Tuesday 25 February 2014

Salty honey pie

I didn't mean to post - or bake - another pie so soon. But this weekend was the first one off I'd had in the last three weeks and I wanted to celebrate. I'd been invited to my friend Elizabeth's place for dinner on Friday night, I'd offered to bring dessert, and this recipe had been calling me ever since I got my hands on The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book early in the new year. Other than a dip in the ocean (which I also indulged in), what better reward could there be?

Salty/sweet is a truly magic combination. Here, the creamy custard of the honey filling is offset by fat flakes of sea salt so that the two flavours mingle in your mouth and draw you back for more, like siren song. That's what happened to us on Friday night. After consuming modest slices, we each went back in for just one more sliver...

Be warned: this pie is not for the faint of heart. There's a serious sugar component which is less a hit as it is a knockout punch. If this pie were a person (in contention for an Oscar next week), it would be Jennifer Lawrence's character Rosalyn in one of my favourite films of last year, American Hustle: seductive, surprising... and crazy dangerous. Don't make it in the science oven.

Tuesday 18 February 2014


If you want an insight into my state of mind at any given time, just look in my freezer. If it's extremely well-stocked, chances are I'm feeling stressed. In my weird, wonky logic, as long as I have good food at my disposal, then the work will get finished, the deadlines will be met and the pressure to get everything done will feel a little less intense. At times like these I seek comfort and more than anything, this is what I make.  

When I was a child, and was regularly asked "what's your favourite meal?" (when such questions were deeply important), my answer would always be minestrone. My mother made it often in our house and when I left home I adapted it to suit my somewhat lazier cooking style. Instead of soaking beans overnight and frying them off with the bacon at the beginning of the cooking process, I add some pre-cooked beans at the end. Instead of homemade stock, I'm happy with store-bought. And with making a big pot and then freezing it in single serve portions for my time of need. That time is now. My freezer is full. Which means it's all going to be okay.

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Maddy's pancakes

I had a six year old sleep over on Saturday night. Together, the two of us baked cookies, watched movies, played Scrabble (in which my opponent tallied scores post-match of me: 76, her: 6,710,000,000 - which I let slide as she'd impressed in the game by adding an EL to DAMS to form DAMSEL) and then, on Sunday morning, we made pancakes. I had a perfectly good pancake recipe already, which I've shared on this blog, but had been itching to try another I'd come across in my daily trawling of The Kitchn. The basic ingredients were the same - if in slightly different proportions - but the great innovation was the separation of the egg. Before you stop reading, let me assure you this was really no extra work because - to my great surprise - you did not even have to whisk the egg white (as many other recipes I'd seen advocate), but simply fold it in as is right at the end. Somehow this simple step results in pancakes that are wondrously light and fluffy without any extra effort or baking powder. 

She had hers with raspberry jam and fresh raspberries. I had mine with yoghurt, berries, pistachios and maple syrup. In pancakes, if not in Scrabble, both of us scored equally well.

Tuesday 4 February 2014

Stone fruit skillet streusel pie

In another life, I'd live in the country and I'd make pie. There'd be no deadlines, no peak hour traffic, just berries and quiet and time to work on the perfect crust. But in this life, the one I have right now, I have a new cookbook, and old friends to feed pie I make from it. Part of the reason I love travelling in the States so much I'll wager, is my proximity to pie. On this recent trip, I managed to eat quite a lot of it (though it's never enough).  

I didn't get to the east coast this time round - my nightmare travel scenario are those images on the news of people sleeping in airports below banks of screens of cancelled flights so I deliberately avoided any area with snow, which proved wise given the polar vortex - but next time I do, I'll be sure to stop in at Four and Twenty Blackbirds, a pie place in Brooklyn, run by two sisters from North Dakota. They just published a cookbook, named for their store, and this weekend, in the midst of a mountain of work, it seemed a good time to christen it. This particular recipe had many things going for it. One, it was made in a cast-iron skillet, my all-time favourite piece of cooking equipment. Two, it involved summer fruit, which is currently at its peak here in the southern hemisphere. And three, anything with a streusel topping is a sure-fire crowd pleaser and an easy out for an over-stressed pie maker, who doesn't have the time for double crusts, fancy crimping or lattice tops.

Having returned from my trip more than a week ago now, I can't quite blame jet lag, but I confess I completely botched the crust by mistaking my 1/3 cup measure for my 1/4 one when parcelling out the dry ingredients. When the dough was chilling in the fridge and I was washing up, I realised I'd made a mistake but was reluctant to waste what I'd made. So I persevered with dough that was obviously too dry. Though it was significantly less malleable than it would have been in the correct proportions, it still tasted great, the cornmeal adding a wonderful texture to something so traditionally staid. And the filling! Oh my. You could use any combination of stone fruit you like but I've got a particular fondness for plums and nectarines, especially when their juices turn dramatically red and bubble up through the cracks in the crumbly streusel. Whatever the life you have or aspire to have, pie is possible. Right now. What are you waiting for?