Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pumpkin Pie, what does it take? Pt. II (a.k.a. Epic Failure)

Did I eat this for breakfast this morning?
Of course I did. I also had another piece right after it.
Was it delicious?
Um, well it had hints of what a pumpkin pie should taste like.
Am I embarrassed that I failed on so many fronts of the pumpkin pie making process.
Yes, yes I am.

Let me just come out and say that I think I am a fairly good baker. I'm not going to win any awards, or anything, but I can whip up sugars, fats, and starches into a side of something you would be happy to have with your coffee. What I have never been able to master to a sufficient level, however, is a good pie crust. I've been making them for years and years, and yet, there is something about the simplest of recipes that I cannot master. I was determined that for this pumpkin pie, I would finally bake a pie crust even Midwestern grandmothers would be proud to claim as their own.

Except, this happened...

What the what? That is my "pie" seconds before it is supposed to go into the oven. Do you see my sad, shriveled crust? Do you see the weird, white foam on top of the filling? Do you see my look conveying disappointment, disbelief, and utter uncertainty? I'm not sure I've made a pie this dreadful since I was a kid.
For this recipe I perused my many online haunts, read through some of my cookbooks, and on a whim consulted Incidentally, I have lost much of my faith in that website, and am not sure I'll be able to visit it again for several months. But I will get to that in a moment.
In the end, I decided to partially bake the pie shell before adding the filling. Why? Because all these "experts" told me to. I've always just followed the back of my Libby's can for pumpkin pie, because I'm lazy like that, but this time I just had to get all fancy with my fancy fresh puree and my fancy European butter.
Well, that decision really bit me in the ass, most likely because I have neither pie weights nor a jar of pennies. In order for your crust not to puff up and then collapse into your beautiful pie plate (thanks for the earthenware, Mom and Dad!), you have to weight it down. The experts at told me I could use dried beans or rice to do the deed. And since we all know where this post is going, we all know that those experts at the website can suck it, because they were wrong. After rolling out the dough into almost a perfect circle, placing it in the pie plate, refrigerating and then freezing the plate, I set several cups of rice on top of the now aluminum covered pie shell. Twenty-five minutes later, I peeked in to check on the crust and uncover it for the last five minutes to get that beautiful golden color, and I see the horror of a ruined, wrinkly pie shell underneath all that rice.
There I was on the verge of tears because the crust was kind of ruined, and I didn't have enough time to make another one. So, I decided to roll with it and hope for the best, knowing that it wouldn't be the most delicious crust I've ever made. The only other problem with the pie was the filling.
Now, I swear that I followed the The New Best Recipes directions closely. I loved that the recipe called for heavy cream instead of evaporated milk, which I now know is a suitable substitute. One complaint I have about the book's writers is their obsession with using the food processor. I love my processor, but do I really need it to whip my eggs? Also, smarty-pants cooks over at America's Test Kitchen, don't you know that there is a liquid fill line on a food processor and when you add 2 1/3 c. of milk products to 16 oz. pumpkin, your going to have too much gooey pumpkin-ness for a standard Cuisinart? This was the idea going through my mind as I slowly filled my machine with the eggs and then the pumpkin mixture.
After all that, I ended up with a white foam on top of the pie filling. I skimmed most of it off, but the bit that remained ended up burning pretty badly. The crust is pretty crunchy on top and soggy on the bottom, but it will do. I'm going to say that it was not a great success. I will, obviously, need to redeem myself as a baker, most likely when Christmas cookie time comes around. Until then, I will keep on eating my pie, because I can't let all that work go to waste.

Friday, November 27, 2009

An ode

Before I start writing about living in Nigeria or about the many variations of stew-with-fish that I eat, I need to pay my respects to the thing that makes it all possible: the humble Pepto-Bismol tablet. I love those little pink chewables like they were ice-cold Coke on a blazing hot day (that is to say, a lot). Tummy feeling a little funny? Chew two tablets! Going on a trip where the toilet will be a ditch (with a few curious onlookers)? Chew two tablets! Just drank a questionable cup of water? Chew two tablets! Well . . . you’ll still have to pay the price for that mistake, but the tablets will lessen the blow.

I haven’t always been so committed to the Pepto-Bismol. I used to scoff at the wimps who would get a panicked look and pop a couple of tablets at the mere mention of a dinner of pepper soup. Then one hot August afternoon in Accra, Ghana, I encountered an innocent-looking spring roll in the cafĂ© at Busy Internet. It laid me flat for the next three days and I when I finally dragged myself out of bed again, I had been converted to the way of the Pepto tab. The soothing pink color, the soft powdery texture, the chalky-sweet taste: all of these things signal comfort to me, a chewable insurance policy against the great unknown. And since I’ll happily eat anything put before me, that is a lot of unknowing! With a packet of pink tablets in my pocket, here’s to the everyday adventures of living abroad . . .

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pumpkin Pie, what does it take? Pt. I

Thursday is Thanksgiving, and there is not a turkey or a paper, pilgrim hat in sight around here. Not a surprise, since my favorite American holiday isn't celebrated outside the U.S. Last year I had a pretty miserable turkey day, redeemed only by a good pot of chili and seasonal beer. While there is no cranberry sauce or stuffing in the picture for this year, there will be, come hell or high water...a pumpkin pie.
I've been told by my mother, cookbooks, and my favorite cooking bloggers that making your own pumpkin puree is absolutely more effort than it's worth. That is why I brought back about eight cans of Libby's last year before I left the States. My stash is now gone, and if I want to have a little piece of deliciousness with a side of whipped cream this week, I am going to need to make a little more effort than usual. Thus begins my foray into pumpkin pie making, Amsterdam style:

Step 1: Find adorable pumpkin at your local Moroccan supermarket.

I have no idea what kind it is, but it was small, giving it a better chance of being sweet, and it was my only choice.

Step 2: Take said pumpkin home, scoop out the innards, cut it into pieces, place pieces on a cookie sheet, and set in the oven for an hour.

Step 3: Let pieces cool. After a few hours, peel skin from the softened insides and dump into a bowl.

Step 4: After failing to mash the pieces into a smooth consistency with a fork, pull out your trusty hand blender and crank it up to the highest setting for about five minutes. The result will be a bright, orange substance that looks somewhat like cans of puree I so easily used to purchase at the store.

It's now sitting in my freezer waiting to be made into a pie later this week. Stay tuned for part II, when I figure out what a suitable substitute for evaporated milk is.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

While visions of Pizza dance in my head . . .

Talking, via Skype, this morning:

Regan: I have to go back to the Immigration office this afternoon to try and pick up my visa.

Diana: Did you say pizza?

Regan: No. Visa.

Diana: Oh, because pizza sounds really good.

Regan: Yeah it does.

And now I've spent the entire day dreaming about cheesy, gooey, crispy pizza. And where am I going to get that, Diana? Hmmm?!

Welcome to the our blog!

Regan and I (Diana) met a few years ago when we were just diving into our individual studies in our history graduate program. I think probably my initial response upon hearing that Regan is from Kansas was pure joy at meeting another Midwesterner so far from home. Although Indiana is a long way from Kansas, it sometimes felt like it was the next town over when compared to southern California. Thus began our friendship, supported by our mutual love of, among other things: Anne of Green Gables, HGTV, Bobatime smoothies, our dissertation topics (sometimes!), taco salads, Dr. Pepper, running, the dream of raising chickens and goats if we didn’t live in apartments in big cities, and—especially for the sake of this blog—making delicious food.

So when I moved to Amsterdam more than a year ago to complete my dissertation research and marry my most wonderful Dutch boyfriend, we started plotting ways to stay in touch. Regan has been to visit Amsterdam, and I have been back to L.A. We’ve e-mailed and talked on Skype and have missed each other. In October, Regan left for Nigeria to conduct her dissertation research, and so now here we both are, living abroad and immersing ourselves in foreign cultures.

I have read that some of the hardest things to adjust to when living in a different country revolve around food, whether it be shopping for ingredients, learning different methods of cooking, or even just consuming different foods. That has certainly been true for the two of us, judging by the number of conversations we’ve had about Dutch and West African cuisines. That is exactly what this blog is about. It’s our conversation with each other about cooking and culture. We’re just two Midwestern girls having some fun in the kitchen.