, it's helpful.

Nonetheless, there is a cookbook that goes along with the plan.  These past three weeks after the heavy (and oh so sweet) indulgences of Thanksgiving and as we're leading into the Christmas week, we have been cooking from this cookbook non-stop (or at least on the weekdays), and sweet business, people, we have made really wonderful mango-chutney-marinated flank steak, a shrimp and avocado and citrus salad, a darned tasty mustard-baked chicken, and a fantastic wild mushroom and barley "risotto."  I would actually argue that this cookbook ranks up there as one of the best low-fat, high-flavor, healthy-eating cookbooks that I own.  I would recommend this cookbook even if you have no interest in following Guttersen's eating plan.

Plus, you get to eat this salmon, which was quite tasty next to roasted broccoli, and then I ate the leftovers the next day for lunch as part of a little salad (with cucumbers, red bell peppers, olives, capers, tomatoes, and a lemon vinaigrette). The citrus herb mixture on the salmon was tangy next to all of those veggies and I really liked it.  So go out and catch yourself some wild salmon (or see your fish monger), for this is a meal for two days.  But not for three.  Because then fish, like house guests, begin to smell.  Oh dear.  Did you see what I did there?  I used a salmon cliche.  Let me stop now.

One Year Ago: Duck Braised with Red Wine and Prunes
Two Years Ago: Grilled Cepes

Broiled Salmon with Citrus Herb Crust
Adapted from  The New Sonoma Cookbook

4 Servings

12 ounces salmon fillets
Salt and Pepper
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh oregano
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup sliced scallions
1 close garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Zest of one lemon
Zest of one orange
2 teaspoons olive oil

1.  Pat salmon dry.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cut fish into four pieces--about 3 ounces each.  Set aside.

2.  Finely chop oregano, cilantro, scallions, and garlic.  Transfer to a shallow bowl.  Stir in lemon juice, citrus zest, oil, salt and pepper.  Generously coat salmon with herb mixture (I put the salmon in a plastic bag and rolled the salmon around in the herb mixture).  Allow the fish to marinate for 15 minutes to an hour.

3.  Preheat the broiler.  Broil the salmon for 6-8 minutes. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

White Cheddar Gougères, Apple Pulp, Bacon and Sage

Okay, this is a rambly post, unedited, and filled with a discussion of Christmas, gougères, and Michael Chabon.  Follow along:

I am one of those people.  I put my tree up the day after Thanksgiving and I would leave it up until Epiphany if I could (given that the husband has endured the tree for little over a month, I
cave to the pressure to take it down New Year's Eve Day).  I genuinely love Christmas music.  I love Holiday Parties, Holiday Cards, Holiday DecorationsGiven that I am not Christian, it does seem somewhat bizarre that I embrace this season so fully.  But I think I love the way lights shine through ornaments, the simple joy of keeping in touch with friends and family with a handwritten note, the presentation of tokens of how one feels to another person, the way the house feels warm and cozy once a seven-foot tree has taken up valuable real estate, and the feast of rich foods with family around a crowded table.

I know that this season gets hectic for people (me included!), what with the parties, the ice skating, the dinners, the turns around the carousel, the obligations, the shopping for those aforementioned tokens.  This year, I have been taking good care of myself--lots of yoga, lots of lounging--and I have been trying to keep the hectic sense to a minimum.  Even if there is as much to do, I have been trying to do just that one thing.  I am not always successful, but it's an attempt at least.

So Thursday night, we had book club, and I made these gougères.  I love gougères:  I love their kitschy quality--come on, people, I made cheese puffs!--but I also just love the way they look and taste.  The light dough is called pâte à choux, a method of making dough that contains only flour, water, butter, and eggs, a spin around a stovetop pot, and a half an hour in the oven.  The dough rises because of the high moisture content; the steam makes these fantastic caverns into which one can easily stuff cream (profiteroles!) or, as in this case, apples, bacon, and sage.

I made some adjustments to the recipe.  If you want to see the original, click on the Food Network Magazine link below.  I think this recipe needs a little more work.  I used a smoky bacon, and I think that was the wrong choice.  Go with the prosciutto as in the original recipe or with a not-so-smoky bacon.  However, the original recipe was a little unhelpful in terms of amounts.  I had six gargantuan honey crisp apples, and I ended up using only four.  The "one bunch" of sage was also misleading, so I chopped up some sage and put it in the apple mixture, which was great.

I do think that with some more modifications, these could be fantastic appetizers at any family holiday gathering.  While the peeling and coring of the apples is the most time consuming part of the recipe, it is also oddly satisfying.  You can't rush it.  You have to just be peeling and coring apples.  I like that.  

Finally, a word about book club.  We read Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon.  It was a lovely gathering of readers, but the book was not to my taste.  In fact, Michael Chabon is not to my taste.  Let me digress for a moment:  In late November, in The New York Times Book Review, Jess Row wrote about Sherman Alexie's new collection Blasphemy; in her review, she claimed that "Alexie’s gifts have hardened and become reflexive over time. Alexie began writing in an era dominated by the dirty realists — the unholy trinity of Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff and Richard Ford — and his work shares with theirs a certain bluntness and rawness, an aversion to sensory description, nuance or context, and an overriding interest in (some might say obsession with) male solitude as a fount of life lessons. There’s a tendency in Alexie’s work to condense experience and biography into two- or three-sentence packages...The effect of all this workmanlike prose is a desire to skim for the funny parts, which show up with great regularity, two or three to a page, like jokes in a sitcom script."

This particular part of the review actually made me want to read the collection.  Row is right; Alexie did come of age among these "dirty realists" and as such, his style is distinctively of a moment.  In fact, Alexie's blunt voice and his summation sentence-packages are some of the things I love most about his writing.  One comes to Alexie's work expecting them, even if they are, as Row suggests, "hardened and ... reflexive." 

That's how I feel about Chabon.  I cannot fault him for his overworked prose chock full of effluvient similes and metaphors that need authorial intrusion to explain them.  That's his style.  Some love his "completionist" prose (a term coined by the father-in-law during the discussion, and I liked that!) that feels the need to detail every bit of minutiae.  And Chabon is not alone in this--Franzen (whom I do love), Pynchon, Eggers join him --and this kind of writing seems to be of the moment now.  However, it is not the writing I long to read.

However, we did have a nice little spread of pita chips, hummus, tapenade, cheese, crackers, pork and leek dumplings, and these little gougères.  There was much joy, as one member revealed her growing belly (a girl!  in May!) and another had to miss because she is in the throes of wedding planning, and much, much laughter regarding, of all things, rocks and sticks as appropriate holiday presents.  I enjoy these Thursday nights once every six weeks or so, and I am looking forward to February's foray into Wolf Hall, a book I have already read and already know that I love.   

In the mean time, I have the holiday season to enjoy, and a gougères recipe to perfect.  One thing at a time.


One Year Ago: Braised Duck with Red Wine and Prunes

Two Years Ago: Parsnip Galette with Greens
White Cheddar Gougères, Apple Pulp, Bacon and Sage
Adapted from  Food Network Magazine

35 to 40 gougeres


For the gougeres: 
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 cup grated sharp white cheddar

For the filling and toppings:  

4-6 honey crisp apples
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch of ground cloves
1 tablespoon orange blossom water 
Juice of 1 lemon

2 slices bacon

 1/4 cup chopped sage
Olive oil for topping 
Salt and Pepper


1.  To prepare the gougères: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. 

2.  In a large saucepan, combine the butter, salt and 1 cup water. Stir over high heat until the butter melts completely, then remove the pan from the heat and add all the flour at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until smooth, then transfer to a large bowl.

3.  Use an electric mixer on medium speed to add the eggs one at a time, ensuring each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. Stir in the grated cheese.

4.  Transfer the dough to a pastry bag, or use 2 wet spoons to drop neat 1-tablespoon mounds onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden and crisp. When done, turn off the oven and let the gougères dry out in the oven with the door ajar to keep them nice and crisp.

5.   To make apple filling: Peel the apples and discard the core; cut into 1/2-inch dice. Melt the butter in a large saute pan over high heat. When foaming, add the spices. They will toast instantly and become fragrant; add the apples and saute for 3 to 4 minutes, until browned. Add 2 tablespoons water, the orange blossom, water and lemon juice. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced and the apples are tender. Set aside to cool slightly. 

6.  Set a clean saute pan over medium heat. Crisp the bacon. Drain on paper towels. Tear into small pieces when cool.  Add the bacon and the sage to the apple mixture

7.   To assemble: carefully tear off the top third of each gougère and spoon in some apple filling.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and black pepper.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

So Many Helpers

I have been thinking about my next recipe post, and I just can't seem to post it.  It's all typed up and ready to go, but every time I get ready to press publish, I just can't.  Even this post seems hard.  I am torn between remaining silent out of respect and speaking something because I am so sad.

You see, my heart--like everyone else's--is breaking and has been all weekend.  Those children, those educators, that mother in Connecticut are all on my mind.

Someone I know on facebook posted this quotation from everybody's favorite neighbor, Fred Rogers: 

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."

I am trying to think about the helpers, too.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A little giving of thanks

Time now for the second annual gratitude post.  It is going to read a lot like the first.

I love Thanksgiving.  I love all that it stands for.  Gratitude.  Food.  Family.  Friends.  It does make me miss my family back in Illinois, but I am always so glad to be able to spend it with this family I have married into out here in beautiful California.

Here is what I am most thankful for from this year:

1. Teaching--I so enjoyed team teaching a class on Steinbeck and the history of the 1930s with a friend this year.  We took a group of students to Monterey, we rifted off one another in class, we learned a lot about our own craft of teaching, and we lightened the heavy load for each other.  It was great fun as well as professionally satisfying.  

2. The Road Trip:  I love road trips.  I just do.  I love being trapped in a car and singing at the top of my lungs and telling the same stories and stopping at diners and putting my feet on the dashboard (when I am not driving, of course).  This year, the husband and I went to see the Avett Brothers four times.  Yes.  This year.  Four times.  And our only regret is that we didn't drive to Oregon to see them again (and I regret not seeing them in Iowa, but the logistics there would have been absolutely insane).  That meant we had to do a lot of driving around California.  And it was grand.

3.  Discovering the art museum with my niece:  This summer, my niece and I went to the  Art Institute of Chicago together.  We walked through the modern and postmodern art wing and explained what we saw to each other.  That kid has an amazing eye, and I would say she even taught me a thing or two about art.  Plus, we got to rush through the halls of the institute, giggling and pointing and getting really (too) close to the art.  

4.  The Beaches:  Oh, I went to a lot of beaches this year.  I love the ocean.  To think, I hadn't seen the ocean until I was 14, and I didn't see the Pacific Ocean until I was 24.  I love me some ocean. Always.  Everyday. All day.  Anytime.  

5.  Yoga Teacher Training:  I had a lot to say about that here. And I have so enjoyed teaching yoga to my students. They make my Mondays and Wednesdays so wonderful and full and happy. I especially love when we get to be outside.

6.  Health and my family:  Not everyone in my family is fully healthy right now.  But we're all here; we're all celebrating the day of the turkey.  For this I am so glad.  They are crazy, but they are mine.  And I love them.

7.  Our new girls as well as the tough, old girl.  They live somewhat peaceably together, although the old girl would be happy if the new girls would just pack up and move out.

8.  Friends:  I miss my best friends so much.  They live all too far away.  But I think of them often and love them immensely.  And I am so happy to have them in my life.

9.  Rome:  When I am rich, I want to live in Rome forever and ever. And ever. And ever.  Until then, I just want to keep going back to Rome.  I think the Romans will have me.  

10.  Writing: From this place to my journal, from some poems I am working on to some vignettes I have been writing.  I love it.  Now if only those letters of recommendations would just write themselves.  

I hope you all have a wonderful thanksgiving.  We're heading to the husband's parents' house.  There will be turkey.  There will probably be pumpkin pie.  And there will most certainly be macaroni and cheese.  I am not sure why there will be macaroni and cheese, but there will be. Don't ask.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Blueberry Pie

A little over a week ago, a dear friend of mine passed away.  He was a good man with the faux-surliness of a scientist that he used to mask what was quite possibly the sentimental heart of a poet.  When I came to California, he took me under his wing, teaching me the ins and outs of my new job at a new school.  For years, the husband and I celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving with him, his wife, and other dear friends.

On those thanksgivings in a condo up Clarewood Lane, the Canadian flag would hang outside the front door limply (it was never very windy) but proudly.  Before dinner, there would be a standing rendition of the Canadian national anthem, with many of us just mouthing the words we didn't entirely know even though they were printed on cheat sheets for us.  Usually at some point, he would switch to the French and then chastise us more for not knowing those lyrics.  Once we settled into our chairs, he and his wife would serve the requisite turkey and mashed potatoes with Canadian flair, including the tightly-wound treble clefs of fern fronds and the deep indigo of blueberry pie, on blue and white china featuring the main buildings of Cal's campus (he and his wife, proud alums).  Spouses were never allowed to sit next to each other, and it was often hard to hear what your neighbor was saying because someone was often telling a bawdy and raucous story resulting in loud laughter.  Dinner was followed by brandy at the table until someone reluctantly got up, seeing as many of us had to teach the next day.

It was cancer.  Some tight fist in his own body that grew soon enough that it took over.  In the end, he was eating foie gras and chocolate in a rush of what little enjoyment there was to be had in food after having denied himself such luxuries following his heart attack some years before.  Might as well.

He died one Thursday morning.  I miss him.

In his honor, we have done three things.  When the husband and I got married (on the weekend of Canadian Thanksgiving no less), we were gifted one of the last remaining bottles of our dear friend's favorite thanksgiving brandy and a set of beautiful snifters.  We toasted our friend as we drank the last of the brandy.  Then we sat down to eat one of the most delectable blueberry pies--even if we didn't wait long enough to let the filling set and it pooled around the most divine crust.  Finally, I read a poem from Coney Island of the Mind, a book that this scientist said changed everything he knew about the world when he was a young man.  Like I said, a poet beneath that exterior of logic and rationality.

I give you the poem and the blueberry pie.  Both testaments to this good man.

Constantly Risking Absurdity
By Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Constantly risking absurdity
                                             and death
            whenever he performs
                                        above the heads
                                                            of his audience
   the poet like an acrobat
                                 climbs on rime
                                          to a high wire of his own making
and balancing on eyebeams
                                     above a sea of faces
             paces his way
                               to the other side of day
    performing entrechats
                               and sleight-of-foot tricks
and other high theatrics
                               and all without mistaking
                     any thing
                               for what it may not be

       For he's the super realist
                                     who must perforce perceive
                   taut truth
                                 before the taking of each stance or step
in his supposed advance
                                  toward that still higher perch
where Beauty stands and waits
                                     with gravity
                                                to start her death-defying leap

      And he
             a little charleychaplin man
                                           who may or may not catch
               her fair eternal form
                                     spreadeagled in the empty air
                  of existence

One Year Ago: Roast Pork with Apricots 
Two Years Ago: Granola

Blueberry Pie
from The New Best Recipe

1 Pie

2 1/2 cups four, plus more for dusting the work surface
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, chilled
12 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
6-8 tablespoons ice water 
6 cups blueberries
1/4-1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar (we used about 3/4 cup)
2 teaspoons juice and 1 teaspoon grated zest from 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoom ground allspice
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
3-4 tablespoons Minute tapioca, ground for 1 minute in a food processor or a spice grinder
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg white, lightly beaten

For the Pie Dough
1. Process the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor until combined.  Add the shortening and process until the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds.  Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture: cut the butter into the flour until the mixture is pale yellow and resembles course crumbs, with butter bit no larger than small peas, about ten 1-second pulses.  Turn the mixture into a medium bowl.

2.  Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of the ice water over the mixture.  With a rubber spatula, use a folding motion to mix.  Press down on the dough with the broad side of the spatula until the dough sticks together, adding up to 2 tablespoons more ice water if the dough will not come together.  Divide the dough into 2 balls and flatten each into a 4-inch disk.  Wrap each in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 2 days before rolling.

For the Pie Filling 
1. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position, place a rimmed baking sheet on it, and heat the oven to 500 degrees.  

2.  Roll out the dough on a lightly flours work surface to a 12-inch circle.  Transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie plate.  Working around the circumference of the pan, ease the dough into the pan corners.  Leave the dough that overhangs the lip of the pie plate in place; refrigerate the dough-lined pie plate.

3.  Toss the berries, sugar (amount depending on how sweet the berries are and how sweet you like your pie), lemon juice and zest, spices, and tapioca in a medium bowl.  Let stand 15 minutes.

4.  Roll out the second piece of dough to a 12-inch circle.  

5.  Spoon the berries into the pie shell in the pie plate and scatter the butter pieces over the filling.  Place the second piece of dough over the filling.  Trim the top and bottom edges to 1/2 inch beyond the pan lip.  Tuck the rim of the dough underneath itself or pinch the two edges together.  Cut four slits into the dough top.  If the pie dough is very soft, place in the freezer for 10 minutes.  Brush the egg white on the top of the crust and sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar.

6.  Place the pie on the baking sheet and lower the oven temperature to 425 degrees.  Bake until the top crust is golden, about 25 minutes.  Rotate the pie and reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees; continue baking into the juices bubble and the crust is a deep golden-brown, about 30-35 minutes longer.

7.  Transfer the pie to a wire rack.  Cool to room temperature, which is much longer than you think.  And it's worth it to wait (which we did not do) because then the innards are more solidified.  However, it is just as tasty still warm and oozing all over the place.  Just not as pretty.  If you can swing it, let this puppy sit over night. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Split Green Pea Soup

Two weekends ago, the husband and I were lucky enough to see a Giants playoff game, and tonight the Giants play the Cardinals.  As many of you know, I am a Cubs fan first and a Giants fan second; however, I am torn.  My grandmother Alice was a White Sox fan and, thus, a Cardinals fan by default, for her allegiance to the South Side of Chicago meant that any affection for that ursine team located in Boys Town was unspeakable.  She actively rooted for any team that played against the Cubs, and given that the Cardinals were their biggest rivals, she became their biggest fan.

Alice cooked; she had a huge, fenced-in garden in the backyard with green beans and tomatoes with smooth, glossy skin.  My mother, however, was the first woman I knew who didn't like to cook.  My mother opened boxes, boiled water, poured milk and called it a meal.  Alice, on the other hand, cooked for her Catholic children on no money, no college education, and three husbands who drank too much.

Growing up, I thought Easter Sunday was the thrilling opportunity to wear a hat in church and then drive to Alice's house where she would inexplicably have a basted ham already in the oven even though she left church at the same time we did.  My favorite cousin Tina and I would play dress up in Alice's old dresses--the faded lace and the torn hems--while my mother and her sisters and their husbands sat in the basement kitchen smoking and exchanging news.  My grandmother had two kitchens, the sweet luxury of an additional room devoted to something as mysterious as cooking.  When it came time to line up for the buffet, my mother would instruct me to take a little of everything, including the dreaded lima beans, because that was polite and my grandmother had worked so hard.  Thus plated, I would take my place with my youngest cousins at the kids' table, aware that I would never be old enough in our large family to sit at the grown-ups' table--with our family's robust hearts and lack of debilitating disease, vacancies were rate.

And in the fall, in that basement kitchen, my grandmother and aunt canned beans, tomatoes, peas, carrots, beets—the whole weight of her backyard garden.  As usual, my mother made herself absent on these days to go places I still don’t even know, but I loved to ride Grandma’s stationary bicycle that she set up at the far end of the basement kitchen counter.  In her old church dresses and slingbacks, I had to wrestle to keep from getting myself tangled in the wheel, but I would look up to watch while my aunt and she moved in silence, each of them knowing exactly what the other was doing—boiling water, measuring the headspace between the jar rim and the hot liquid, fitting the two-piece metal lids, listening for that familiar “ping” when the jars were cool, and writing the contents and date on the jar in a Sharpie marker.  They moved through the kitchen, wiping the sweat from the backs of their necks, and I peddled and peddled, keeping time on the steady bike.  Sometime after they finished and were sharing a cigarette at the kitchen table, my mother would arrive, all vigor and celerity. She would take a puff or two, direct me to change back into my clothes, and we would head off to the car empty handed.

Much later, on Sundays my mother would take dinner to my grandmother, who, well into her nineties, left that home with the big backyward and the view of the railroad tracks.  She declined as a widow from her third and final husband in a ground-floor apartment with one small, decaying kitchen and no stairs to speak of.  My mother would arrive with a pre-made split pea and ham soup to warm on the stove and some potato rolls from Hy-Vee to find my grandmother on the couch, a White Sox or a Cardinals game on television and a crossword puzzle tucked by her side.  When my grandmother died a few years ago, I found that I missed her cooking and her garden the most.  But I think my mother misses those Sundays with the sounds of a baseball game in the background even more.


Split Green Pea Soup

from The Best Soups In the World

4 Servings

1 1/2 cups split green peas (3/4 pound)
1/4 cup salted pork, cubed
1 large onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 large garlic close, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 allspice berries
1 bay leaf
6 cups water or chicken stock
1 tablespoon butter

1. Place the peas in the pot with the salted pork, onion, celery, carrot, garlic, thyme, allspice, and bay leaves.  Cover with the water or stock and bring to a near boil over high heat, skimming any foam that appears on the surface.  Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until the peas are tender, about 2 hours.

2.  Remove the allspice berries and bay leaves.  Transfer the soup in batches to a blender and blend until a smooth puree.

3.  Return the soup to a clean pot, season with salt and pepper, and reheat over medium heat.  Stir in butter.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Breakfast Bomber Sub

Are you hungry?  Because this breakfast bomber will fill you right up.

As part of The Super Awesome Cover-to-Cover Challenge (from Bitten Word, a lovely little website where two fabulous writers take it upon themselves to cook from a plethora of cooking magazines each week), I am cooking a rather colossal hero sandwich from The Food Network Magazine.  Our fearless leaders have called upon their readers (that's me! (among many others)) to help them cook every recipe from one of the October food magazines.

Part of a presentation from Jeff Mauro, the self-proclaimed Sandwich King, on game-day subs, this bomber combines cream cheese with scrambled eggs and chicken apple sausages.  This makes a fabulous breakfast/brunch on game day, and these days, when you're living in the Bay Area, you need a lot of game day fuel.  (There is a lot of heartbreaking going on, what with the A's and all; however, one needs energy to root on the Giants.)

I have a soft spot for the hoagie, the sub, the grinder, what you will.  In the big city near my little hometown in Central Illinois, there's a great little sandwich shop, Hungry Hobos (name of which may have been recently changed to Boxcar Express).  But back in the day, when one was not in the mood for the best taco pizza ever at Happy Joe's, one simply headed next door for a sub.  Now, people get quite up in arms and quite regional about their nomenclature for the long, skinny sandwich.  Is it a grinder only if it's heated?  A hoagie when it has a little of everything on it?  A sub when it has only one kind of meat?  A hero if it's served cold? A Po' Boy if you're from the South?  I'll leave it up to you to duke it out during the 7th-inning stretch.  In the mean time, some thoughts on this massive sandwich...

Despite being incredibly rich, this bomber was tasty.  It's eggs, sausage, and toast, people.  You cannot go wrong with that.  The eggs are a bit heavy with both half-and-half and Swiss cheese (a whole cup!) and the amount of cream cheese a little overwhelming.  However, the simple basics are ones we can get behind.  Play with the proportions of the cream cheese, try milk instead of half-and-half, and dash on the hot sauce.  This might be the hoagie for tonight's (somewhat heavy) dinner.  Especially if you have, as I do, a nephew who refuses to eat anything besides breakfast food.  A sure fire way to ensure that breakfast is what's for dinner.

One Year Ago: Roast Pork with Onion-and-Apple Marmalade

Two Years Ago: Good Earth Bread

Breakfast Bomber Sub
from The Food Network Magazine

8 Servings

1/2 8-ounce tub whipped cream cheese
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
Kosher salt
4 links fully cooked chicken-apple sausage
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
8 large eggs
1/3 cup half-and-half
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese (about 3 ounces)
1 24-inch baguette
Hot sauce, for serving (optional)

1.  Make the cream cheese spread: Mix the cream cheese, chives and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl. 

2.  Preheat the broiler. 

3.  Partially split each sausage lengthwise, cutting about three-quarters of the way through, then open the sausages so they lie flat. Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sear the sausages until golden, about 3 minutes per side. Set the sausages aside and wipe out the skillet.

4.  Whisk the eggs, half-and-half and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper in a bowl. Melt the butter in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the egg mixture and stir with a rubber spatula until just set on the bottom, about 1 minute. Reduce the heat to medium low, add the Swiss cheese and stir until the eggs are cooked.

5.  Sandwich build: Split the baguette in half lengthwise and toast lightly under the broiler. Schmear the cream cheese spread on the baguette top. Lay the sausages on the baguette bottom. Top with the scrambled eggs and the baguette top. Cut into individual sandwiches and serve with hot sauce.