Hello November – Time for Thanksgiving!

Wow,  this year has just flown by. I can’t believe it’s November already. Time to start thinking toward the holidays! This year, I’m ready for colder weather and the fun and excitement of the holiday season. Summer and fall were nice, but I’m getting into a winter mood. And yes, I’ll likely regret saying that in the middle of January every time I have to go outdoors. But right now, I’ll embrace it.

First up, Thanksgiving. Of course we’ll be hosting it again this year. Unlike in year’s past where I’ve done something “unusual” for our main course (remember last year’s wood smoked pheasant?) this year we’re going with a straight traditional dinner. While I’d love to do the pheasant again since it was so amazing, we’re going to have a bit of bigger crowd this year, so that prices us out of it. Since the baby is here, it seems we’re the popular Thanksgiving spot! So we’re looking at seven of us for sure, and possibly ten. With that in mind, a twenty pound turkey is what we’ll be having for our centerpiece. To go with it, I’m going to make mashed potatoes, turkey gravy, bread stuffing, a few stuffed sweet potatoes (found those on Pinterest – ingenious if you only have a few people that like them) and some kind of green vegetable. Not sure on that one yet – maybe sauteed kale with garlic and bacon, or wine braised Swiss chard. Or steamed broccoli. While I love brussels sprouts, it seems I’m really the only one. They weren’t exactly flying out of the bowl the last time I served them. And this year, I’d like to bake up some kind of home made roll. I confess I usually just put packaged croissants out… but I’ve been working with bread a lot more this year, so home made rolls should show up on the table. I’m also going to be baking my own bread for the stuffing – I’m going to do a mix of white bread and rye the weekend before, and let them go stale naturally. Mixed in with a well caramelized mirepoix, plenty of chicken stock and fresh herbs, it should be amazing. And for dessert, I’m making pie of course. Pumpkin, chocolate icebox, and maybe even a shoofly.

For my table, I’m keeping it simple again this year. We’ll have to rearrange the house a little bit to accommodate the crowd. We currently have our sofa in the middle of the room, acting a divider between our living room and dining room space. We’ll have to move it against the interior wall so that we can have the table down the center of the room. We’ll also have to add a long folding table to our dining table, which only seats four. With that small adjustment, we’ll have plenty of space. And I may have to borrow a large tablecloth from my mother in law though, since mine only fit our dining table. For the table, this year year I’m going with a dozen or two fresh gourds if I can find them at a good price. And I’ll use my regular Blue Willow place settings, as well as short tumblers for the wine. I really like tumblers instead of stemmed wine glasses at “formal” dinners – it just makes everything seem more warm and friendly – there are no worries about knocking over your glass or pretensions of wine snobbery. I also plan to turn our chest freezer into a buffet sideboard by throwing a tablecloth over it and added a centerpiece. I’ll be glad to have the extra space this year.

So, I’ve got to make a shopping list and write out this year’s prep schedule. I can do a lot of it the day before since I’m not working, which will be great. And start watching the sales to stock up on ingredients!

Weekend Pie

This past weekend, I made not one, not two, but three pies. This is no small feat – outside of Thanksgiving, I’ve never done that many in one day. I was even more impressed with myself for staying in the kitchen that long with a little one needing attention so much of the time. But luckily with husband minding the baby, I was able to spend a little time in the kitchen making chocolate icebox, apple and shoofly pies.

The chocolate icebox was the usual – chocolate pudding in a graham cracker crust with both the pudding and crust being store bought. It’s just one of those comfort foods I like, and I’ve still been on a major chocolate kick. Maybe because I haven’t really had caffeine (except for the rare black tea I have) in ages? Or maybe just because chocolate is so good? I didn’t even take a picture, because it’s so ordinary. It really hit the spot though.

Pie number two was an apple –


I had a quart jar of Romes that didn’t seal when I was canning that was hanging out in the fridge. And what better use for apples than pie? I just cooked the plain apples down a bit with some sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. They didn’t hold their shape as well as I would’ve hoped, but the flavor was great.

The third pie was a shoofly –

I am positively addicted to these pies, as evidenced by my inability to photograph it before having a slice. I just couldn’t wait! It’s my favorite pie of all time (chocolate icebox being a close second). You’ll notice I did a few things differently from last time. First of all, I opted to bake it in my 8 inch pan. The filling didn’t rise so much that it spilled over like some internet sources warned, so I was glad for that. It’s actually a perfect fit. Though I did put the pan on a rimmed baking sheet in the oven just to be on the safe side. And it’s easier to pull a baking sheet out of a hot oven than a pie pan anyway. The other difference is I doubled up on the crumb filling – double really is the perfect amount. The crusts on both pies turned out beautifully – easy to work with and nice and flaky. The shoofly filling was a bit more substantial and cakey in texture this time because I left it in the oven a few minutes longer this time. The next time I make it, I’ll split the difference in baking time because while I like it cakey and substantial, I also want it to be a little bit gooey. As a matter of fact, maybe I’ll test out another version of this pie tonight…

Oh Lovely Weekend, We Meet Again

Ah yes – Weekend Time. Is it just me, or has this seemed like a really long week? Weekends are great. Two whole days to relax and recharge. I hope everyone is getting out and enjoying the weather this weekend – still a touch humid around these parts, but the weather seems to have equalized a bit. We’ve been able to have the air conditioning off since yesterday, and I hope we can leave it off for a little while now. It’s certainly hot, but seasonably, so it’s not unbearable. It’s nice to get fresh air circulating through the house and hear the summer sounds.

As for housebound me, I’ve still got some of those infamous sitting projects planned for the weekend. With husband’s help (i.e. strong, steadying arms) I’ve been able to negotiate the single step down from our back door onto the deck, so I’ve been able to sit out on the patio a couple of evenings recently. Slow progress, but progress. So I definitely plan to spend some time lounging back there with a good book.

Otherwise, my fabric order from JoAnn Fabrics arrived in the mail today with the remaining items I need for the baby’s quilt. I mentioned the fabrics I chose the other day in my quilt update post over on Somebody’s Mother if you’re interested in seeing what I picked out. And they were all on sale! So I plan to finish up cutting out the quilt blocks this weekend, which shouldn’t take long. And if I can decide it’s not to hot to work with a hot appliance this weekend, I may even drag out the iron and press and pin them all.

And though I’ve desperately missed being able to walk down the street to the farmer’s market each Sunday, I’ve still been communicating via email with the good folks at Midnight Sun Organics about the canning tomato harvest. They report that the tomatoes are just starting to come on pretty good, so they’ll likely have a small batch (around fifteen pounds) of the #2’s (the less than pristine, canning-quality ones) available this weekend. That’s enough to put up 4-5 quart jars of tomatoes, which is a good intro round for a pseudo-invalid. Husband has awesomely stepped up to help me with the canning this year (is this guy a keeper or what?) since I’m off my game. A lot of the the work I can do sitting down – washing, scoring and and peeling the tomatoes as well as putting them into the jars. I’ll need his assistance with the heavy lifting – getting the stockpot of water set up on the stove, sterilizing the jars, and getting the filled jars from the kitchen table to the counter next to the stove. I may or may not be able to be on my feet with crutches to get the jars in and out of the canner – we’ll see how that goes. It’s working with boiling hot water and heavy glass so he may not even want me to mess with that part (he’s also a good protector-type). But I’m excited that with our teamwork, canning season may officially begin this weekend! 

I also think I mentioned awhile back that I got a new hand-sewn mini blind for the bedroom (from my mother in law) and my sewing table/vanity got a little makeover. I promised pictures, but where are they, you ask? I plan to get those taken and posted for you all this weekend as well. Pretty cool what you can do with a little fabric or paint to make something that’ s just perfect for your space.

And let us not forget pie. I’ve been absolutely nuts about it recently and if I could’ve been, I would’ve been baking two pies a week at least over the last three weeks. Well, this weekend I’m shooting for one. I can’t take a pie-less existence anymore! So I’m going to ask husband to haul all my ingredients to the kitchen table so I can work sitting down. I really want to try to make a batch of mini Shoofly pies. I loved the first full-sized one I made, and I’ve been thinking about doing them up in a miniature for a little while now. I have four five-inch metal pie pans, so I’ll have to have husband dig those out of the bottom of the pantry. And you better believe I’m going to double the crumb topping on these babies. So stay tuned on my (hopefully) successful endeavor in whipping them up on the small scale.

So that’s it – that’s the master plan. Oh, that and not setting the alarm clock for the next two days. I really love that part.

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.