Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Lactose-Free Pumpkin Pie

The "lactards" returned last night from an epic desert adventure, so I butchered the fatted October pumpkin and set about figuring out how to make a lactose-free pumpkin pie.  

The crust is simple -- merely substitute melted coconut oil or melted cocoa butter for the butter in a sweet shortbread crust. Both coconut and cocoa fats lend a distinctive, marvelous flavor without making asses of themselves in front of the sugar and spice. It's getting a rich, tender, creamy filling (dairy adjectives, all!) that poses the challenge for our lactose-free custard-maker.  

Combine 2 c. flour, 2/3 c. sugar and 1.5 tsp. fine sea salt. Drizzle in melted cocoa butter (pictured) or melted coconut oil and fluff it about with a fork. Something like 6-8 ounces should be about right to achieve a crumbly dough that holds it shape well when you squeeze it. Err on the side of more fat. You can supplement the saturated tropical fats with other vegetable oils, but be careful: straight-up oil makes for a straight-up oily crust. Dump the crumbly pile into your #9 skillet or large pie dish and press it down firmly, building it up the sides and forming an even, dense layer of crust. Refrigerate till the filling is ready.

My "pumpkin" was actually a cheese squash.  I halved it, scooped out the seeds, plucked out the fibers, and roasted it cut-side-down on an oiled baking sheet at 400 degrees till so tender it lost all structural integrity and collapsed on itself in a gory heap. I put 2.5 cups of it in a blender with 1 c. unsweetened full-fat soy milk (not without a reservation or two*), 1/3 c. brown sugar, 1/2 other sugar (maple syrup, white sugar), 2 eggs, 1 egg yolk (for added richness), 1 tsp. cinnamon, 3/4 tsp. ginger, 1/2 tsp. nutmeg, 1/4 tsp. cloves and 1/4 tsp. allspice. Using roasted rather than boiled squash reduces its water content, making a denser custard that is less likely to curdle. Blend well and pour into the pie shell. Bake at 325-350 till the edges have risen just a tad and the interior still wiggles (but doesn't slosh) when you move it -- somewhere in the vicinity of 45 minutes.

*Soy bloats tummiesshrinks testes and kills cute rainforest animals. Furthermore, commercial nut, bean, and grain milks are almost always diluted, which is extra-undesirable when we consider that we're trying to replace the cream in our pumpkin pie, not just ordinary milk. Readily-digested and much less controversial rice milk is too watery, and I feared would make for curdled eggs. The other commercial non-dairy milks had loads of sugar and unpronounceables, so I left them on the shelf (where their life is frighteningly long). Undiluted homemade soymilk would be much better for custardy purposes, but if we're going to that trouble, we really ought to make our own almond milk, and avoid the whole fart-testicle-rainforest business anyway.

Monday, January 21, 2008


"What, for the love of God, is a manburger? I Googled it, but I'm still not sure. It's either a geeky guy or a double cheeseburger with no condiments or extras. Simply meat and cheese. What's your definition?"

Well, T. Douglas, thanks for asking. Manburgers are an important topic, being the staple food of a number of my close companions. According to T. Ellsworth, a Manburger is "a burger designed by men, for men. Except also by women for etc...." Concretely, the key element of the Manburger is the grassfed beef from which it is shaped. Contrary to popular belief, the essence of Manburger is not the stereotypically masculine consumption of animal flesh, but rather variety and creativity. Manburgers often incorporate "maternal" additions like green onions, chives, parsley, and shallots, or genderbending curry aoli and maple syrup. In the words of W. Crawford, "What's more manly than the empirical process of trial and not-error?"

Let's consider one particularly stellar specimen of the manburger, the Belgian Waffle variant, pictured above in the hands of man W. Crawford.  A good stove-top waffle maker produces a deeply-pocketed, crispy waffle -- a waffle with a shiny, almost glazed, buttery surface guarding a moist, tender interior. Just the thing to warm up later in the day as buns for your manburger. Note the slab of melting cheddar, added shortly after the manburger was flipped.  A good dose of coarse sel gris added to the raw hamburger lent it a charming sparkle. And finally, a healthy trickle of bloody juices escaped the crispy seared surface of the burger, moistening the waffle and facilitating the marriage of burger and bun.

In conclusion, T. Douglas, I would have to say that your first definition of Manburger is not so far removed from mine.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Persimmon Pudding

It's unrepentantly old-fashioned, free-standing, and decadent as only the last loyal citizen of a crumbling empire can be.  Think "pudding" as in "bread pudding": what seems mere cake at first slice turns all syrupy-spicy-custardy under a generous lather of cream and then disappears to leave you dazed and dreamy-eyed, not unlike T. Ellsworth when The Girl went back to her fiance in Mexico.  

I adapted this recipe somewhat arbitrarily based on the large units in which I had frozen my persimmon pulp. Having nearly a quart of persimmon on hand, I reduced the milk and splashed in all my silky red-orange pulp with wantonly intemperate glee. A certain prodigality was due if we were to forget the threat of barbarian invasion (winter strawberries) for one gloriously debauched night of persimmon indulgence.  Incidentally, the sun never sets on the persimmon empire, since persimmons are native to all four hemispheres.

In the end, my recipe looked like this:

Preheat the oven to 325.  Melt 6 tablespoons butter in the warming oven. Mix together 3.5 cups hachiya persimmon pulp, 1/4 c. cream, 1/2 c. whole milk, 2 tablespoons honey, 3 tablespoons maple syrup, a splash of vanilla, and 3 eggs. Pull the butter from the oven when it's melted to let it cool a bit, but no harm done if it gets a chance to brown a little.

In another bowl, whisk together 1.5 c. flour, 3/4 tsp. baking powder, 3/4 tsp. baking soda, 1/2 c. brown sugar, 1.5 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg and 1 tsp. salt.  Add the wets to the dries and combine well.  Let stand while you finish up.

Butter your large springform pan and lightly toast 2/3 c. walnuts.  Break up the walnuts and add them to the batter, along with 1/3 c. raisins and the slightly-cooled butter.  Pour the batter into the pan and slide it into the oven with a baking sheet underneath to catch any drips.  Bake 45 minutes.  If you have to run out suddenly at this point to move your cats to fresher pastures, just turn off the oven and leave it till your return.  The pudding should rise in the center and form deep glassy rifts while still quivering in invitation.

Serve with pillows of whipped cream: whisk 1.5 c. heavy whipping cream, 1/4 c. maple syrup, and 1 tsp. vanilla till almost stiff shortly before serving.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Bacon Apple Pie

Save your bacon drippings for a pie like your rainy-day childhood fantasies of the sweet-savory territory between ham and mulled cider.

Prepare the crust as usual: grate 1 cup frozen butter into 3 cups well-salted flour, sprinkle on enough water to make a good collection of dough-lumps, and roll out 2/3 of it to the thickness of five thirty-seconds of an inch.  Place it in a large pie dish, trim a half-inch overhang, liberally smear it with bacon drippings saved from breakfast, and put it in the fridge while you butcher up the apples. Refrigerate the unused portion and the scraps.

Take half a dozen or eight large Braeburn apples (roll your 'r's, and linger on that archaically transposed 'ae') and slice, core, and chop them. Peel them if your feel like the trouble. Mix 3 tablespoons flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, a teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves (like cloves in the ham, right?) and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg. Toss with the apples. Then mix 1/2 c. honey and several tablespoons strong red wine (the wine takes the place of lemon juice). Toss with the apples and let macerate while you roll out the remaining dough for the lattice top. Preheat the oven to 425.

You should have plenty of dough to work with, which I much prefer to patch-and-stretch, just-enough dough. Use a sharp knife or pizza wheel to cut it in half-or-three-quarter-inch strips. Retrieve the chilling crust and moisten its overhanging rim with a few dabs of water. Turn the apples out in the crust and put little bits of bacon fat all over them. Arrange strips in parallel over the top of the apples (the warp); then, starting from the center, arrange the perpendicular strips (the woof), weaving each strip into the warp as you go. Trim off the ends even with the bottom crust, and press them into it. Fold the overhang back on top, press to seal, and flute.

Slip the pie into the oven, reducing the heat to 350 when the crust is just starting to gild, some 15-20 minutes into the baking. Stack the crust trimmings, press together, and add to your secret stash of pie dough -- which you ought to use up in the next few days, for breakfast turnovers or another pie or cinnamon pinwheels. The pie is done about half an hour after it starts smelling unearthly -- when it bubbles thick towards the center.

Serve warm with ice cream.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Wild Beasties: Roast Bear and Parsnips

Ask six-year-old me what my favorite meat was, and I'd likely have told you, "Pork fat." Seven-year-old me would have inhaled deeply before gasping, "BEAR!" At least I was consistent; bear is much like pork, only deeper and smokier and spicier (yes, "gamier"). Like bacon would be if pigs ate blueberries.

H. Rose found a fresh bear, minus the choicest morsels, and hauled it home on HAC's horse. She roasted us the ribs. In the meantime, I butchered and roasted up one dangerous specimen of a parsnip Mama pulled from the frozen garden, and sloshed maple syrup all over it with a heavy hand before I turned the oven off and let it wait till suppertime.

Ordinarily I preach the superiority of small vegetables, but a good frost sweetens and tames even a behemoth of a parsnip, especially if it already has the advantages of a good garden upbringing. Small produce is always preferable when "large" is achieved through genetic modification and hyperfertility, yielding mealy bland bitter waterlogged monstrosities. (Remember: always pick the littlest apple or chalice or princess). But certain beasts do achieve magnificently large-scale flavor, like that feral parsnip and its cousin, the wild bear.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Mama's Oatmeal Meatloaf

I can't say much more than that this the real thing, straightforward and eternally satisfying.

Mince 2-3 cloves garlic, 1 onion, and 2 T. fresh parsley. Add 1 lb. of the very best grass-fed, local ground beef (meatloaf is as good as the meat you use.  Mama gets hers from Polyface Farms, of Omnivore’s Dilemma fame), 1/2 - 2/3 c. rolled oats, 1 tsp. salt, pepper and 2 eggs to moisten and bind. Mix well and add milk or yogurt as needed to make it moist. Shape into a nice loaf, place in a greased bread pan, and spread homemade ketchup over the top (at all costs avoid high-fructose ketchup). Bake uncovered for 45 minutes to an hour at 350 degrees. Serve with more ketchup and some of the summer’s succotash, or mashed potatoes, or sweet potatoes.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

New Year's Feast

I rang in the New Year supping on a dish of oyster stew soup and sharing an apple cider toast with my mother in the kitchen of a Lancaster County farmhouse. When Mama and I sneaked in from the airport, the house was dark and breathing a little heavy what with the guest rooms all thrown open, the hide-a-bed in the living room pulled out, the children’s cots set up around their parents’ bed. We raided the fridge for festive leftovers, and a stellar rendition of the Weaver family oyster stew was the very best thing I could imagine after airline cookies and bottled water (fertile territory for the gustatory imagination).

This morning, then, we all bundled into the car and set our for Aunt Pearl’s. Every year for fifty years, Aunt Pearl has hosted the New Year’s Day Feast. The menu is as stable and fundamental as the best of traditions, from the shrimp and mulled cider appetizers to the ham, baked corn, peas with pearl onions, pineapple casserole, baked potatoes with sour cream, and feathery buttery crescent rolls. (This menu has long since become a litany; the sort of thing we’d chant to each other on the drive over, always finishing with the chocolate-covered pretzels. Oh, and butterscotch pudding and cheesecake and candied pecans). It’s a long dinner, with a break in the middle for walks and speed scrabble, and ham sandwiches before everyone departs. Precisely the sort of thing to make everyone agree that New Year’s resolutions don’t take effect till the second day of January.