Shoofly Pie

I’ve been crazy about pies lately. Maybe a summer thing, or maybe nesting. Likely both. I’ve done blueberry, raspberry, cherry and a few savory pork pies. I’ve made a batch of apple hand pies. And now I’m onto shoofly.

I have never actually eaten a shoofly pie. Other than a passing intrigue in the name, I didn’t even know what it was until recently, when I went out of my way to investigate it. I have a fantastic little booklet called The Lost Art of Pie Making Made Easy by Barbara Swell. It’s actually part of a collection of booklets that she’s written on heirloom/old-timey foods. They’re all great – they’re conversationally easy to read, have great vintage graphics and of course, excellent recipes. But this one on pie is my favorite. It’s the perfect primer on pie baking.

There is a small selection of Pennsylvania Dutch pies in the book, one of which is shoofly. I was surprised at how simple, yet how odd, shoofly pie is in terms of ingredients and method. The only ingredients in the filling are molasses, hot water, baking soda, flour, brown sugar, butter, cinnamon and ginger. No fruit or nuts. No chocolate, milk or eggs. This is a dry pantry pie; working class pie. No matter what your situation, nine times out of ten you’re going to have all of those ingredients in the pantry. And the butter is only three tablespoons, so that’s not extravegant at all. This pie has all the ingenuity of something from nothing. No matter what, you can put this pie on the table.

While the ingredients are simple, the method is odd to say the least. The filling is a two parter. One part is the liquid (molasses, hot water and baking soda) and the other is a crumb topping made from the rest of the ingredients (like you’d do for a crumb coffee cake). You also put all of this liquid filling into an unbaked pie shell, which seems counterintuitive – you’d think the crust would end up all soggy and gross, but somehow it doesn’t. So, you pour in the liquid and then you sprinkle the crumb topping over the top. Some recipes call for layering the liquid and topping, but to me that just seems fussy. And Barbara Swell seems to agree, since she’s of the crumb-on-liquid single layer camp. You’d think all those crumbs would just sink into a mess in all that liquid, but again, somehow they just don’t. It’s pretty neat actually, and if you just go with it and don’t think about the mechanics too much, it’ll work out just fine. Here’s my very first shoofly pie, fresh out of the oven –

You’ll have to pardon it’s big shoulders. From the companion research I did on the good old internet about this pie (cause the researcher in me can never start anything without hearing twelve different sides to every project), nearly everyone said you need to use a nine-inch deep dish pie plate; standard ones wouldn’t be deep enough. I had an additional conundrum in that I only have two pie plates in the house currently – an eight inch glass Pyrex, and this nine inch ceramic deep dish. I love the eight inch for most things, because it makes a good amount of pie for two people. Nine inch pies are kind of big for two people (even pie loving people) to scarf down before they’re past their prime (four day old pie is bad – hell, even two day old pie is stretching it). But I knew the eight inch wouldn’t cut it here, so into the nine inch deep dish it went. But the internet people were wrong, at least in my case. A standard nine inch plate would work just fine – the filling didn’t really rise to an out of control level. So this is a great excuse for me to go out and buy a new pie plate, because really, what kind of pie baker doesn’t have a standard nine inch in the house? In all fairness, I did have one, until the pumpkin pie incident of a few years back. At any rate, in the meantime until I get a new pie plate, I’ll just make the crust an inch lower in the deep dish plate. Sometimes you have to improvise.

The only drawback to this pie is the fact that you really need to let it cool way down before you slice into it, so that still-molten filling has a chance to firm up a bit. Being at the limit of my waiting patience, I’ve got a slice in hand as I type. Just a sliver, because after all it is ten o’clock at night. And you know what? It’s everything I’d thought it would be. It’s a damn good pie. There’s just no other way to phrase it. You have to like molasses to like this pie, but if you do you’ll end up loving it. Being a sucker for crumb topping, I’m going to double the amount the next time I make it. But then again, I’m always doubling the crumb toppings. 🙂

And lest you start to feel left out, here’s the ingredient list, exactly as Barbara Swell calls for them in the The Lost Art of Pie Making Made Easy. But you should really get the book for yourself – whether you’re a novice or an old hand at pie baking, this book really needs to be on your kitchen shelf.

Liquid Layer Bottom Filling

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup molasses

1/2 cup boiling water

Crumb Topping

3/4 cup flour

1/3 brown sugar (I used light; she doesn’t specify light or dark)

3 tablespoons butter

1/4 cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

pinch of salt

Proceed with ingredients as I outlined above – it’s really that simple. As for pie crust recipes, everyone’s got their favorite so I won’t tell you one to use here. But really, any dough for a single crust nine inch pie will work just fine. As for baking, Barbara Swell says start it out in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, then finish it at 325 for 20-30 minutes more. That worked out about right for me.

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The Easter Menu

Easter is just around the corner, and this year it just happens to fall on my husband’s birthday! So we’re hosting a small family dinner for that Sunday afternoon. Being exhausted in general these days, I have relinquished the appetizers to my mother-in-law and aunt-in-law, so I don’t know what they’ll bring just yet but I’m sure it will be delicious.

And due to the aforementioned general exhaustion, I will only be doing one meat entree this year instead of the usual two I do for holidays. I debated for a few days between lamb and ham, and finally decided on ham. I’ve been on a bit of a pork kick these days, and it just sounds really good. I plan on getting an eight pound fresh ham from my favorite butcher in town, Paulina Meat Market. We’ll be serving seven for dinner, so that will be a generous amount of ham and we’ll likely have leftovers, which I always look forward to from holiday dinners. I’m thinking that a simple honey glaze with some studded cloves is what I’ll do for it – fresh and light is perfect for a springtime meal.

And I’m only going to do three side dishes for this one – French potato salad, roasted Brussels sprouts with a mustard sauce and either an onion or a leek and pancetta tart. And I’ll probably bake up a couple of packages of croissant rolls too.

For dessert, the husband has demanded I make my carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. I’m going to bake that the day before so it has time to chill properly in the fridge. And finally I’ll be able to put my new icing knife to good use when I make it!

I’ll probably do up half a dozen colored hard boiled eggs just for fun too, to have as an appetizer/centerpiece. And I’ve got to get on making my Easter decorations so the house is in top form. All in all it’ll be a good time and I’m looking forward to hosting a big holiday meal this spring.

The Last Vestiges of Winter: Flemish Beef Stew

While it has been gloriously sunny all weekend, the sun has been deceptive. It’s bitingly cold outside, which is not condusive to outdoor pursuits. So instead of working on the garden and firing up the grill for the first time, I’m thinking soups and stews. During the colder months, I favor hearty fare like Bacon & Whiskey Chili (or my variant on that winner – Bison & Bourbon Chili) and Rustic Beef Stew but after several months of spicy or wine-based dishes, I’m a little worn out on them.

That’s when I remembered that beef also pairs really well with beer. Epicurious, as usual, turned up a great recipe for Flemish Beef Stew. My recipe below is a slight adaptation of the it.

8 slices of bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces

1 pound beef stew meat, cut into 1 inch cubes

1/3 cup flour, seasoned with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon pepper

1 onion, diced

2 potatoes, cubed

3 garlic cloves, minced

4 cups beef broth

1 bottle beer

1 can tomato paste

2 teaspoons dried thyme

1 tablespoons light brown sugar

1. Fry bacon in a large stockpot. While the bacon is frying, dredge the beef in the seasoned flour.

2. Brown the beef with the bacon.

3. Add the onions and cook until just translucent. Add the garlic and cook for just a minute.

4. Stir in the tomato paste, and cook for a few minutes until slightly darker in color.

5. Add the broth, beer, potatoes, thyme and brown sugar. Simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Serve over egg noodles if desired.

Sunday in the Kitchen

The last three months have been pretty rough for me in terms of food and cooking. With morning sickness that lasted pretty much all day and night, I ate what I could when I could and husband did most of the cooking. He’s been a real trooper taking over the kitchen and my share of the household chores. It certainly hasn’t been an equitable division of labor, but hey – I’m growing another human being here.

But as this pregnancy progresses, I’m feeling sick less often – which is great. Because despite how greatful I am that husband stepped up, I’ve really missed spending time in my kitchen. Poring over cookbooks and and cooking are what I enjoy and how I relax. And today I finally got my chance! After an afternoon nap (which was total bliss, except for the sore neck I woke up with) I waltzed into my kitchen, did up the few dishes in the sink, wiped down the counters and began.

First up on the docket – tunnel of fudge cake. I got out my largest mixing bowl, which isn’t quite large enough for this recipe and proceeded to make a giant, floury mess all over my freshly cleaned counters. I filled up my Nordicware bundt pan with the silky chocolate batter and popped it into the oven. I’m going to have to be patient and let it cool for almost two hours when it’s done baking so the whole thing doesn’t collapse into itself as a giant pile of sludge. I’m going to do my best to wait. I’ve got a major sweet tooth lately and I’m beyond excited about this cake.

Then, onto dinner – bacon and whiskey chili. I’ve made this recipe so many times I can do it without consulting the recipe, but I got it out anyway because I had such a taste for it. It had to be executed perfectly. As such, instead of prepping as I went, I decided to prep my mise en place beforehand. I was so excited about finally cooking that I wanted to draw it out. I diced an onion and several cloves a garlic and set them out in a bowl. I diced the bacon and set it aside. I measured the chicken stock. Lined up the cans of bean and tomatoes. Pulled the bottle of whiskey down from the woefully neglected bar. And then I measured out the spices with the brown sugar and mixed them together into a bowl. Prep complete.

I put some water onto to boil for ditalini (Yes, I’m a pasta with chili kind of girl. I’m sure chiliheads everywhere hate me. Whatever.) Then I put my stockpot over a high flame to heat it up for the main event. When the bacon went in, it sizzled in that satisfying way only bacon can. Oh, joy of cooking! Once the bacon was crispy, in went the onions and garlic. Once the onions were golden and fragrant, in went the beef until well browned. And then the spices – wow, what a smell! From there, I added the tomatoes, stock, beans and a healthy shot of whiskey. I brought it up to a boil, then reduced the flame to let it simmer. The only thing I did differently with this recipe from normal was omit the shot of whiskey for the cook!

Dinner and dessert tonight are going to be so delicious… on that note, I believe I need to take the cake out of the oven to cool. 🙂

Home Made Bread Crumbs

Last night I came home to a great dinner my husband made – breaded pork chops, green beans and mashed potatoes. The house smelled so good, so I was ready to have a plate. Then my husband mentioned that we’d run out of store-bought bread crumbs. So wait, how did he make breaded pork chops then?

Home made bread crumbs of course! We usually have a loaf of bread a week in the house and we don’t always eat it all as toast or sandwiches. So on the weekends, I oven-toast it for bread stuffing mix. Waste not, want not – and I hate throwing out food. I take whatever is left from the loaf and slice into one inch pieces, then dry it in a low oven (about 200) for about a half hour on rimmed baking sheet until it’s just dry. I let the bread cubes cool to room temp and then they get stored in a closed container.

Husband remembered the dried bread cubes in the pantry when he realized didn’t have the store bought crumbs. It couldn’t be easier – put some cubes in a ziploc, smash them with a rolling pin, and they’re ready to use!

As it turns out, I like the home made crumbs a lot better than store bought – they’ve got a little texture to them (as opposed to fine bread powder that comes from a can) that really stood up to the pork chop. So next time you’ve got half a loaf of bread that’s well on it’s way to being stale, don’t throw them out! Make stuffing cubes and bread crumbs!

Sunday Funnies

Not funny ha-ha, but funny peculiar. As it so happens, I missed this week’s MOSS Project. Insert shame here. I was actually out of town this weekend for a family wedding (which was beautiful and nice) and then when we returned home this afternoon, I realized that I hadn’t gotten around to the fabric store earlier in the week to buy the double-fold bias tape that I needed for this week’s project – the potholders. I’m not going to beat myself up about it – sometimes life happens. I’ll be back next week with the sewing kit roll.

In other news, I’m slowly coming out of my cooking rut. I had a taste for pasta for lunch today so I made a white bean and broccoli sauce with a touch of lemon and chili flakes. Sometimes its nice to have a pasta sauce that isn’t based on tomatoes. For dinner tonight, I decided a crockpot rotisserie chicken would be the way to go. I covered it in Milwaukee Iron seasoning from the Spice House and put a little lemon juice in the bottom. Crockpot chicken doesn’t call for liquid, but I thought a little touch would be a nice flavor addition to the seasoning. I guess today ended up being a lemon kind of day. I’ll make some mashed potatoes to go alongside. I’m still trying to think of what to bake for a breakfast treat – I’m thinking chocolate chip muffins would be nice.

The Home Cure – Mission Pancetta

It’s about time for me to do another round of bacon again. I’ve got a third of the last five-pound slab in the freezer, that was done in a maple syrup and cracked pepper brine and apple smoked. We’ll likely use that up this month. I haven’t touched the skins from the last batch yet, which I use in the kitchen the same way a ham hock is used – to flavor soup. But January is my favorite month for soup, so that won’t last long either. I’ve got a 15 bean mix in the pantry that is just dying for some porky goodness.

The major question for me when doing bacon is whether I should try something new in the cure, or stick with my maple and pepper original. It’s just so good. But juniper sounds good too – I still haven’t used any of the berries I picked up at Spice House before Thanksgiving. A juniper brine, hickory smoked perhaps? I’m certainly thinking about it.

I’m also thinking about pancetta. I have a minor love affair with pork belly, and another minor love affair with Italian food. What combines these two wonderful things more readily than pancetta? My bolognese is the absolute favorite thing that I make at home – it’s my ultimate comfort food. If I’ve had a long day at work, I’ll pour myself a glass of wine and spend and hour and a half in the kitchen just cooking. Nothing soothes the soul better than prep – the methodical deconstruction of basic vegetables with a good, sharp knife. But I digress – it’s the pancetta, after all, that is the point here. The pancetta they sell in the market comes in little plastic packets from Italy (or, if I can find it and afford to pay more than what I’ll pay for even the imported stuff, La Quercia American-made pancetta from Norwalk, IA). Both options are very good pancetta, don’t get me wrong. But they’re very thinly sliced, as though they were slivers of proscuitto to be served with melon wedges. I like a little more heft in my bolognese, slices just a few shades thicker than paper-thin. I want the luscious, silky fat to ever-so-slightly render out with the mirepoix and garlic, so it perfumes the base of my sauce with porcine goodness.

Of course, I’ve convinced myself that the only way to achieve this dream-like state of affairs in my next bolognese is to make the pancetta myself. Doesn’t it always seem like I can convince myself of these dire necessities all too easily? But alas, a good bolognese cannot be burdened any longer by store-bought pancetta. I’m an old hand with bacon now – I’ll even be sharing my skills with the Food for Thought ladies as soon as we can arrange a suitable date. But pancetta is new territory for me.

To get inspired (as though the quest for still-better bolognese isn’t enough of a motivator) I decided to find out what my fellow culinarians were up to when it came to the magical transformation of raw pork belly into irresistable pancetta –

– I found a ridiculously gorgeous couple of photos in the LTH thread Cure Meat Everyday. It was produced from Polcyn’s and Ruhlman’s recipe in Charcuterie (which is the one I’ll likely use).

– I also stumbled across an old 2009 post about DIY pancetta at Cured Meats, as well as an even earlier post. They’re so enthusiastic and informative, I know I’m on the right track doing some of my own.

– Because it just popped into my head that pancetta-wrapped quail would also be a delicious use of home made pancetta, I searched out this recipe from La Cucina Italia.

So, February is to be the month of cured pork!