Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I learned about Japanese mayo.

This weekend we got some Meghan Janssen. In honor of this getting, we made a jaunt to Little Tokyo to look for manga art supplies and prepare our moods for Japanese dinner and My Neighbor Totoro!

The weather rapidly changed from rainy to sunny during the short jaunt down I-110 from Pasadena to the heart of LA. It made for some wonderful pictures:

Upon returning home, unsuccessful in acquiring neither art supplies nor boba, we received Meghan who cooked for us her Japanese students' favorite dish: Omuraisu (pronounced roughly oh-moo-rys-oo... or "omelette rice oo" said really fast.) On our fried rice omelette we drew faces with ketchup and Japanese mayonnaise. Another friend of mine once told me that Japanese put mayo on everything green - no uncooked, un-mayonnaised veggies for the Japanese! And Meghan told me that there is a special Japanese word for someone who has extra love for mayonnaise. Having now tried this incredible condiment, I think understand why!
Japanese Mayo > any other kind of mayo.
I'm not sure I could tell you why... perhaps its the slightly more tart/sour flavor - but in any event, it stands a fact!

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Pie You Set on Fire

Apparently the Northend cousins have an affinity for the same nautical themed spirits - namely Sailor Jerry's (and NOT Captain Morgan's - blegh). Matt and I discovered Sailor Jerry's in the midwest (far away from any bodies of water) when we accidentally missed some obscure "blue law" window for alcohol purchases at the grocery store. We were looking for Bicardi Black - a spiced rum with a high enough proof to light on fire - for a surprise dessert for my mom and dad who were on vicarage there in Kansas. We managed to find a liquor store willing to sell some of their stock just before closing but no Black was to be found! What ended up going home with was better tasting than anything I've ever lit on fire before.

This pie was a serendipitous combination of last-minute Pie-of-the-Week cooking and last year's nectarine harvest. Mamma Sheean had sent us home from our visit last weekend with a big box of vegetables and huge vacuum sealed bag of frozen nectarines. I was determined to use them in a pie, but my Pie book doesn't have any nectarine recipes. In keeping with my unique-pie pursuit, I tried Googling different nectarine recipes and came up with a "Cajun Nectarine Pie" - but the only spice every iteration of the recipe called for was cinnamon. Yum! But boooooorrrrriiinng. With the nectarines almost completely defrosted on the counter top, I was running out of time to make a decision.

And that's when the bottle of Sailor Jerry's toppled from the cabinet onto my head. INSPIRATION STRUCK! Well... that would have been the ideally dramatic way of inspiration striking - but truth be told there was simply a very large bag dark brown sugar sitting next to the sink BELOW the open cabinet with Sailor Jerry's inside NEXT to the melting nectarines which had somehow ended up next to lighter. True story.

With "cajun" still in my mind, I found myself wondering if Bananas Foster had ever been Nectarine Foster... and then, of course, if anyone had ever put it in a pie... and VIOLA!
Danica's Nectarine Rum Pie.
(If this gets famous, I'm makin sure my name is in the title!)

4 lbs of frozen nectarines (the juices will cook off and diminish the weight)
1 c of firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 c, 2 Tbsp of butter
4-5 shots of Sailor Jerry's (or spiced rum of 90 proof + 1 tsp of vanilla + tsp of nutmeg + 1 tsp of ground cardamom)
1 partially baked bottom pie crust shell
1 unbaked top pie crust
*2 Tbsp lemmon
*2 Tbsp of flour

In a nutshell:

I started by draining off all the water from the frozen nectarines. I didn't squeeze the juices off, but drained them pretty throughly and saved about 1 cup for later.

I browned a 1/2 cup of butter in a large 12" sauce pan and added the brown sugar and the nectarines, sautéing as best I could and adding juice as I saw fit to keep things moist and create a syrup, over about 5 minutes.

I continued adding juices as I needed to as well as an extra 2 Tbsp of butter, and stirred the mixture while things started to caramelize.
(NEXT TIME I made this pie I will sautee the nectarines without the brown sugar.)

When the consistency was such that I could scrape the nectarines and juices with a spatula and reveal the clean bottom of the pan for a few seconds I removed the pan from heat and spread the nectarines evenly over the surface. Then I added about 2.5 shots of Sailor Jerry's over the entire surface and lit it on fire! When the fire died out (after about 3 minutes), I stirred the mixture and repeated with another 2 shots.

Then I added 3 tsp of cinnamon and 1.5 tsp of ginger while I let the mixture cool, just a bit, before putting it into a partially baked pie crust.

I botched placing my top crust & added sprinkled brown sugar which ended up looking burnt =/
I also didn't rotate the pie half-way and burnt it a smidgeon.

I topped the pie with new, uncooked crust, poked some holes and stuck it in the oven for 20 minutes at 400 degrees and broiled on high for an extra 3 minutes to brown the top crust.

I highly recommend Sailor Jerry's over any other spiced rum!! It has hints of vanilla and cloves that compliment the simply spices added by hand so very wonderfully.


*Next time, I want to add 2 Tbsp of flour to the caramelized mixture just to give it a tiny bit more body, although.... the nectarines were super juicy and soft because of their previously frozen state. I imagine fresh ones will require that flour. I would also recommend adding 2 Tbsp of lemon juice in this stage - I didn't have any, but I imagine that it would really bring out a wonderful gingery pucker with the incredibly sweet nectarines.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I learned that the taste map is a LIE!

(illustration by everevese - whoever it is)

Yesterday we got back from an impulsive, weeklong stay at the in-luvs (in-laws) in Paso Robles. Again! It was a great week of industry for both Matt and I: he went to APE in San Francisco with Malachi to exhibit their new comic, EXPANSION [buy it here!], while I stayed in Paso and was waited on, hand and foot, by his mommy. I dunno what he was doing up there but I was cooking pies, crocheting & knitting, quilting, birthday-ing, and I even got to meet my sister-in-law-in-law's mother (who is an amazing artist) and learn a bit about wet- & needle-felting! I left with my head so full of ideas (not to mention a car full of vegetables from the Sheean garden), I could help but come home with the domestic-midas touch.

Last night, I made dinner with the produce we came home with. I didn't really have a plan, but all the pie making has given me the chance to work with all kinds of whole foods, see how they cook, and understand their complimentary tastes. The last two pies where apple and squash based. Seeing as how I had both at my disposal, I decided to make a soup.

There doesn't seem to be a huge difference between soup and pie fillings...

Pie fillingSoup base
  • bake/puree ingredients
  • add some cream if desired
  • add flour & sugar
  • spice
  • bake/puree ingredients
  • add some butter if desired
  • add chicken broth & milk
  • spice

I could be totally wrong, but all-in-all, it seems that soups are just liquid-y-ier pie fillings!

In any event, I cut up a butternut squash and some apples, baked the butternut squash in butter and the apples in brown sugar, boiled the almost-soft butternut squash in some chicken broth and half-&-half while the hot apples sat in a couple cups of orange juice, and finally pureed the whole dang thang. It was already tasty, but the seasoning had yet to be added!

And this is where I learned of the LIES!!!! As I taste tested, adding a bit of salt and some left over butter from the butternut squash pan, I pulled out my brain (iPhone) to see what parts of my tongue were wanting for stimulation. I definitely nailed the sweet/sour balance by adding more broth and butter to tone down the sweetness - but I wasn't quite sure what my tongue (between the edges and the center) wanted. SO I looked up a taste map!

Much to my dismay, the image I chose came with the following article from LiveScience explaining the myth of the taste map. Christopher Wanjek, the columnist and author of Bad Medicine, explains that basically the taste map has persisted because no one has taken the time to really refute it. The map was developed based on some loose and subjective data (D.P. Hanig, 1901) and then arranged into graphs (Edwin Boring, 2942) that translated to the map (Virginia Collings, 1974) decades after the initial study. But apparently (and, I must admit, somewhat obviously), the whole tongue and other parts of the mouth can taste every flavor.

The article didn't really give much information concerning how taste actually works or present any alternative maps or interpretations of how taste is process, but I suppose that isn't really the its point... if you want real information on the debunking and exploration of tastes, check out this article by Cathy Pelletier.

So how did that effect my soup?
I basically decided I didn't care and tried to forget the information I read. I knew that even though the map is outdated and inaccurate, I was still trying to stimulate that certain part of my mouth, right around the salty/sour area. I pulled out all the complimentary spices I could think of and added them in different quantities to test bowls of the soup base I set aside. Like a good scientist (maybe), I repeated my taste testing until finally I had my solution: a dash more of salt and a buncha ginger. YUM! The completion of my make-shift recipe left my whole mouth tingling with delight.

Still, my mind is reeling a bit from the news of this faulty map. Would you judge me harshly for saying it feels a little like when they said "Pluto's not a planet"?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Chinese 5-Spice Winter Squash Pie

In the interest of the book I have been cooking from, Pie, I will not post the recipe in it entirety. But an image of the book's page of ingredients for the Chinese Five-Spice Winter Squash Pie can be seen here; below is a brief description and notes on my own experience making it.

Ever since our trip to Avila Barn, I have been pondering on squash. I have yet to show-off my crazy "winged" squash, but I overheard some ladies talking about the fact that all squash can be eaten. This brought to mind the mistake I made last year of cooking a decorative pumpkin from Casey's farm (awesome!); despite its green skin and whitish innards, it turned out to be the best pumpkin soup I ever made. While listening to the women, I wondered what wonders could be made with the zillions of squash before me and, sure enough.... there is a magical pie!

The Chinese Five-Spice Winter Squash Pie was a little bit more involved than the Apple Cheddar Cheese Pie. It required a total of 2.5 hours of preparation (most of which was done during the cooking time or food processor) and a handful of more ingredients, but all in all it was not terribly complicated.

I did, however, have to learn about (and brave) delicata squash. This variety of winter squash is rather ugly in the humble opinion of Sarah I and I. It's yellowy-greeny and plastic looking. It just doesn't come across as something good to eat - but if you submitted to this superficial assessment, you would be sorely missing out! After performing the first step of the pie recipe (cooking the squash for 50 minutes), it was clear that the wonderful sweet-potato-like smell filling the house was, in fact, not coming from the butternut squash the recipe called for, but the delicata! Thusly, it is actually known as "the sweet potato squash" for this familiar aroma and taste. The squash was not only more manageable to cut and deseed, it had a great smooth texture and sweet, woody or nutty flavor. This is probably because it is far less dense and stringy than most squash. This latter fact is likely why it fell into obscurity until fairly recently since its introduction in the 1920s - the thin skin and creamy flesh doesn't transport terribly well.
(More on winter squash!)

As I said before, I would like to encourage looking into the book, Pie, so I will only summarize the recipe; however, I am quickly learning that pie-making consists of four, usually very simple, steps:
(0)Prepare the crust)
1) Cook the filling
2) Puree/chop up the filling
3) place it in the pie crust
4) Bake

Essentially, this pie required me to simply bake the squash at 50 min, puree it with all the other ingredients, and bake for another 50 min!

Butternut SquashDelicata Squash

I might give up my pumpkin pie preference in favor of delicata. I can't wait to try it in a soup!

One very helpful tip I learned from Pie was that only a very shallow bed of water is required for the dish in which the squash are being cooked - putting the right amount of water will keep the squash dense and make a more creamy puree than a lot of water, which will get absorbed during the long cooking process.

Also, I made an almost vegan/vegetarian version (I still used eggs) for my father-in-law and sister-in-law (one has a wheat allergy and both avoid dairy). I replaced the flour with rice flour (often the preferred gluten-free pastry alternative) I used almond milk in lieu of the half-and-half; but since it is so much thinner I added an extra two table spoons of rice flour. I got a nearly identical consistency! But the flavor was a bit off. The rice flour also had a distinct flavor that I recalled being present in anything I've cooked with rice flour. I might try 1/4 c of tapioca instead. I think next time around, I would want to play more on the almond tones that definitely compliment the nutty delicata flavor, too - perhaps by adding an extra tsp or two of nutmeg and then roasting some almond slivers and garnishing the top with them!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I learned that foil is a very useful crafting tool.

I think foil is a lot like duct tape: cheap, all purpose, and probably grossly overused when it comes to amateur crafting (I used foil in EVERY diorama I ever made. Including the tiny reproduction Fort Ross which featured weapons fashioned from toothpicks covered tin foil). I also recall my old art professor scoffing at a piece I made using predominantly foil... he also hated duct tape.

In any case, it turns out this stuff can save you a lotta money & headaches when properly applied to projects. For example, instead of using muslin or some scrap fabric - which can always be re-appropriated to something else - I used foil to hold the shape of the thing I was creating a pattern for (including my torso) and cut it (not with my fabric scissors!!) where I guessed I would want the seams. I also used it to take the shape of the inside of the little treasure boxes the pocket sea creatures come in. It's the easiest way a right-brained like me could think to translate something three-dimensional to two-dimensions.

Foil is also great for Halloween costumes.

Today, however, when I frustratingly failed at my third makeshift row marker, I discovered that little candy foils (like the kind on Kisses) can also be re-appropriated by being twisted into strands used for marking rows! Oh how I love to give things, like wrappers, a second life:

(oh and what is this picture of you ask? It's going to be a crocheted VAMPIRE SQUID!! available this weekend at my shop :D )

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I love Adam Wallacavage.

I might have a small obsession with tentacles...

Last night I opened my very own Etsy store because, aside from "The Sheean Compound" being in desperate need of rent for next month in lieu of Matt's work-prohibitive appendectomy and while we wait on a long-delayed job to start *breath*, I found the perfect industrious translation to my love of handy work AND the creepy-crawlies of the ocean! Just before Petra was born, I took up crocheting. I found a simple pattern for left-over-yarn octopi and modified the pattern to create the bulbous-headed silhouette I wanted. It occurred to me that such modifications weren't so hard to do and, before I knew it, I had a pretty cute lookin' squid on my hands -err, belly - too!

But anyway, check out the store and see the pocket-sized cephalopods, some foot-tall sea creature toys and, the ever-so-popular, 100% organic cotton jellyfish.

As I was saying...

I have a small obsession with tentacles.

Adam Wallacavage does, too. But his obsession manifests itself in more than just Haunted-Mansion-quirkiness, there is a hint of Winchester-Mystery-House aesthetic his practical, but whimsical, pieces of art.

At first glance, these chandeliers looks like any 19th-20th century appropriation of European romantic opulence in lighting; but a closer look (or a crazy colored wall) will draw your eye to the starfish, shells, and suction cups that house the glass-blown lightbulbs. If that doesn't catch your attention, the crazy & beautiful shadows the light fixtures cast, definitely will!

If ever I move beyond crocheting cephalopods, I would surely love to take on the challenge of sculpting the organic lines of the invertebrates of the deep into functional and touchable art.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cheddar Cheese Apple Pie

My first pie of the week was a success! A grand one, if I do say so myself.

While we were in Paso Robles, CA last weekend, I had the opportunity to visit Avila Barn & Gopher Glen. The former was where I got a 10 lb bag of apples straight from the farm and it was at Gopher Glen I found the most amazing book simply called Pie - "300 tried and true recipes for delicious homemade pie" by Ken Haedrich - everything you could ever need or want to know about baking this delicious pastry!

To herald in fall and in conjunction with the scores of apples we returned home with I decided to surprise Matt by christening my Pie of the Week project with the best apple pie idea found in the entire apple pie portion of the book (yes, a section with over 150 pages dedicated to just apple pie):

"Apple Pie with Cheddar Cracker Crust!"

As Haedrich points out at the preface of this section, cheddar cheese and apples have been a longstanding tradition in the U.S., particularly in New England and - I might add - in kindergarten and preschool classrooms everywhere.

I want to encourage you to buy (or borrow from the library, like me!) the book, so here is just the sum of the recipe with my notes.



6 cups peeled, cored, and thinly sliced apples
1/4 cup of sugar
another 1/4 of sugar for later
big pinch of salt
2 Tbsp of lemon juice
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch

cheddar cracker topping:
2 1/2 Cheez-it crackers (white cheddar is the best!)
1/4 cups of cold. unsalted butter cut into 8-12 pieces
3/4 cup of finely shredded sharp white cheddar cheese*
*I used Trader Joe's Dublin Irish white cheddar and added extra, super-thin 1/2 inch wide strips to make a lattice


1) prepare the crust (duh.) & preheat the oven to 400 F degrees
2) mix the apples, the first 1/4 of sugar, salt, lemon juice and lemon zest in a bowl and set aside to juice
3) mix together the cornstarch, the other 1/4 cup sugar and add to the apples when they are done juicing
4) pour into the pie crust and flatten with your hand
5) place in the oven for 30 min at 400 F degrees
6) after 30 minutes, change the temp to 375 F degrees and bake for another 10 minutes

7) while the pie is baking, prepare the crust by pulsing all the ingredients in a food processor (except lattice strips) - making sure they clump more or less evenly

8) after the pie has baked for a total of 40 min, remove the pie, add the crust, and return to oven for 20 more minutes, or until the crust begins to brown on top

*9) add the lattice cheddar strips in the last 5 minutes so that they melt, but are not brown (if they are too thick or too brown, they will not be as clearly visible on the crackers and also very difficult to cut at room temperature - which is the preferred way to serve!)

I think next time, instead of using white cheddar for the lattice, I'll stick with good old super sharp orange cheddar! I haven't baked with it, so we'll just have to see. An alternative might be to use regular Cheez-its and the white cheddar the recipe calls for. Next time...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I visited Avila Barn & Gopher Glen

On Monday, my mother-in-law, Sarah, and my sister-in-law-in-law (who is wife of my brother-in-law & mother of my nephew, Isaac, who is 11 days older and twice as big as Petra!) went on an adventure to Avila Beach, which is not too far from San Luis Obispo.

The intent was for the Los Angeles daughter-in-law (me) to get some much needed fresh, sea air with a stop over at Gopher Glen to pick up some apples for Sarah I (Yiayia to Petra). But Sarah II (aunt to Petra) and myself have become very fond of homemaking since becoming mothers - particularly the part that revolves around food:
As Proto Yiayia ("first/great-grandmother" to Petra) says
"Greeks don't eat until they're full, they eat until their tired" and "Now you have a Yiayia. You're Greek."
And so we also ventured to Avila Valley Barn.

Oh what treasures of food and kitchen we found there! The shelves of each place were stalked
with all kinds of jams, jellies, and spreads while each table held rows and rows, boxes and boxes or fresh-from-the-farm veggies and fruits. There was honey from apple orchard! Fresh apple sauce! Apple butter! Apple fillings! Fresh apple pies! Apple turnovers! Apple Cider ice cream! And did I mention the apples? OH THE APPLES!
I made out with merely a sample of each...

Not only was the farm a farm complete with hay bale rides to their pumpkin patch, it also had a "saloon" with jars and jars of candy and buckets of fresh ice cream. At each end of the complex were stores with old-timey toys, kitchen goodies (including the most incredible
Honey-comb themed tea set), and busy bakers and roasters.

For those of us who like to touch our food, tend to the soil and wonder at its creation, Avila Barn is a truly magical place.

Below are some enticing and panoramic photos of our adventure -
(click to large panoramas)

Avila Valley Barn:

Gopher Glen:

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