O Tapioca

Posted on April 26, 2009
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I had in my mind that I would make some pies. Around Thanksgiving I made some and people at work have been entreating me for more ever since. The family pie dough recipe makes five crusts so I figured why not make pie for people I like a little better than just to work with, and bring leftovers in to work?

I thought I would make some raspberry pie. I do like a good raspberry pie. Two raspberry pies with top crusts; that leaves at least one other crust to dispose of, so, pumpkin.

Now there were a few things I needed to get around to make such pies, like flour. So I go that. And I got pumpkin and I even got canned cherries in case I wound up with extra crusts (the recipe can be flexible). But I forgot to get raspberries, and I forgot condensed milk for the pumpkin pie.

So I went to the store and I got raspberries and condensed milk. But I still forgot to get tapioca, which is a great pie thickener. It’s what I’ve had in the raspberry pie I’ve liked. I went to the store again and there were several kinds of tapioca, instant and regular and extra large. I didn’t need instant because the tapioca would be stewing in pie juices for about an hour so I go regular.

Most weekends I am not home Friday afternoon or Saturday or Sunday. I wanted to have the pies on Sunday but the dough is supposed to chill overnight. Where I am Friday is not the same place I am Saturday so I would have to worry about transporting chilled dough and remembering to bring it with me if I wanted to bake the pies Saturday. So I decided to bake them Sunday morning.

Sunday morning I looked at my recipe and saw that it asked for instant Tapioca. This was not a good sign, but sometimes recipies include irrelevant details. I looked on the Tapioca package. It did not say anything about making pies with Tapioca but if you wanted to cook up some Tapioca on its own you were supposed to soak it overnight.

This did not sound like Tapioca that would make good pie in about an hour. Okay; it’s Sunday morning. Tapioca is out. What else can I use? I have cornstarch. How much cornstarch is equivalent to Tapioca? I look up Raspberry pie with cornstarch online. A lot of recipes seem to say 2 tablespoons. Some say 3. The ones that say 3 seem to have extra liquid, so let’s try 2 tablespoons per pie.

There are some other complications. The raspberry pie recipe says 20 ounces of raspberries per pie but they come in 12 ounce bags. Whatever. Raspberries are good, use them all. The pumpkin pie recipe says 12 ounces of pumpkin but the can has 10. The other ingredients listed are the same on the back of the pumpkin can. Whatever. Use the quantities on the back of the pumpkin can. These quantities say you should have 10 ounces of Carnation sweetened condensed milk. I have 12 ounces of Borden. Whatever. I can deal with all that stuff.

The crust still stresses me out a bit. It’s a pretty good crust recipe, fairly forgiving, but it always starts out too sticky until I’ve rolled it over lots of flour. (Note to self: put in less water. That is not so hard.) But I get my bottom crusts in okay. I’ve learned to use a spatula to detach the crust from the table before I try to pick it up. The wear and tear is not pretty sometimes but it usually survives.

I check the clock and go whole-hog. I make a lattice top on the first. It is not so pretty but it is there. I go for the second. Looks even better. How do you like that? I am going to pull this thing off after all.

Raspberry pies go into the oven. I even remember to reduce the heat after 10 minutes so the crusts won’t burn. Mix up the pumpkin pie. I am an incorrigble experimenter so I add some extra spice to the pumpkin pie and change one of the eggs to yolk-only. And I drizzle molasses on top for effect.

Raspberry pies boil over and start to smoke. Expected. Extra raspberries in shallow disposable tin pans. I have already got my smoke alarms off the wall and had them do stop, drop, and roll to avoid the smoke.

Time is up. Raspberry pies have a lovely golden crisp lattice crust. But the filling is still boiling in a watery-looking way. Very soupy looking. Well, if two tablespoons of cornstarch wasn’t enough burning the crust won’t help. Besides, pies usually set up. I pull them out and put the pumpkin in.

One of the raspberry pies is bleeding like a disemboweled rhinocerous on the stove. Not a good sign. Pies don’t usually set up enough to fix that. But you can’t add any more thickener to a pie when you have a lattice crust baked over it so I just get out a spoon and start lapping up the raspberry liquid. It’s good.

Something catches my eye. There is a dancing orange light coming from the oven. Hmm. Open oven door. The lake of raspberry blood that spilled onto the oven floor has ignited. There is a campfire in my oven. However the pumpkin pie has not ignited. I shut the door and keep lapping up the raspberry juice on the stove.

I figure there isn’t enough fuel for my oven fire to get carried away. But, I am renting, and one feels a certain obligation to be a little more conservative about burning down domociles that do not belong to onself. I go get the fire extinguisher I dutifully purchased and put it on the table. The fire does seem to be out, but there is quite a lot of smoke.

Hm. My previous upstairs neighbors complained that when I cooked delicious things they had to suffer with the smell without getting to eat. At any moment now my current upstairs neighbor is probably going to awaken with a start on Sunday morning and conclude that his rented domocile is being burned down. He may call the fire department.

I open some doors and windows. The smoke clears. The fire department does not arrive. See? Everything turned out all right.

The pies stay soupy. They don’t set up. I put a layer of newspaper in a box and put each pie in its own box. The pumpkin pie did set up and I take that along as well. At least one of my children behaves.

When I arrive raspberry juice has soaked through the newspaper and leaked out of a corner of the box and is staining my trunk. Oh well that is why I did not buy a new car. Go ahead, stain my trunk! It’s a used car! Bwahahaha!

At lunchtime I do not feel much like eating. I am not feeling awful or anything but I am feeling like if I eat I might feel worse. I eat anyway, but I really don’t feel like dessert. I ignore my pies. There is also another pie there from someone else which has a perfectly formed crust and set up fine. It’s a shoofly pie. I am expected to try this pie and like it but shoofly pie, while I like the flavor, is like asphalt. It’s on the heavy side for a tender stomach.

I ignore all the pies for another hour or so. I hear them being served up. Curiousity gets the better of me. I go to eat pie. First I have the shoofly pie because I do not want to have a piece of my own pie which I already know is defective and then refuse to eat anyone else’s. It tastes fine. It is a little heavy. But I have to know how bad my pie is.

People have served some slices out of it but the breach has been filled by a liquid tide of raspberry. I take a little. The crust could have been wonderful but it is having a hard time staying flakey in the raspberry sea. The person who made the other pie tells me that my pie is not too soupy. Yes it is I tell them. No it’s not, she says, but it is too sweet.

It seemed that way to me too but I was hoping it was just me being out of sorts as I have not been feeling quite right. Oh well. At least there is the pumpkin pie. Since I am not feeling too well I don’t really need to eat any more sweets, but I want the consolation of knowing I made one pie right.

The pumpkin pie is way to sweet. Much more so than the raspberry pie. I shudder when I am done eating my piece, it is that sweet. I think the extra two ounces of sweetened condensed milk killed it.

The pies go back home with me. I could eat more of the raspberry pie tomorrow but probably not one and a half pies worth. Probably not before they dissolve completely.

I will bring them in to my coworkers tomorrow.

They are shy about eating pie that doesn’t look pretty.

Perhaps they will no longer entreaty me to make pie. I am not sure if that is a win or not because I like flattery.

And I have a package of Tapioca that takes incantations all night long plus a secret ritual to turn into food.

It might be a total loss.

Chili Impromptu

Posted on October 17, 2008
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Discovered in the freezer when arriving home: chicken, beef, mixed bell pepper, corn, a remnant of blueberries.

Put the frozen chicken in a pot over low heat, cover, and ignore it for half an hour or so, until the chicken is thawing out. Peer in at it. Flip it over maybe. Put some frozen corn in there too, and cover it back up. Nudge the heat up a little if it’s not cooking fast enough. Ignore it a while more.

Peer in there again. If everything is thawing out and looking to be cooked enough to eat, or getting thereabouts, add a small can of tomato sauce. Just plain puree sauce, not some premixed pasta thing. Stir it around. Ponder. Open the cupboard. Ignore the red pepper because that’s too obvious. Put in some celery seed instead. And then give it a bit of soy sauce; not enough so you will taste soy sauce when you are done, mind. Just two drops or so. Enough to give the sauce some background so it doesn’t just taste like tomato puree.

Maybe add some oregano. Open a can of beans–pinto–rinse them, and toss them in. Ignore it a bit more because cooking doesn’t seem like the proper rewarding, indulgent thing to be doing. Once the beans have warmed up properly you can eat it.

It’s not really chili. But it is impromptu.

Lemon Thyme Chicken

Posted on March 19, 2008
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Before I began preparing this meal, I had some leftover potatoes that had been boiled and treated with a rosemary-garlic dressing, off the shelf, and some fresh garlic. Plus a few leftover peas. I also knew I wanted to start using the cabbage I bought. So before I did anything else, I set out all three pans I own on the stove.

In one pan, a Teflon-coated round-bottom sauce pan, I put the potatoes and some water. I set it to medium-low heat and covered it with a plate (this has the side benefit of prewarming your plate for supper). My largest pot was on the larger coil in the back, and I set that to high. On the dial its medium, but I never need a higher temperature unless I am trying to start a fire. I poured some olive oil in the bottom of the pot and cut a quarter out of a head of cabbage, slicing the quarter into thin strips. I have never had an easier time slicing a head of cabbage into strips, so my Calphalon chef’s knife was making itself appreciated.

By the time I had sliced the cabbage I could smell the olive oil. When you start to smell olive oil in a hot pan, turn the temperature down–it’s about to start burning. I threw in the cabbage and reduced the temperature, and salted it and added some pepper.

I put some oil in the frying pan on the front burner and set it for medium. Then I had to figure out what I wanted to do with the boneless skinless chicken breast I had reserved for supper. I had not really figured it out yet, so on the fly I pulled out the thyme and a small plate. I dropped a handful of flour on the plate and sprinkled it with thyme. Then I added four or five drops of lemon juice to the oil in the pan. I pressed the chicken into the flour on both sides and dropped it into the frying pan. The oil had heated and the chicken began to cook. I sliced a clove of garlic and dropped it into the pan to keep the chicken company.

The cabbage was cooking quickly, singeing at the edges. I wanted it cooked quickly at a high temperature but it was getting done way ahead of everything else. I added a little water and some chopped dried onion–I didn’t have time to cut a fresh onion and didn’t want that much in there anyway. Then I reduced the heat to low, covered the cabbage, and let it wait for the rest of the meal, stirring occasionally.

I felt the chicken was cooking too fast on the outside and would burn before cooking through, so I had to reduce the heat. When I thought it had probably cooked about half way through I flipped it over, setting it on top of some of the chunks of garlic. I tucked the loose pieces under the chicken as it sat.

I am not sure if I could have gotten away with a little higher heat or not. I could see pink in a knob of chicken that hadn’t rested directly on the side of the pan and I used that to gauge how well the chicken was cooking through from the bottom. And it took forever. Right toward the end I flipped it back over, figuring I had slightly misjudged the depth of finish on the first side, and the the side I had down came up in a warm brown color with chunks of amber garlic clinging to it. So the surface had cooked pefectly.

When the chicken was finally done the potatoes had heated through nicely, and I set to the onerous task of eating it. The cabbage had cooked a bit beyond what I meant it to, but it still tasted quite good. The potatoes were also well flavored. And the chicken came out moist and tasty, perhaps a little stronger in the lemon and a little weaker in the thyme than I had meant, but very nice all the same.

You know you did something right when you want to lick your plate. Or else you just didn’t make enough and you are starving. But if your belly’s full and you still want to eat, you probably cooked the food well.

Crumb Fish

Posted on March 5, 2008
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I had some frozen whiting and as I pondered what to do with it I thought of half-cup or less of yogurt I had. The whiting was frozen when I put it in the oven. I think I had the oven set to 375 farenheit. I had a leftover hamburger bun that I had dried out the night before, so I ground that up, added cayenne, black pepper, and oregano, and mixed the crumbs. Then I wandered off for 10 minutes or so.

When I returned, the whiting had thawed and was starting to stick to the pan. I hadn’t planned this stage out well and I was a little unsure of how to go through the mechanics of coating the fish with yogurt and then crumbs, especially now that the fish was soft and ready to fall apart. So I spooned yogurt onto the fish, spread it out, and sprinkeled the crumbs over it. I had about five fillet halves (some fillets in the bag were broken) and that used up all the crumbs.

The yogurt was non-fat French Vanilla. Although I was trying the yogurt-crumb covering, I definitely wasn’t sure I would like it.

As the fish finished baking, I chopped a tomato, sprinkeled with dried basil, sliced a section of cucumber, and cut four leaves of Romaine lettuce into strips. I sprinkeled the salad with red wine vinegar and drizzeled with olive oil, and that came out tasting just fine.

As for the fish: it tasted much better than I had even hoped. Whiting is a very mild fish to begin with, which is good for me since the essence of fish flavor does not appeal to me, but coated with the yogurt and then the crumbs, the taste of the fish almost disappeared. I did not taste any part distinctly, except for an occasional bite of cayenne; the yogurt and crumbs and fish had blended to a warm, hearty flavor that invited me back for more.

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