Thursday, August 28, 2008


Josh and I bought these funny little Mexican mushrooms at market yesterday. They're only Mexican because the culture there has embraced the fungus as an edible delicacy. The actual home where these huitlacoches grew was on the corn found at Tantre Farm in Chelsea, MI.

Aren't they goofy? I'm a tad afraid of their slipperiness on my tongue, but they were affordable so worth the experiment. Before you know it these gourmet little truffles will be $29 a pound. Josh has some pretty serious ambitions for these guys, and I think he will be inspired by some of these sites: Professor introduces unusual edible fungus to Madison, Corn Fungus Tamales: Tamales de Huitlacoche, and this information straight from Mexico.

Would you, could you, try these? They are fascinating.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Open Faced Peach Custard Pie

This recipe certainly was a bit on the extravagant side for me. Lately I've found that I am only interested in two or three ingredient combinations, and they usually contingent upon what currently lives in my fridge. But this, ah this recipe, I couldn't look wayward from my Joy of Cooking's description: "A Joy Classic".

I had all that I needed for this recipe sitting in my cluttered cupboard, and there were fragrant peaches hanging in my fruit basket, causing my mouth to water every quick moment I went in the kitchen. The anticipation of what to do with these soft and sweet Michigan peaches finally won over my fear of commitment involved in pie making. I always fear that devastating moment of the crust pulling apart as you attempt to lay it in the pan after cautiously rolling it out, or the taste not being equivalent to time. But believe me, every moment that I was away from this luxurious yellow beauty, the memory of it balked at me to return. The way this pie melts on your tongue burns your brain with it's well rounded taste. You want to reward any good or bad events throughout the day or night with a sliver of the pie. It's mildly obsessive. When the peaches are this good, you want to grasp them in any form before you lose them for the year. And the tandem custard only accents the peaches in a happy spousal manner. It's especially hard to cope with seasons changing when life makes sense because of a pie. I found the recipe in Joy of Cooking's index under "peaches" titled modestly, Open Faced Peach Custard Pie.

By definition, a custard involves milk and eggs and is thickened with heat. The thickening of this custard happens in the oven. The pie is only complicated in that there are multiple steps with the crust. The actual filling for the pie is simple. The crust however had me under gauge the total time needed. Now that I understand this, the second go around will be predictable and easier.

So here it is, in all its length, starting with the flaky crust. This recipe in particular calls for one baked flaky crust, however any bottom crust that you bake before adding the filling should work:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon white sugar or 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup solid vegetable shortening, or 1/2 cup shortening and 8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
1/3 cup plus 1 to 3 tablespoon ice water, divided
Using a rubber spatula, thoroughly mix flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl.
Break the shortening into large chunks; if using butter, cut it into small pieces, then add it to the flour mixture. Cut the fat into the dry ingredients by chopping vigorously with a pastry blender or by cutting in opposite directions with 2 knives, one held in each hand. As you work, periodically stir dry flour up from the bottom of the bowl and scrape clinging fat off the pastry blender or knives. When you are through, some of the fat should remain in pea-sized pieces; the rest should be reduced to the consistency of coarse crumbs or cornmeal. The mixture should seem dry and powdery and not pasty or greasy.
Drizzle 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon ice water over the flour and fat mixture.
Using the rubber spatula, cut with the blade side until the mixture looks evenly moistened and begins to form small balls. Press down on the dough with the flat side of the spatula. If the balls of dough stick together, you have added enough water; if they do not, drizzle 1 to 2 tablespoons ice water over the top.
Cut in the water, again using the blade of the spatula, then press with your hands until the dough coheres. The dough should look rough, not smooth. Divide the dough in half, press each half into a round fiat disk, and wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, and preferably for several hours, or for up to 2 days before rolling. The dough can also be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 6 months; thaw completely before rolling.
*Note: I actually used the pastry attachment of my food processor for this recipe. It was easy and worked great.

After making the dough, proceed by rolling out the dough and fitting it into a 9-inch pie pan. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Position a rack in the lower 1/3 of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.
Smooth a sheet of aluminum foil, shiny side down, over the bottom and sides of the crust, flaring the excess foil, like an awning, over the crust edge to keep it from overbrowning. Fill the liner with raw beans or rice or metal pie weights, banking the weights against the sides of the crust if you do not have enough to fill the crust to the brim. Bake the crust for 20 minutes with the weights in place to set the pastry. Carefully lift out the foil with the weights inside. Prick the crust thoroughly with a fork, return it to the oven, and bake until the crust is golden brown all over, 5 to 10 minutes more. Check the crust periodically; if it puffs along the bottom, prick it with a fork, then press down gently with the back of a spoon. Brush the inside with 1 large egg yolk and a pinch of salt. Return to the oven to set the glaze for 1 to 2 minutes. Fill the shell with the below filling recipe.

Here's the filling:
Keep the rack of your oven on the lower 1/3 and the temperature set at 400. Whisk together until well blended:
1 large egg
3/4 cup sugar
6 TB unsalted and melted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt

Arrange in a single layer, cut side down, over the bottom of the crust: 3 to 4 fresh peaches, peeled and halved.
Pour the egg mixture over the peaches. Bake the pie for 10 minutes. reduce the temperature to 300 degrees and bake until the custard is brown and crusty on top and appears firmly set in the center when the pan is shaken, about 1 hour longer. Let cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

I did find that my crust browned too much originally, and that it continued to brown even with the glaze. I think next time I would probably wrap the edge of the crust with aluminum foil, and butter the sides of my pie pan to keep the pastry from sticking.

The Joy of Cooking never fails.

Friday, August 22, 2008

We Have Carrots! Scarlet Nantes, to be exact.

We grew these in our backyard garden of weeds. They are absolutely delicious- nutty and sweet. Last night for dinner we cleaned out the fridge, foraging red peppers, red onions, parsley, lemon, green beans, and these carrots. A savory couscous was in store, accompanied by homemade yogurt and pita from the mediterranean bakery down the street. We also steamed the homegrown carrots and beans, then tossed them with chervil and butter. The picture below is the meal recreated for lunch today. The taboule salad is on a bed of greens with a touch of balsamic and dijon mustard, raw broccoli, and an egg hard boiled.

Taboule Salad
About 1 and 1/4 dry couscous, mixed with 1/2 cup boiling water. Add about 1/3 of a cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/3 of a cup lemon juice and stir completely. Cover the mixture and let sit for about 5 minutes. Fluff the whole batch with a fork. Add any fresh things in your fridge. Try bell pepper, tomato, carrot, onion, celery, even fennel, but to be somewhat authentic you must add at least 4TB of chopped parsley. You won't even need to add S&P- at least we didn't. Toss lightly and refrigerate for a bit for all the flavors to meld and set. Fluff before serving.

Oh, and the jar in the background is pickled beans and zucchini with basil. That recipe will come soon.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Poem

I've just discovered Goodreads. They have a "poem of the month". I am atingled to have discovered this poem written by a woman named Louise Mathias. I thought it was rhythmically beautiful and exactly the kind of art I need to wake up to today.

Four Drives in the Heart of the Desert

Went out to the edge of my life. Tumbled soft,
by wind and by sun, by ocean, by elsewhere, Anza

Less of a schism

between man and sky; less democracy really.

Remembered the terrible theatre

of the rental car, that summer, my father
turning slowly into lava. This is the country

they say, where no one can live. Shed it

like shale. Where stars will refuse

to fasten themselves to the sky,
will stream down in contrails

& stammer.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Crocks, Crocks Everywhere

A quote by Sandor Ellix Katz:
"Not everyone can be a farmer. But that's not the only way to cultivate a connection to the Earth and buck the trend toward global market uniformity and standardization. One small but tangible way to resist the homogenization of culture is to involve yourself in the harnessing and gentle manipulation of wild microbial cultures. Rediscover and reinterpret the vast array of fermentation techniques used by our ancestors. Build your body's cultural ecology as you engage and honor the life forces all around you."

We are drunk on the philter of fermentation. Our house is alive with the scents of pickles.

We invested in some beautiful ceramic crocks. I'd had enough of scavenging the local thrift stores, only to find cracked and leaky vessels that made me feel like I was in a mud wrestling battle with wet dirt caking my ears. Or something like that. But now we have 2, 3, and 5 gallon crocks and two large Ball jars, all with their own living concoctions. The crocks themselves are inspiring. Check them out here. Right now these crocks contain kombucha, pickling green beans, sauerkraut, dill cucumber pickles, and plum wine.

The pickles that we decided to make are sour and salty, the flavors hitting the inside of your cheeks with a pithy punch. These pickles aren't preserved in vinegar like store bought pickles are generally. They age in a salt brine with multifarious other vegetables and spices. The brine allows for this food to be alive, aiding in our digestion, and helping our systems to fight against sickness and disease. The first pickles we experimented with turned out a bit too salty, and the cucumbers were a bit cumbersome in size. Many of the larger ones ended up being hollow on the inside. No one wants to eat a hollow pickle. But this second batch, they seem to be approving of the current alchemy and process. As they ferment it's important to taste the evolving product. These smaller cucumbers are starting to turn that shadowy mossy green, and as our jaws chomp them, they satisfactorily crunch.

Here's a few hints when you pickle those extra cucumbers. Into the crock, add some grape leaves or leaves that have a good amount of tannin in them. The tannin provides what the fermenting foods need for crunch. In addition to the grape leaves, add lots of peeled and punched garlic, fresh dill, and whole peppercorns. The ceramic crock you choose only needs to be big enough for all the ingredients and enough brine to cover them. Once you layer the ingredients and add your cucumbers, just top the whole thing off with brine, cover the food with a plate and weight it down with a water filled jar to keep everything from floating to the top. Brine strength requires a bit of math, but it's easy. Josh found that diluting 3 tablespoons of salt in one liter of clean, filtered water is perfect for our climate in Michigan right now. He fills a capped one liter bottle (like a Nalgene) half full with water, adds the 3 TB of salt, shakes it to dissolve, and the fills the rest with water. So adjust as you see necessary. Just remember that the brine is what controls the action of microorganisms. So more salt will help slow fermentation in the summer, and probably cut down on mold growth on top of the pickles. Just don't fear the mold! Expect it, and when you discover it just carefully skim it from the top. Cover the whole thing, though, with a clean cloth to keep debris and bug invaders from feasting on your concoction. Once you are completely in love with the flavor of your pickles you can slow the whole thing down by putting the pickles into the fridge or jarring them with the correct canning techniques. You lose a lot of the health properties of the pickles when you can them under high heat, though.

Josh also put together a batch of bean pickles. He used the same brine recipe above for the cucumber pickles, but used a hot pepper from our garden, zucchini, and green beans. We are using a glass jar instead of a ceramic crock for these, so this is a bit of an experiment.

Do it! Try out these simple pickles that evolve with time and the other invisible creatures that are so beneficial all around us. I think of all the anti-bacterial products we are surrounded by and love the idea of making friends with some of these enemies.

Here's the pickle recipe I've found before.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Up Next!

My husband's parents and aunt are in town visiting. We just had an extremely productive visit to the farmer's market with them. Josh and I are brewing up multiple batches of new found discoveries. We have sauerkraut, yogurt, a peach jam and a cherry jam, our brined pickles, and a plum wine all awaiting their next fully fermented lives. Our personal garden is lacking this year, but we are brimming over with crocks and fresh Michigan produce. I'm sure we'll have some winners and some losers, but I guess that's what this learning process is all about!

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Pickles Are Pickling!

Our pickles have now been fermenting for one full week and two days.

We've run into a couple setbacks already, though. Our original thrift store find crock had a crack in it, and after the first night of pickling there was a moist layer of saltwater on both the protective towel covering the crock and on the countertop. So we bought a new crock at my favorite store, Downtown Home and Garden. This new crock is a classic and something we will hold onto for years to come. Strangely enough, though, it too sweats the salt water from its insides! Perhaps these cucumbers are feeling effervescent with their change to immortal pickle, splashing their bathwater around in an excited flurry.

We were inclined to grab another batch of Farmer's Market cucumbers since this new crock was oh so large. We decided that it would be a brilliant idea to start the new batch by adding the old batch in with it. This help to jumpstart the fermentation process, right? Well, with the new batch, we absentmindedly used hard water. Now we aren't sure if the tap water that we've used is going to obliterate any good bacteria that may have already been flourishing. The minerals and chlorine that is added into our normal tap water will actually kill enzymes that the cucumbers naturally produce as they are fermenting. Just an FYI tidbit, this also happens to the intestinal flora that grow in our bodies, too. That's one reason fermented foods are so highly regarded in our day and age.

In this little pickle pot we have a salt water bath, dill, grape leaves (to keep the pickles crunchy), garlic, and peppercorns. We haven't deviated from the rules here too much yet. More variations on pickles to come!
See the recipe for this simple pickle adventure here, with one of my favorite authors.

Sickly Golden Tomatoes

Does anyone know what's going on with my Orange Banana tomatoes? I started these from seed and then gave several plants to a few friends, and it seems mine are the only ones that are ill. Hmm. I didn't plant them in the same place as I planted tomatoes last year, so I really don't know what nasty bug has my plants in this sincerely despicable twist of fate.

On the other hand, my Sainte Lucies and Green Velvets are flourishing (no pictures).