Sweet Potato Pie with Pecans and Molasses

This is the James Brown of pies, y’all.  Which is to say it’s got soul and will make you feel good.  It’s a conflux of flavors that combines two of my favorite pies–sweet potato and sticky pecan.  Never let it be said in my presence that less is more.

Ingredients:   

For the sweet potato part:

1/2 recipe of only the best brisée ever

approximately 1 lb. of sweet potatoes

1/4 cup softened unsalted butter

the zest of an orange

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

1 teaspoon ceylon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 large eggs

1 can of sweetened condensed milk

 

For the sticky pecan topping:

1 large egg

3 tablespoons of blackstrap molasses

2 teaspoons of light brown sugar

1 tablespoon of melted unsalted butter

a pinch of salt

1 cup of chopped pecans

 

Method:

While your paté brisée is chilling in the refrigerator, bake your sweet potatoes.  Scrub them, pierce them with a fork, and place them on a baking tray covered with foil.  I bake mine for about an hour at 350ºF/180ºC/Gas4.

pre-baked potatoes

Allow them to cool while you blind bake your pie crust for about 15 minutes at 350ºF/180ºC/Gas4..  When it’s close to finished, brush it with egg white and place it back in the oven for another minute or so.

Next, spoon out the soft caramelized center of the sweet potatoes and add them to a large mixing bowl.

caramelized baked sweet potato

 

Stir in the remaining ingredients.  Use a whisk to smooth out lumps.

mix

Pour the mixture into your partially baked shell.  Bake for 30 minutes.

During this time, mix together the ingredients for your sticky pecan topping.

After half an hour, remove the pie from the oven.  Evenly spoon the topping over the pie and place it back in the oven.  Bake for another 15-20 minutes.

When the pie is finished, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool.  Serve with a whipped cream of your choice.  For this recipe, mine is cinnamon whipped cream.  I highly recommend it.

baked pie with topping sticky pecans cross section slice

 

 

More to Loave

Yeast beckons my grandmother’s command.  For as long as I have lived, she has been queen of sweet breads and rolls of any kind.  This skill coupled with her generosity has always made her the most popular woman at church.  Sadly, no one else in the family inherited her gift.  Sure others try and occasionally succeed, but grandma Helen is in a class all her own.  Once I rang her for a tea ring recipe after she’d gone to bed early.  In the darkness of her bedroom, she rattled off the recipe to me by heart before hanging up and going straight back to sleep.

All this said, I feel like I’ve been letting down the side.  I bake and cook more than anyone in my family and still I live in fear of yeast recipes.  I hide from them like they’re the boogie man.  I refuse to make them out of fear of failure.  Well not anymore.

Last night, I made bread for the first time in almost ten years.  Sure I’ve baked the odd batch of sweet rolls here and there, but it’s been an absolute age since I attempted baguettes or pains rustiques.

The recipe I used was Mireille Guiliano’s from her book “French Women Don’t Get Fat.”  Circa 2004, I was given the book as gift and in it were some wonderful recipes.  For a while, I baked her baguettes every weekend.  The link to her recipe is here.

My bread was good.  It tasted great, had a fantastic crust, and sounded hollow when tapped on the bottom.  It even had nice bubbles from pockets of air that you can see in the cross sections.  However, it looked nothing like a baguette.  No fault of Mireille’s.  I just need to practice my shaping technique.

Tonight I gave myself a mulligan.  I redid the experiment but changed a few things.  I made the same dough recipe, but shaped and baked it differently.  Instead of several baguettes, I made two large oval shapes.  Because they were bigger, I increased my baking time.  25 minutes at 450ºF/Gas 8/ 230ºC and 20 minutes at 400ºF/Gas 6/200ºC.  I lightly oiled the baking trays and sprinkled them with cornmeal before putting the loaves on to rise a second time.  Then before baking, I sprinkled one loaf with cornmeal and brushed the other with milk before sprinkling it with cornmeal.  As you’ll see from the pictures, the milk made no difference.

James Beard once said, “Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.”  And as my mama would say, “I’ll stop him when he’s wrong.”

proofing 2nd rise 1st loaf 1st loaf cross section both loaves 2nd loaf cross section with butter and honey

 

 

 

Smackerels, Elevenses, and Tea (a cinnamon toast recipe)

On my first day of kindergarten which I found extremely stressful, my mother made cinnamon toast for me after school.  Cinnamon is and has always been my palliative.  Kind of like French toast for Conrad in Ordinary People.  When I eat it, I know I’m loved and everything is going to be okay.

Today I registered my two year-old for pre-school.  When we came home, I made cinnamon toast for her.  I didn’t connect the experiences until a few hours later but there they were–involuntary memories linked by a flavor from Ceylon.  I suppose for me the start of school will always taste of cinnamon.  Even if I’m not the student.  

Cinnamon toast is so easy to make.  It’s one of those things that doesn’t require a recipe.  That said, The Pooh Cook Book has one.  I had a copy as a child and recently I stumbled across a copy for Helena whilst perusing the book shelf of a charity shop.  She loves it almost as much as she loved today’s cinnamon toast, both the making and the eating of it.  My hope is you do too.    

cover smackerels, elevenses, and teas owl's cinnamon toast helper stirring cinnamon sugar under the grill toast 2014-10-07 14.10.43 licking sugar see food    

 

L’Shanah Tovah!

Today is Rosh Hashanah or Jewish new year.  And it has always been one of my favorite feasts.  Typical foods for the celebration include honey, apples, pomegranates, and fish.  Fish heads symbolizing the head of the year.

Recently Henry, my husband, wrote a piece for the Guardian about discovering his Jewish heritage.  You see, he didn’t know about his family’s past until his grandfather’s funeral.  He writes, “What I remember most is something my grandmother, Dorothy Jeffreys, said before the service. She was distraught and, I think, on some sort of tranquilliser and kept insisting Don wouldn’t have wanted the send-off to be in a church, it should have been a synagogue. I asked her why and she said, “Because we’re Jewish.”  

This revelation led to all sorts of questions.  He reached out to older family members who knew his ancestors’ lineage and remembered their stories.  With our two year-old in tow, we drove to see them to learn about our family’s past to better understand the present.

So this year, I wanted Rosh Hashanah to be special for Henry.  I wanted to give him a meal that would help him remember.  Here is what we had:

Pan-fried harissa sea bass.  I marinated the fish in harissa, cumin, and salt for a few hours before dredging with flour and frying until the skin went crispy.  At this point, I flipped the fillets and continued frying for another minute more.

harissa sea bass

Yotam Ottolenghi’s roasted aubergine and basil with pomegranate and saffron sauce

eggplant salad

Israeli couscous salad

2014-05-19-17-20-33

Roasted figs with honey and orange juice, orange yogurt, cinnamon and toasted almonds.  I halved the figs, dotted them with butter, and covered them with a mixture that was 2 tablespoons manuka honey plus the zest and juice of one tangerine.  I then baked them for half an hour at Gas6/200C/400F.  When I took them out of the baking dish, I removed whatever liquid was in there and boiled it down until it made a syrup.  I glazed the figs with this.  Then I mixed more orange zest with yogurt and topped each fig with this.  Next, I sprinkled chopped toasted almonds on top then gave them a dusting of cinnamon.

figs glaze figs roasted figs

 

Honey rum tarte tatin.  All I did was take the elements I liked best from several recipes.  For me, that meant a pastry dough made with sour cream and a deep caramel sauce with honey and Cuban rum.  After transferring the tarte to a plate, I boiled down whatever caramel and apple juice remained.  When it was quite viscous, I poured it over the tarte but only after topping it with toasted almonds.  Then I placed it under the broiler (the grill if you’re in the UK) for a few minutes to get everything really golden.  Of course, I served it with more sour cream.

tarte tatin whole meal

 

Guacamole

The Aztecs invented it.  Frat boys love it.  Avocado sales are never higher than the weekend of Super Bowl Sunday because of it.  Basically, guacamole makes the New World go round.  As an American, no, as a Californian, I am powered by it.  It is to me what tea is to the British–fortifying and appropriate at all times of the day.

My mama always told me when a relationship ends try to take away one thing, one lesson learned no matter how small.  i.e. From my biological father she gained some wicked foosball skills.  Well making the below guacamole is one thing I’ve learned throughout my 32 years.  It’s my pleasure to share it with you now.

Ingredients:

4 avocados, cut into chunks (keep one of the pits)

1 tomato, seeded and diced

1/2 mango, diced

1/4-1/2 a small red onion, finely chopped

1 chili pepper, minced

the juice of 1 lime

1-2 tablespoons of Cholula

cilantro, roughly chopped

salt and pepper to taste

 

Method:

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and stir with a fork to combine.  Be sure not to mash the avocados too much.  The little chunks are nice.  A good guacamole is not supposed to be smooth.  It’s supposed to have texture.  Place an avocado pit in the center of the guacamole.  For magical reasons unbeknownst to me, an avocado pit helps prevent your guacamole from discoloring.  It’s science, innit?

Now cover your guacamole and set it in the fridge for about an hour.  Serve with whatever you like after this time.  Today, for me, that was a few Coronas and some salty tortilla chips pre-roast-pork-belly.  Muy divina.

before

after

Crab Cakes for Lenny Bruce

Recently, I walked through the aisles of my local supermarket and was horrified when I stumbled upon the American section.  Imagine a few shelves packed with every manner of preservative and artificial color.  Everything from Fruity Pebbles to Nerds and Cheetos to Pop Tarts and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.  Basically, food for children.  Or stoned people.  I was so embarrassed I had to walk away.  I didn’t want other shoppers to think I was contemplating putting any of these items into my basket.  Then I saw the Boylan’s Black Cherry Soda and I couldn’t resist.  I also couldn’t help thinking about Lenny Bruce.

In the 1960s, Bruce neologized Jewish and Goyish as part of his act.  In it, he included many foods.  Black cherry soda being one of them and to me the most memorable.  Probably because as a kid it was my favorite drink to order when eating Reuben sandwiches at Greenblatt’s.

Kool-Aid is goyish. All Drake’s cakes are goyish. Pumpernickel is Jewish, and, as you know, white bread is very goyish. Instant potatoes–goyish. Black cherry soda’s very Jewish. Macaroons are very Jewish–very Jewish cake. Fruit salad is Jewish. Lime jello is goyish. Lime soda is very goyish.”  This is what played out in my head as I stood mouth agape looking at the black cherry soda of my youth.  I started to feel self-conscious with all the passersby witnessing my struggle.   

Eventually I put the indecision to an end and put the bottle of Boylan’s in my basket.  I headed for the check out and drank my soda with relish on the way home.  When it was finished, I hid the evidence of my crime against acceptable cuisine in some random recycling bin on the street.  I wanted no evidence to shame my English family.

Then the snob in me surfaced.  Sure I might have been purchasing crap from the American section of the grocery store but I was buying Jewish crap, not Goyish. Not that any English person would necessarily know the difference.  Nor any Goy.  But I knew and this made me feel superior.

When I came home, I had Lenny Bruce on the brain and that night his spirit found its way into my cooking.  Throughout his career, Bruce was frequently arrested under charges of obscenity.  And as obscene as he was charged for being, I topped that in the kitchen by making the most unkosher thing imaginable(not that I’m kosher).  Crab cakes with creme fraiche on top.

Lenny, I dedicate this obscenely good crab cake recipe to you and if you were around, I’d invite over for dinner so you wouldn’t have to be all alone.

Ingredients:  

1/2 a pound of cooked crab meat

2 medium potatoes, peeled, diced, boiled and steam dried

a bunch of dill, chopped

a bunch of chives, chopped

2 tablespoons of capers, chopped

1/2 teaspoon sumac

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

the zest and juice of a lemon

3 tablespoons creme fraiche

1/4 cup mayonnaise

vegetable oil for frying

salt & pepper

a plate of flour for dredging

a plate of one whisked egg

a plate of bread crumbs (I find 2 pieces of toast is all I need)

 

Method: 

In a large bowl, mash the potatoes with half the herbs, spices, zest, and juice.  Then mix in the crab and incorporate well.

crab mixture

Form the mixture into cakes and refrigerate them about half an hour.  While they are chilling, combine the creme fraiche, mayonnaise, remaining herbs/spices/juice/zest for your sauce.  Set this aside.

crab cakes

Dredge the cakes in flour, then egg, then coat with breadcrumbs.

pre-frying

Place some oil in a large skillet.  Over medium heat, fry the cakes until golden on both sides.

frying

Serve immediately topped with sauce.

crab cakes with sauce

 

Cioppino

Recently I reread Elizabeth David’s An Omelette and a Glass of Wine.  This time round, one particular character stood out–her good friend and fellow writer, Norman Douglas.  Her anecdotes about dining with him in Italy and how he’d keep a hunk of salami in his pocket even when going to the best restaurants were hilarious.  As were her accounts of his writing the aphrodisiac cookbook, Venus in the Kitchen.  His maxims about food, “Indigestion and love will not be yoked to together” “Good intentions–no. . . Gastritis will be the result of good intentions” “To be miserly towards your friends is not pretty; to be miserly towards yourself is contemptible,” were so amusing, I ordered his book.

There is much to love, starting with the introduction by Graham Greene.  “There are said to be certain Jewish rabbis who perform the operation of circumcision with their thumbnail so rapidly and painlessly that the child never cries.  So without warning Douglas operates and the victim has no time to realise in what purgatorio of lopped limbs he is about to wake, among the miserly, the bogus, the boring, and the ungenerous.”

Mr. Douglas’ recipes are really funny and not just because they have titles like Marrow of Leopard or Vulvae Steriles.  The latter was apparently a favorite of Horace, Pliny, and Martial.  Those crazy Romans.  “I have been perusing Seneca’s letters.  He was a cocoa-drinker, masquerading as an ancient.”  There are lots of brilliant little jewels in this humorous last book of Mr. Douglas’ but my favorite would be his recipe for Stewed Crabs.  Not because it’s particularly entertaining but because it reminded me of home.

Going back to Elizabeth David. . . There is an article she wrote for The Spectator, 8 December, 1961 which is included in An Omelette and a Glass of Wine.  The piece is entitled West Points.  In it she reviewed Helen Brown’s West Coast Cook Book which was published in 1952.  “The recipes, says the author, are the regional ones of the three Pacific States–California, Oregon, and Washington State.  Some, brought from all over Europe, originated with the early settlers, and proving suitable to the new world, settled in as native dishes.”  David goes on to write that one such dish is cioppino which is what Mr. Douglas’ stewed crabs reminded me of.

Cioppino is a seafood stew and a west coast classic, especially in San Francisco.  It’s the Italian-American answer to bouillabaisse and I ate lots of it as a kid.  My mother made a version with hazelnut romesco.  Fishermen from Genoa who settled in Northern California used to make this dish aboard their boats in the 1800s.  Later when some of them went on to open restaurants, this became one of their most famous dishes on the menu.  The name cioppino comes from a word in the Ligurian dialect, ciuppin which means to chop.  As the stew is made from chopped up pieces of the day’s catch, this seems appropriate.

So many food writers begin their careers when they leave the land of their birth.  Like Claudia Roden who contacted her friends and family for recipes before leaving Cairo.  Through food she could reconnect to the feelings and memories of her old home whilst living and growing roots in her new one.  When I read her writing, I sense the attachment to her childhood.  She writes about it with nostalgia as I think a great many food writers do.  I certainly do and it wasn’t until I left Los Angeles for London that I started doing so.  Food is a great communicator.  It summons memories and gives them life again.

If you want a taste of my childhood, try the cioppino recipe I’ve written below.  The broth is made from tomatoes, wine, garlic, onions, peppers, herbs, and spices.  I like mine a bit spicy so I add chopped chilies or red pepper flakes.  All kinds of seafood is then simmered in the broth.  Since I live in England now, I’ve adapted the recipe to use what’s around me–Cromer crab and smoked fish.  I serve it with parsley, basil, and the nicest bread I can find.  And of course, I raise my glass and toast to home.

me and the mouse train window royal hill sign

 

Ingredients:

1 pound fish pie mix–salmon, cod, and smoked haddock

1/2 pound crab meat (I usually use uncooked but as I shopped late in the day, cooked was all they had.  I always think it’s fun to see crab claws in my stew)

2 handfuls of clams

2 small onions, chopped

7 cloves of garlic, grated

1 chili pepper

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

a bunch of fresh thyme

a bunch basil, chiffonade

1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped

3 bay leaves

1 jar fish soup (I use the soupe de poisson from our fishmonger)

1 can of chopped tomatoes

1/2 bottle white wine (I use Vinho Verde as that’s what I like to drink with this meal)

ingredients

Method:

Dry roast the fennel seeds until you can smell their fragrance.  Remove from heat and grind with a mortar and pestle.

fennel dust

Next, add some olive oil to a large pot.  Over medium-low heat, saute the onions, bell peppers, garlic, chili pepper, bay leaves, thyme, basil, parsley, and fennel dust.

1st saute

Once everything starts to caramelize, add the can of tomatoes and wine.  Simmer for about 15 minutes or until flavors start to meld.

tomatoes and wine simmer

Pour the jar of fish soup into your mixture.  This will enrich it.  Then, stir in the clams.  As soon as they start to open, add the fish.  After two minutes, stir in the cooked crab.  Turn off the heat and allow everything to stand for a few minutes under a lid.

fish soup clams fish pie mix crab pot of soup bowls of soup soup