Category Archives: Mojo Monster

Where we ate: November 2016 edition

We just returned from a trip back to the States.  We spend two weeks in Minnesota sandwiched around a weekend in Iowa, then a week in San Francisco split between staying in the Union Square area, Nob Hill, and San Carlos down the peninsula.

In Minnesota, we went to some of our favorite places and some new places that have opened since we left.  In San Francisco, I was too tired to really hunt for good food, so we ate what was convenient and/or recommended by our friends, but it was all tasty in the end.

In Minnesota and Iowa:

In San Francisco:

I think that’s everything.  It was a crazy trip.  I’m exhausted and happy to be back in Canberra.  For not particularly focusing much on food, I’d say we had a pretty killer food trip.  AND to finish the trip off perfectly, my Asian vegetarian meals on our United flight from SFO to SYD were excellent (much better than the Asian vegetarian meals I got on our outbound flight from SYD to SFO, weird).

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Savory Apple Onion Tarts

The Kingfield Farmer’s Market apple bake-off was this past Sunday, and I almost didn’t do it.  Last year, my natural entry was apple pie, and I am really happy how that turned out.  This year though, I wasn’t sure about entering because I wasn’t sure what to make.  All I knew as of two weeks ago was that I definitely didn’t want to do apple pie again.  Something about growth and change and taking risks in life.  But that meant I need another inspiring apple recipe.

After research, I found three potentially exciting apple recipes for apple sage cake, huguenot torte, and apple onion tarts and tested each of them.  The apple sage cake was heavy on baking soda which made it seem salty and more like a soda bread than a sweet cake but was good with whipped cream.  The recipe would need some work and glaze or frosting or something to make it really special.  Sage is a hard herb to pair with sweet flavors, but it had potential.  The huguenot torte was delicious.  I made it with apple pieces and toasted pecans and served it with whipped cream.  I wanted to make it for the bake-off but I wasn’t sure about its mass appeal and the torte really needed the whipped cream to make it a standout.  I will definitely make it again and probably add twice as much apples and pecans, possibly try it gluten-free (so much potential!), but the logistics of serving it at the market without whipped cream deterred me.

So that left the apple onion tarts.  Continue reading

Mid Summer Pie Tour

I am pleased to announce that my Mid Summer Pie Tour was substantially more satisfying than my Early Summer Pie Tour. The Mid Summer Pie Tour included the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop, Maiden Rock, WI; the Stockholm Pie Company, Stockholm, WI; the Homemade Cafe, Pepin, WI; and Rye Deli, Minneapolis, MN.

It all started when I agreed to go see Pretty Boy race at his favorite track: Spring Creek MX Park in Millville, MN.  I was ecstatically surprised to realize that I could alter my route to Millville and take the Wisconsin section of the Great River Road (WI-35) and only add 15 more miles to the trip.  Why the Wisconsin section of the Great River Road?  Because some of the best pie comes from that area.  The first three locations I visited on my pie tour are all within 15 miles of each other along WI-35 on the eastern shore of Lake Pepin.  Professor Peaches agreed to accompany me both on my ambitious pie tour and to the motocross track even though she isn’t supposed to eat pie nor is she explicitly a fan of motocross.  But she likes Pretty Boy and food adventures, so graciously agreed to be my driving companion and attempt to be the restraining voice of reason.

My plan was to stop at the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop and then Stockholm Pie Company on the way to the track.  On my previous trip to the Stockholm Pie Company, the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop had been closed and I’ve been anxious to go back and try it since.  I was also excited to try someplace new even if they are better know for general baked treats instead of just pie.  We arrived a little before 9 am on a beautiful summer day after a lovely drive out of the cities.  In front of the bakery, there was a little old lady under an umbrella selling canned pickles and preserves on the sidewalk.  Across the street was a cute shop called Culture Cloth, which was cute enough to attract our attention and ambiguous enough in what they actually sold to spark our curiosity.  I put aside hunger and excitement for the bakery to cross the street and check out Culture Cloth.  Turns out they weren’t open yet, but the shop keeper was inside and kindly let us in early to take a look around.  They sold a really cool collection of textiles, jewelry, and housewares made by “indigenous artists” that were mostly out of my price range, but only by a small enough amount to keep them tempting.

At the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop, Professor Peaches order a single slice of raspberry sour cream pie to bring home.  I, on the other hand, was ready to really try out the place and do some damage.  I bought a whole 3 berry pie, a slice of blueberry buttermilk pie, a apple cinnamon muffin, a blueberry danish so fresh out of the oven I had to wait for the danishes to cool and be glazed before I could take one, and a loaf of “Bird Seed” bread.  I ate half the danish and a few bites of the blueberry buttermilk pie in the car before we even left the bakeshop, and my initial assessment was quite favorable.  The danish pastry was flake-y and crisp but still tender with a strong buttery flavor that stood up well next to the blueberry filling and apricot glaze.  The filling and glaze each were distinct, having an independent flavor, fruity but not too sweet.  I saved the second half for Pretty Boy who didn’t end up eating it until much later that night when the crispiness had started to lean towards toughness and the blueberry filling had thickened substantially, but it was still a solid pastry.  I really liked my initial few bites of the blueberry buttermilk pie and resolved to also put it aside until later when I could really do it justice.

Next stop was the Stockholm Pie Company, bustling with people and an overwhelming number of pie options.  After an embarrassing amount of indecision and deliberation, I settled on a piece of mushroom spinach quiche with sliced apples, as well as a slice of blackberry apple pie and a slice of triple chocolate pecan pie.  The pecan pie was mostly for Pretty Boy and to have a least one custard pie in the tour.  The quiche was heated in the microwave (same as the savory pies I tried there last year and which I continue to disapprove of) and I ate half of it in the car before we pulled out.  The egg custard, mushrooms, and spinach were all perfectly cooked and balanced.  The custard was creamy but firm and not runny, dotted liberally with chew chunks of mushrooms and ribbons of spinach.  The crust was undercooked for my preference which was exasperated by the reheating making it a little insubstantial, but the flavor was still top notch.

Back on the road, I was ready to continue on to the track when we came upon the next cute little town of Pepin, WI and the Homemade Cafe.  The Homemade Cafe has received a lot of press for their good food as well as their pie, a fair amount of which I’ve read.  And I exclaimed as much as we drove by.  All it took was Professor Peaches asking, “Do you want to stop?” and I was turning around and pulling into the Homemade Cafe parking lot.  They were busy and it took a bit of waiting at the counter to get pie and then pay but I was so happy we stopped.  I got a slice of peach black cap pie and a slice of rhubarb custard.

After that, I was satisfied I had bought enough pie and we made it to the track.  It was a super fun day of being with Pretty Boy, teaching Professor Peaches about the world of motocross, and watching Pretty Boy get his first “hole shots” at Spring Creek in both the 250A class motos.  I returned home long before Pretty Boy and unloaded my car-full of baked goods and proceeded to hover over the kitchen table rather impatiently, waiting for Pretty Boy to get home so we could try the rest of the pies together.

When he got home, we started with the Smiling Pelican offerings.  The blueberry buttermilk lemon pie had a bottom crust, lemon buttermilk custard baked on top, a layer of blueberry jam then a layer of fresh blueberries on top.  The buttermilk lemon filling was delicious, smooth and creamy with a lusciously rich, tangy and lemon-y flavor.  The fresh fruit and jam on top went with the custard well but the custard was really the dominant taste in the pie. The crust was hard to judge, mostly nondescript on the bottom, edge had good crunch but not enough flavor to stand up next to the rest of the flavorful pie.

The 3 berry pie had a streusel top, which I generally think of as the easy way out when it comes to pie crust, but the streusel was quite crunchy which I really liked and is about the only way to redeem streusel topping in the eyes of this crusty-edge lover.  The berry filling was amazing, strong berry flavor, good adhesive but not gloopy texture; the bottom crust was again rather nondescript but the edge was nicely crunchy with a crisp flaky texture though it could have used a stronger pastry flavor.  This was our favorite pie.

Then on to the Stockholm Pie Company pies.  The blackberry apple pie filling was one of the best (and only one of two pies I purchased with both a full top and bottom pastry crust) – good flavor, the fruit was really well showcased, well spiced with a perfect amount of sweetness and nice texture. I had high crust hopes since Stockholm Pie Company has provided me with the best pie I’ve ever bought, but the crust seemed undercooked this time, though that still didn’t stop it from being super flaky.  The flakes were super soft so the crust almost melted in the mouth, and the amount of crust to filling ratio was good resulting in the crust’s pastry flavor actually contributing to the flavor of each bite.

Triple chocolate pecan, also from the Stockholm Pie Company was not my usual choice, but the tour needed a little variety.  Triple chocolate pecan sounded like it was going to be just too complicated a mix of flavors for me but perfect for Pretty Boy.  The complicated sounding flavor mix was even further convoluted by what looked like a layer of slivered almonds on top, but after trying it, I was pleasantly surprised.  The filling was super rich, super satisfying level of dessert sweetness, super chocolate-ly, but did not have any unpleasant tooth stickiness.  The nuts in the filling lead to a nice texture contrast and were well dispersed, top layer of filling even had a little caramelized crunch to it which helped make up for the also slightly underdone crust.  The two pies from Stockholm Pie Company came in a close second for our favorites.

And the Homemade Cafe offerings.  Of the three pies in the case, I decided on the peach black cap pie right away, then had to debate between the rhubarb custard and the cherry rhubarb.  The custard won out because it added to the day’s variety even though I probably would have preferred the cherry rhubarb filling.  The peach black cap (the other double crust pie) had a top crust heavily sprinkled with large granule sugar, which I don’t consider full cheating, but starting down the cheater crust road because it creates artificial crunch and flavor on the top crust which I believe should come from the crust itself.  The filling had a lot of fruit flavor and the texture was a little on the thick side but still good.  For being encrusted with sugar, the crust was probably the second best of the day.  It was dark in color, nicely cooked on the edge, and, I must admit, the sugar was fairly well balanced.  The rhubarb custard pie filling was a little strange, almost like the custard didn’t set right and separated a little, and the rhubarb in it was subtle, maybe even a little lacking, but that edge crust was worth it: flake-y, crunchy, and butter-y, that was the best crust of the day!

We tried the non-pie offerings that night as well:  the bird seed bread was lighter in texture than I anticipated, almost like a white bread with seeds, very airy with interesting crunch from “bird seed” additions.  I heard later from Pretty Boy and the Mojo Monster that it made great sandwich bread.  The apple cinnamon muffin was really good.  I loved the texture – enough gluten/stick to make it hold together but still tender, falling apart in nice, big, moist crumbles.  The apple and cinnamon together were on about the same flavor level as the raisins and sugar topping, all balanced together great.

The bird seed bread and the 3 berry pie were the only things to make it to the next day but not much longer.  I probably could have eaten the whole 3 berry pie that first night, it was that good.  And I was pretty satisfied with my Mid Summer Pie Tour.  I concluded that of the offerings: I like the Stockholm Pie Company filling the best; I liked the Homemade Cafe crust the best; and I like the overall selected offerings from the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop the best.  I know that’s kind of a cop-out assessment, but it’s what I thought.

I probably should have called it done after amount of high quality pie, but I just can’t resist!  Bettie Beware and Bearface were drawn to Rye Deli, a frequent haunt of ours, by the debut of their collaboration with Sebastian Joe’s: Rye’s Double Rye Ice Cream.  The ice cream was phenomenal.  Rye whiskey, toasted caraway seeds, orange zest, Sebastian Joe’s vanilla ice cream.  Yum!  I’m also a huge fan of most of the food on Rye’s menu, and a huge fan of all of the bartender, Richard, who never fails to elevate an evening at Rye to a great time.  Especially when he sings.  Unfortunately, I was not a huge fan of the blueberry pie on the menu that night.  We at least ate all the filling, and that’s all I’ll say about that.

It was a good tour with appropriate ups and downs.  And after writing this book about it, I’m already working on the list of places to include in my Late Summer Pie Tour.

Kingfield Farmers Market Veggie Bake-Off

Earlier in the week, Bettie Beware emailed me about the veggie bake-off at the Kingfield Farmers Market this weekend.  Kingfield Farmers Market, in south Minneapolis, holds monthly themed bake-offs in which local bakers are invited to showcase a seasonal ingredient, help raise money for the market, and put their best baked goods up for critical and public judging.  Last year, I entered the apple bake-off.  I hadn’t thought about entering any bake-offs this year until Bettie’s email piqued my interest.  Baked veggies… that could be interest.  I assumed there would be carrot cake or zucchini bread, some variants like that.  And maybe sweet or savory corn bread.  What else?

It was an interesting enough question that I decided to enter but needed a baked item.  I don’t have any special recipes for carrot cake or zucchini bread and I wanted to push the baked-veggie category a bit by making something more unconventional.  I started brainstorming about veggie casseroles, some kind of potato au gratin dish, then I got really excited about the idea of a veggie quiche because it would showcase my pie crust, which lead me to the obvious (and room temperature stable) choice: veggie pasties.

I make pasties rather often, though I usually call them baked sassy pies on the Menu.  I use the same crust as I do for my traditional pies and stuff them with all manner of different sweet and savory fillings.  Its a great way to use leftover vegetables, meat, and scraps of pie crust.  I chose a straightforward mix of vegetables in a curry gravy for the bake-off and am excited to say that I again won both the critic’s choice and public vote.  The other entries were veggie corn bread and zucchini chocolate cake.

It was so much funny, and I was happy to hang out at the market watching people try the bake-off entries with Bettie and Dr. Sam supporting me.  I also wondered over to the frame shop (Frame Ups) across the street from the market and discovered a ridiculously tempting array of local cards, jewelry, yard, and bags.  I am super grateful to the Mojo Monster who watched me almost freak out in the kitchen the morning before the bake-off as I was running late and struggling to figure out how I was going to transport all the pasties to the market.  She offered me many cooling rack options and a ride which prevented all meltdowns and got me to the market only a little late.  Love the market, love pretty things, love produce and other tasty food, love my people!

And here’s the winning recipe (makes six pasties):

Crust:
2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tbsp white sugar
1 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, cubed and chilled (or 1 stick butter and 1/2 cup lard.  I usually use a lard-butter mixture but went with an all-butter crust for the bake-off pasties.  All-butter crust is harder to work with and sometimes does not produce as tender of a crust but benefits from a stronger butter flavor.)
2/3 to 3/4 cup ice water

Place flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor.  Process for three short pulses.  Add butter and process for three long pulses.  Pour in water and process for three medium pulses.  Dough will not come together completely.  That’s ok.  Dump dough and crumbs into a bowl and knead just until almost all of the crumbs are incorporated.  Err on the side of less kneading.  When the dough is refrigerating, it will come together even more.  Form into two disks, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm.  I used Hope Creamery butter for the bake-off.

Filling:
4 tbsp butter (or chicken drippings.  I make my own chicken stock from leftover chicken pieces, bones, and vegetable ends which usually yields a layer of rendered chicken fat on top which make excellent gravy.)
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 large head of garlic, minced
1/2 large white onion, diced
1 medium heat banana pepper or 1/2 spicy banana pepper, minced
1 cup chicken stock (vegetable stock or coconut milk would also work well)
1 tbsp curry powder
salt and pepper
1 cup potatoes, cubed
1 cup kohlrabi, cubed
1 cup carrots, cubed
1/2 cup green bell pepper, diced

1. Make a roux by melting 2 tbsp of fat (I used chicken drippings for the bake-off pasties because I had some in the freezer but I typically use butter) over medium heat.  Whisk the flour into the fat to make a paste and cook the paste for 5-10 minutes until it smells nutty and darkens slightly in color.  Set aside.

2. In a large pan, saute the garlic, onion, and banana pepper in the remaining 2 tbsp of fat until translucent (5 minutes over medium heat).  Increase the heat, add the stock and curry powder, and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat back to medium, add the roux, and stir until well blended.  Cooking for 5-10 minutes until the gravy has thickened.  Salt and pepper to taste.

3. Steam the potatoes, kohlrabi, and carrots in the microwave or a steamer until they are half cooked (they will cook the rest of the way in the oven).  Time will vary depending on the size of your cubes and strength of your microwave.  Steam the bell pepper in a similar manner.  I steamed the potatoes, kohlrabi, and carrots for five minutes in the microwave and the bell pepper for two.  I used a mixture of yellow, red, and purple fingerling potatoes and a mixture or orange, purple, and white carrots for the bake-off.  All the produce I used for the bake-off with the exception of the garlic came from either the Centennial Lakes Farmers Market or Minneapolis Farmers Market.  Combine the steamed vegetables and mix into the gravy and refrigerate.

4. Once completely chilled, divide each dough disk into thirds and press into a ball (six dough balls total).  Roll each ball of dough to about 8-10 inches around and 1/4 inch thick.  Place a scope of cold filling into the center of the dough round and avoid the temptation to over-fill otherwise the dough will stretch and tear (I know.  I am a chronic over-filler.  Over-filled pasties will be tasty enough, but all the gravy may run out while baking or make a mess in the oven).  Fold the dough round in half and seal edges together decoratively with a fork.

5. Bake at 425 degrees in a preheated oven for 25-35 minutes or until desired golden brown, crispiness is achieved.  Cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack and serve warm or cool completely and serve at room temperature.  Yum!

Pronunciation note: a pasty or pasties (pronounced with a long ‘a’ like in ‘bad’) are not the same as pasties (pronounced with an ‘a’ like in ‘paste’) but either makes me smile!  Shimmy, shimmy, shimmy 🙂

Bake Sale

About a month ago, a friend of Betty Deville’s asked me to bake some pies for a house bake/craft sale she was organizing.  She asked a few of her friends to put together some things to sell and an organized a nice little event at her house last weekend. 

I was very tentative about agreeing to do this, because historically, I have been very good at over extending myself and since starting graduate school, I have been very careful not to.  I was also short of funds to finance the ingredients for my baking.  But I do love sharing my treats and promoting Pretty Pies and got offers for a lot of help with ingredients and I just couldn’t say no.  After committing, I decided to make apple and pumpkin pies.  I would bake some and freeze some so people could buy frozen pies if they wanted to take home and eat another time and so I wouldn’t get stuck with way to many pies in the event sales were low.  There was also going to be a “by the slice” sales counter and for that, I would make air force cake and apple and mulberry rhubarb sassy pies.  Ambitious, no?

The week prior to the bake/craft sale, I started ramping up preparatory activities.  I was at an all time low in terms the ingredients I stock up on so I had a lot to do.  I pealed and sliced apples, rendered lard, ground cinnamon sticks, roasted pumpkin, gathered and purchased other ingredients.  I graduated to the 25 lb bag of all purpose flour for this particular adventure among other bulk purchases. 

Then I started cooking.  Every night, I would come home from classes and go straight to the kitchen.  I approached everything very systematically:  I would spend one night preparing ingredients like measuring out lard and cubing butter for crust, then the next night I would make a bunch of batches of pie crust, and then the next night I would roll out all the dough, and then the next night, I would assemble the pies.  It was a busy week in my kitchen.  By the end of the week, I had six frozen apple pies, four frozen pumpkin pies, apple and mulberry rhubarb sassy pie filling, and sassy pie dough. 

I had never frozen pumpkin pie before and there seemed to be a lot of conflicting opinions about it around the interwebs.  Some said freezing a baked pumpkin pie and then thawing it in the refrigerator worked great.  I knew this was a bunch of phoey!  There is no way crust under those conditions would be crusty.  It would be soggy and chewy and unacceptable for a Pretty Pie.  Others said that freezing uncooked pumpkin pie filling wouldn’t work because freezing degrades some properties of the eggs and so when baked, the filling would not set right.  I was more apt to believe that explanation but wanted to try it out myself.  To experiement, I baked an empty crust shell, liberally applied an egg wash to create a moisture barrier between the crust and filling, and froze the baked crust shell.  Once frozen, I mixed up pumpkin pie filling and cooled it as much as I could before it started freezing, and then poured the very cold filling into the frozen crust and froze the assembled unbaked pie.  Once it was fully frozen, I baked the pie.  The filling set up perfectly fine, the crust was nice and crusty, and the bottom was not soggy.  I could tell it had been frozen but the change was small.  It was an acceptable Pretty Pie!

Saturday before the show, I made two air force cakes and baked two apple pies and two pumpkin pies.  Air force cake is a special family recipe than comes from an Italian grandma that I am related to on my Chinese side through marriage.  Grandma Rose was an amazing cook and made many truely unique and different tasty desserts.  Luckily, some of her recipes were written down and passed on to the family.  Air force cake is one of those recipes.  While I have tried to do some research into this type of cake and its origins, I’ve never found anything like it in any cookbooks or online.  The closest way I have come to describe it is like an angel food cake but with egg yokes, and not as sticky.  It is very light and airy and requires a lot of careful attention when making it.  Everytime I make air force cake, I remember the two amazing women, Grandma Rose and Ah Hun (my great auntie), who made this cake for our family and are no longer with us. 

The morning of the bake sale, I fried 12 apple and 12 mulberry rhubarb sassy pies.  I fry my pies in lard in a cast iron skillet over a gas burner with a fry thermometer.  It is probably one of the harder frying setups in terms of controlling the fry temperature and adjusting cooking instructions to accomodate the lower smoking point of lard, but after a summer of practice, I did quite well keeping the temperature constant and frying the pies to a beautiful golden brown, while being completely cooked but not greasy. 

So this is what I brought to the show: two baked apple pies, two baked pumpkin pies, four frozen apple pies, two frozen pumpkin pies, 16 piece of air force cake, 10 apple sassy pies, and 10 mulberry rhubarb sassy pies.  Here is what I sold: two baked apple pies, one baked pumpkin pie, three frozen apple pies, two frozen pumpkin pies, eight pieces of air force cake, and all 20 sassy pies.  I didn’t know how many people were going to show up but a lot of my family came out to support me and helped bolster my sales.  It was great to see everyone and share my tasty treats next to the other treats and crafts that were on sale.  Betty Deville was selling the cutest flower hair piece, Bear Face and Pretty Boy came and ate sassy pies, the Mojo Monster stopped by, and Dr. Sam bought an apple pie.  I love my tribe!

I’m glad I participated.  It was an exhausting week but I definitely came out ahead.  I priced things low enough that they would sell and I could at least comp my intial investment (which they did and I did), but not quite high enough to pay for my time.  Pricing is something I am still fine tuning and this was a great eduational exercise.  I’d like to breath a sigh of relief, slow things down, and get back to studying now that the whole ordeal is over, but I’m apparently not very good at that.  I’ve launched myself into my list of things to cook and have been keeping the kitchen busy on top of my studying.  Coming up are pumpkin pie croissant bread pudding, crunchy vanilla chocolate chip cookies, and bacon cheddar biscuits along with breakfasts and dinners for the Mojo Monster, Pretty Boy, who ever else happens to be around, and me.