M is for cream pie

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This post is brought to you by the letter M

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Don’t be mad letter C, I know I wouldn’t have cream, coconut or cantaloupe without you. But mMother’s birthday, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day all start with the letter M. And, they all happen in the second half of the Month of May.

Something special my mother really likes is coconut cream pie. So I make coconut cream pie for her birthday. See?

Anyway, I’m really appreciating the Food 52 site lately. And this recipe from em-i-lis for coconut cream pie was, though I didn’t know until I found it, something I’ve sorely needed.

Not too sweet, rich and creamy with a dense, real custard filling – no gelatin, tapioca or other textural trickery. Pure, true and perfectly coconut. Thanks em-i-lis & Food 52 for making my day.

Even better? There’s a two-fer in this recipe. A homemade version of sweetened coconut flakes that’s so much more delicious and healthy than store-bought sweetened coconut. If you never ever make the pie, do yourself a favor and make the toasted, sweetened coconut.

I had no idea how many things were in need of a sprinkle of toasted coconut…

Bob's Red Mill coconut flakes

This is not a paid ad, I swear…

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Thanks too, Bob’s Red Mill for these amazing unsweetened coconut flakes. I like a rustic, chunkier texture which I realize not everyone will prefer, but these larger flakes toasted are unique and special.  If you favor a more delicate, finer grind, Bob’s has that too.

I know. Coconut is not local to western Pennsylvania.

While I’ve dramatically cut down on my dependence on non-local products, I still live in a world where lemons, oranges, almonds, avocados, olives, bananas and coconut are everyday items and they are sometimes impossible for me to resist too. Nor, as long as they are produced in a fair and clean way, do I see any reason I should.

Moderation, man. Moderation.

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Cantaloupe from last summer’s garden, pureed and frozen

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So, inspired by my coconut cream pie success, and cleaning out the freezer to make space for this summer’s booty, how could an idea be any more perfect than this: cantaloupe cream pie?

Em-i-lis’ recipe can easily be adapted for any pureed fruit, as long as the thickness of the fruit puree is right.

Aiming to match the texture of the coconut milk called for in the recipe, I took four cups of cantaloupe puree from the freezer and reduced it to about 1 1/2 cups, which worked out perfectly.  It doesn’t have to be exact, just pudding-thick.

Then, I followed the recipe exactly, except for these changes:

  • I replaced the coconut milk in the custard recipe with my thickened fruit puree
  • I did not add fruit puree to the whipped cream. I did use the sugar
  • I did not add flaked coconut to the cantaloupe custard
  • I kept the toasted coconut garnish since I thought it went well with the cantaloupe, but may not suit all your fruit flavors. It does add a nice texture
  • I used my favorite butter crust recipe, though em-i-lis’ crust method is pretty intriguing. If you try it, do come back and let us know how you like it

Success! Now I have a flexible, mix & match cream pie method for the juicy fruit bonanza  coming soon.

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 no weepy, runny fillings or soggy crusts need apply

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Peaches, plums, berries, cherries, pumpkin, squash… hurry up and get here already!  How about you? What’s your favorite cream pie?

hello, hello, hel-lo

Have you missed us?  I’ve been rushing around like a crazy woman and have a million things to tell you about.  I suppose it doesn’t really count as blogging if everything is all in my head where you can’t read it  – does it?

Anyway,  I’ve got lots of news to share, but this is the most exciting.

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As always there are so many things to be grateful for. Eight of them to be specific; three bulls and five heifers.

These Ladies are such champs. Each calf was delivered without any help from me; babies were born, cleaned & dried, fed and tucked in for naps by their sweet mothers.

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Even first timers Saralee, Regina and Hannabelle knew exactly what to do.  How do they know??

Another mystery, but thank goodness for that.

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So now, evenings are filled with little ones zooming left and right, up and down hillsides and chasing each other around the bushes. Tails flagging, tongues lolling, eyes wild, these kids are happily discovering all the amazing things the world has to offer.

So far, so good.

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What gifts of spring are you appreciating most?

lard have mercy: wonderous fried pies

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Old school fried pie – proof that pleasures can be coaxed from hard times

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Garden & Gun, I’m mad at you. And, after I’m finished hugging you, I’m going to give you the cold shoulder for a while.

Why? Fried pies, that’s why. As usually happens, this idea planted itself in my brain a while ago when I discovered April McGreger’s posts on Grist(dot)org.  Her Farmer’s Daughter brand is the ultimate dream for me – local traditions and history transformed into all kinds of award-winning deliciousness.

As much as we’d like to believe, it’s not usually high-minded sacrifice that gets us to mend our evil environmental ways, it’s decadent deliciousness. And what’s so amazing is that almost without exception, what’s best for the environment and kindest to the animals is the most extra-ordinarily tasty too.

Anyway, I’m talking fried pies here, don’t let me wander off. April posted this about her authentic fried pies in her blog and I’ve been carrying that around in my head ever since. But, April sells pies. And I want to make pies. Authentic ones.

I need a recipe.  Lucky for me, Garden & Gun shared this article about Joe Trull’s fried pies. And it’s just what I’d been looking for. The recipe gives tips & tricks to make your pies as authentic as can be.

Why did it take me so long to get around to fried pie-making?  Lard, that’s why. I didn’t want to fry my pies in Crisco or vegetable oil, I wanted the real, traditional deal. And, until I got my hands on some true leaf lard, I just wasn’t inspired. Note: if lard isn’t your thing, no problem. The recipe calls for high quality vegetable shortening, so you can do it too. 

Guess what? I’ve got leaf lard! Leaf lard is made from the fat surrounding the kidneys – it’s more delicate in flavor and texture than back fat and perfect for pastry. These pies do not taste one bit piggy.

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Leaf Lard: I used lard in the crust and as the frying oil. If you prefer shortening, go for a non-hydrogenated brand like Spectrum.

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The fat came from my own pig and I rendered 5 pounds in my crock pot – it’s not difficult at all and it’s been an amazingly useful ingredient.  If you’re interested in giving it a try, here’s a step by step tutorial from the Fat Queen herself, Jennifer McLagan. If you haven’t already, you should really check out her book Fat – it will turn your beliefs about animal fats inside-out.

See, one of the usually missing points in the debate about the affordability of sustainably raised meats is fat. We are in the habit of paying for yet throwing away all the fat from our meats then going on to purchase other commercial highly processed and/or expensive fats.

In the day, the fat carefully collected from your pig was just as important as the meat.  Prior to WWII, Lard was the most common source of cooking fat in the US. We were sold on commercial, processed fats by advertising campaigns promoting commercial fat sources as an improvement in healthfulness and hygiene, which is a post for another day.

Turns out that the fat from well raised animals – not commercial lard sold on grocery shelves – is the healthier way to go.

I’m determined to make the most from every bit of my pigs – when you get close to the source of your food, you’ll see. Every wasted scrap is an arrow to my heart.  I am not kidding…

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Rhubarb on the left, plum on the right. Note the too-thick crust on the rhubarb. Good but heavier and doughier.  1/8-inch thick is perfection…

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I tried a couple local riffs on the filling. First I went with rhubarb. I still had a pound of last fall’s rhubarb chopped and ready in the freezer. Of course, strawberries aren’t in season yet here yet and I didn’t have any of them in my freezer,  so the rhubarb went solo. It was super-tart, but without any sunny lemony-ness. Good, but not great.

If you’re a lover, don’t let me rain on your rhubarb parade, I think it’s me. I just don’t love rhubarb, and my rhubarb is the green type which only makes it more unlovable.

I hit the jackpot with some plum pie filling I put up last summer. Now, this is important. Fried pies need a filling that’s not too wet – some use dried fruits, some sweet potato and others fruit butter.  Keeping that in mind, I strained the fruit from the juice and used a generous two spoonfuls of mostly fruit to fill my pies.

Joe shares several tips in the article, mainly the thing about the not-too-wet filling, the importance of maintaining proper oil temperature and heaven help me, rolling the finished pies in a mixture of sugar and orange zest.

But I also found the dough thickness to be very important too. The 1/8-inch recommended thickness is perfect. The dough wants to be thicker, and it still tastes good that way, but the result is doughier and tougher. And you do have to pay attention while frying. The pies can burn quickly.

You must think all I eat all day is candy, cookies, cake and pie. And some days, that may be true. Hey – it’s one of the perks of being a grown-up, right?  But there is a reason I’m attracted to pie.

In the quest to make total use of every scrap of everything I grow here, pies both savory and sweet are a good trick to know. They’re universally loved and relatively cheap; it’s no accident that every culture has one version of pie or another.

I ask you: Who doesn’t like pie?  What’s your favorite way to eat things in crust?

More pie please:

rustic apple pumpkin pie
mile-high pumpkinsnap pie
rustic rhubarb tarts

tattletales

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Hey Lady! Hey! Lady! We’re telling! not fair!

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Does anyone like a tattletale? Maybe this goes back to playground 101, but I’ve never been a fan of tattlers.

Did you know that kids have nothing on cows when it comes to ratting out their friends? It’s true. And, just like with people, some cows tattle more  than others. But unlike people, cows are kind of funny when their sense of fairness is violated.

I knew right off something wasn’t quite right when both herds were bunched up by the front fence of their pastures. As soon as they saw me, the indignant bawling began.

Apparently I’ve been elected to right the injustices in their world.

What’s the big injustice? Ask Regina. She’s pretty, sweet, shy and ladylike.  She’s also super-smart in ways I have to admire, but don’t always appreciate.

Previously, I noticed some footprints in the garden that were a little large for our dainty-hooved deer. Only thing, everyone’s right where they’re supposed to be; inside their respective fences. Curious and more than a little concerned, I tracked the prints straight to the pasture fence.

The Ladies paid me zero attention, focused as they were on stuffing their faces. All but one that is.  Regina.

Regina was watching my investigation intently from a distance.  Hmm.  Clue?

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Miss Regina pretending to be busy: Not so innocent

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Next morning, all was peaceful, except for one thing. Regina was grazing with the rest of the girls, but on the wrong side of the fence. Gently, without getting anyone excited, I guided her back inside through the gate. Battery still charged, wire still hot but a little tangled, I figured she got a good shock when she slipped the fence and wouldn’t be trying it again.

It looked like my theory was correct and several days passed with no further incident.

Problem solved, right?  Not so fast. Last night, wires were down and  tangled again and a few telling manure piles were found in places they shouldn’t be. Amazingly, Regina was inside the pasture, right where she was supposed to be.

So it seems I have a cow who not only lets herself out, she lets herself back in. Ask her about it and Regina innocently blinks her long lashes and licks your hand.  Slick.

Yesterday, I watched Regina carefully from afar. I was fussing around doing chores in the pasture and eventually she forgot I was there.  Sure enough, I saw her slip out, then back in when she saw there was a fresh delivery of her favorite mineral blocks. I swear I even saw her whistling…

It’s a quiet, peaceful little crime, but the herd is onto her.

They say it’s an outrage – the UNFAIRNESS!  Listen up Lady - we have demands!

I hate to break it to them. Life’s not fair. I wish it wasn’t so, but that’s just the way it is. Can we please now move on and turn our thoughts back to the fresh grass you’ve been looking forward to all winter?

The grass is delicious on both sides of the fence … see? Fingers crossed my little pep talk works. The last thing I have time for is a whole herd of escape artists…

Want more cow tales?

In which Saralee has a crush
in which we ask: boss or bellwether
in which we give thanks for good friends

building a real foods pantry: everyday cornmeal cookies

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Closest I’ll get to sunshine this cold, gray early spring day

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Sugar  Corn Pops, Bugles, Niblets, Jiffy Cornbread Mix, Fritos, and summer’s long-awaited treat corn on the cob was my childhood understanding of corn.  Then Chi Chi’s changed everything when they showed up with the tortilla chips and salsa.   And, if I hadn’t married a man who loved polenta, that would have been the complete, quickie version of my entire corn history.

Somehow, without any informed, factual reason, corn just got pushed to the back of my brain and marked second-class; lesser somehow than other whole grain options.

Is it because Corn’s crackie relatives are always attracting controversy for their freakish DNA , their miscreant behavior and their Big Food/Big Ag shenanigans?

Not sure, but  my brain somehow decided corn = not so good and locked it away.

Well. Boy, do I ever owe Corn an apology. Turns out there’s a lot more to her than the few commercial varieties used by industry in about a gazillion-and-one products. Check out what the Whole Grains Council has to say about this useful, delicious and nutritious grain.

My deeper exploration of corn started with polenta. Then came  home made cornbread. And is there any more filling and satisfying breakfast than a steaming bowl of cornmeal grits with their delicious pool of melted butter or, even better, cheese?

I have yet to grind my own cornmeal, explore hominy or make my own tortillas, but that’s sure to happen eventually.  Particularly since planting my own corn is one of this summer’s projects, and I’m very excited about the open pollinated Early Riser variety waiting in its box for the soil to warm.

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But you know what is a truly underrated use for corn? Cakes and cookies. Ask the Italians-  they know. Corn makes some super-delicious (not too) sweet treats.  Recently one chilly gray day I made these Italian cornmeal cookies, masa zaletti.

In case you haven’t noticed, I am an unashamed lover of cookies.  There is no occasion that isn’t improved with a cookie, and if there’s a person who isn’t cheered by one, I sure haven’t met them.  Since I am so helpless to resist, I prefer to keep cookies around that are more rustic, wholesome, less processed and not so sweet as store-bought brands.

And, of course anytime I cook something entirely from ingredients raised here and/or bought from local farmers instead of the grocery store, it’s a real bonus to say the least.

This particular recipe from Whole Grains for a New Generation adds a more savory element by mixing the raw fine yellow cornmeal with the New World ingredient masa harina.  Check out the printable recipe here. 

The whole batch only calls for 1/3 cup sugar, and no white flour at all, so I’d say these were a truly guilt free way to make a little sunshine of your very own.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy corn?

a pregnant pause

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Winter has been exactly as long as it’s supposed to be, no longer and maybe even shorter. A couple of weeks ago I was starting to feel a little whine-ey for lack of sunshine and grass, but once again I have no complaints. I almost forget I was whine-ey at all – it’s been balmy and sunny and productive. Humid even.

Grass is back baby, grass is back.

While tonight temperatures are dropping once again – fingers crossed for the apple trees – spring is definitely upon us. Soon enough the flat-out sprint begins once again… get stuff planted, fuss, weed, mow, harvest, process, plant, weed, mow, harvest, process, plant, weed, mow, harvest, process… figure out how to store it all… before I know it, it’ll be time for frost.

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Relentless isn’t it?  Anyway, the Ladies can’t figure out what all the rushing around is about. Their bellies are full, their days are spent hanging out, grooming their friends, resting, cud-chewing, napping, stuffing themselves and waiting.

Waiting?  Last year by this time, the calves were nearing a month old. Not ideal by my standards, but luck smiled upon us (sort of; drought to follow) with an unusually warm and balmy winter, so all was well. Only one, Suzette, was born in the quiet dawn just before a snowstorm but I was able to get her safely inside and tucked into a fluffy hay nest.

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The class of 2012. All a bunch of awkward shaggy juvies now

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Not willing to push my luck, this year I timed everything to sync with the flush of spring grass and safer weather. So today, we wait. My calendar says to look for calves beginning April 22, and judging by bellies & udders, Suki, Zay, Molly and Bling are all in a race to be first, with Femme, Sprite, Saralee, Regina and Hannabelle hot on their heels.

This race could go any way really, and is still open for a straggler to take the lead.

Our oafish friend Ellis the Destroyer is still up to his old tricks – he’s added flipping gates off their hinges and popping fence posts to his resume – but I cannot fault him on his professionalism and efficiency.

What are your spring to-do’s?

worth every dirtied dish: walnut waffles

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Beautiful waffles, my favorite slow morning treat. Warm, sweet, their crisp-yet-tender pockets puddled with farm-fresh (whipped!) butter and (real!) maple syrup.

Mmmm…

Or maybe not swimming at all; the right kind of waffle is pretty darn good dry, eaten out of hand and on the fly too. And trust me, these are definitely the right kind of waffle.

As much as I love eating waffles, my brief dabbling in making them led me to the conclusion that many things are more delicious when homemade, but waffles aren’t one of them. I never could master that delicate crisp exterior that makes a waffle worthwhile.

Were the waffles holding out because they knew I didn’t enjoy making them? Who knows, but they just never gave me their all.  I decided it wasn’t worth the mess, effort or the calories when they were so easy to get at the diner down the street.  I made my no-waffle decision years ago, and I’ve never once so much as looked at a recipe for waffles since.

If you’ve been following along, you know  I’ve been working my way through Liana Krissoff’s Whole Grains for a New Generation with From Scratch Club’s cook-along book club.  And, from my very first riffle through Liana’s book, I was smitten with her recipe for walnut waffles. —————————————————————————————————————–

Wafflemaker,  food processor,  small saucepan, two bowls, hand mixer, cooling rack, dry measuring cups, liquid measuring cup, measuring spoons… dirty, dirty, dirty.

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Now, I will not lie.  This recipe exceeds the number of procedures and dirty dishes I’m willing to take on most days. This may not bother you, but ask me to dirty more than one appliance and I consider that a deal-breaker.

So, while I love waffles, and this promised some dreamy results, this recipe sat earmarked, admired, but untried. Until today that is. And guess what?

Not only am I very glad I made these waffles, I will be making them again soon. They are rustic in the very best way, perfectly crispy and delicious. The flavors are deep and rich and plenty (but not too) sweet and the walnuts are subtle.

My local diner can’t even come close to making waffles like this…

The trick of beating the egg whites together with the sugar strengthens the batter so it holds up as you cook one waffle at a time, AND makes the waffles nice & crisp.  Oh yes… the secret is revealed.

The whole grains have not a whiff of bitterness and there wasn’t a single sacrifice – I’m eating these waffles because I love them, not because they’re a cardboard stand-in for the waffle I really love…

What’s the other reason I kept coming back to drool over this recipe? It fits perfectly with my quest to fill my freezer with time-saving, extra-ordinary, home-made convenience food.  Here’s a link to the printable recipe.

If you’re going to dirty up all those dishes and appliances, do yourself a favor.  Do it up big and double the recipe.  The waffles freeze very well and you can simply pop them straight from the freezer into the toaster or a baking sheet and heat in a 350° F oven for 15 minutes.

Note: if you’re like me and enjoy your waffles a little on the dark side, take them from the iron before they are as dark as you like when making them for the freezer. Your waffles will continue to brown as you reheat them and the outside may burn before they are warmed through.

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What’s your recipe deal-breaker?  Is there a special treat that entices you to go for it anyway?

More delicious things I learned from Liana Krissoff:

In which we share a fruity secret
build your real foods pantry: rice
building your real foods pantry: preparing for cookie emergencies