Monday, August 31, 2009

40 pounds of peaches canned in a day

Why, oh why, did Mom never teach me how to can? I remember eating jars and jars of canned peaches and pears when I was growing up, but I can't remember ever seeing Mom actually doing it -- although I do remember her later saying she would never do it again.

I think I'm going to get her to start up again. After all, I will need a partner to get started after taking a daylong lesson over the weekend at my friend Leslie's house. Plus, Mom lives closer to the rural parts of the county where you can actually come out ahead when you can, unlike us city folk who can end up spending an arm and a leg to "save money" on canning.

So what did we can? Forty pounds of peaches and 5 pounds of green beans!!! I suppose to people who actually can regularly, that's nothin'. Our instructor, a mutual friend with whom Leslie once worked and I went to college, said she normally cans 100 pounds in a day. And she has two children. And I have no excuses! Well, I still have yet to buy the equipment, but I'm hoping Costco will have it all in a big package in honor of the season the next time I go. Or maybe I'll just hit up some estate sales or look on Craigslist.

The class was wonderful, though. Laura and our other instructor, Kathy, gathered herbs in bulk (the only way to buy, apparently!) for us to use as we desired in our peaches and pickled green beans. I used a piece of vanilla bean, a couple of cardamon pods and a cinnamon stick in my peaches; and I got two jars of green beans: a spicy one with probably too many hot peppers, basil and garlic; and one to share with my friend Nicole, who can't handle spicy food, with just dill and garlic. Can't open them for at least a month, so if you're lucky, I'll come back with a full report.

I finally tried the peach jam today on an English muffin and it was absolutely heavenly. Looks like Leslie is responsible for yet another hobby in my overhobbified life!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Battle of the peach pies

Now this was the Peach Pie I wanted to make for Mom's birthday party. Isn't it beautiful? I know, I should have taken a shot of it after it was actually baked, but I couldn't find the right lighting (it's the only excuse I can think of!).

So here's the saga. I found this great recipe that ran in the Seattle P-I three years ago that I always wanted to make, and after Nicole served me some delicious peach pie last week, I knew I had to finally give it a whirl.

But unfortunately, I went to the local Asian store, HT Oaktree Market, for my supplies. Technically it's an "ethnic" store, which I should be the first to admit since I went there to buy the usual: Mexican food. Well, sometimes I get Asian food there, too! But no, usually it's Mexican food fixins.

Anyway, since Stephen doesn't have a grill, we decided tacos would be nice and easy for the 13 people (including three, count 'em, three teenage girls) that would be eating at his house. I made another P-I recipe: Mexican Pulled Pork, and he sauteed some spiced-up chicken with garlic and onions to go with all the expected fare: cole slaw (with a little chipotle), a few homemade salsas from Stephen (we'll have to ask him for the recipes), tomatoes, cheese, sour cream, lettuce, refried beans, Mai Ling's Guacamole (ask nicely and maybe I'll share) that actually was devoured before the tacos were served, a billion different kinds of tortillas, and I'm sure I'm forgetting a few special details. Alas we hadn't considered that maybe the Asian side of the family wasn't very familiar with tacos ... but hey, let's be honest, some of the stuff I eat at their house I'm pretty unfamiliar with, too!

Needless to say, there were some leftovers. But there wasn't any leftover pie, and talk about an ugly pie. Why, you ask?

Well, I know I should make my own pie crust, but somebody's got to keep the Pillsbury Dough Boy alive. So I sought him out at the HT Mart, but all I could find were crappy frozen crusts. Nor could I find the vanilla bean needed for Hsiao-Ching Chou's recipe. So I thawed out my frozen crusts and searched my unphotographic memory for the recipe Nicole had used when I was at her house: six peaches, 1/3 c. flour, 2/3 c. sugar and 1/4 t. cinnamon. Turned out fabulous ... but ugly. Using a frozen crust, no matter how thawed out it is, simply cannot look good on top of a pie.

Obviously, it didn't matter to the eaters, so I shouldn't care, but I just had to prove that I could make it pretty.

So later in the week, I got my standby Pillsbury refrigerated crusts and set out to make this beaut. Okay, here's the disclaimer. It was totally soupy!!! I think maybe the peaches were too ripe, if that's possible. Or maybe I didn't bake it long enough? Or maybe the beautiful crust is to blame, because unlike the first crust that expelled half the peaches' juices, this one kept 'em all in. Soupy, sure, but dang, did it taste good. Here's the P-I's recipe, from "The Baker's Dozen Cookbook":

Vanilla Peach Pie
3/4 c. packed light or dark brown sugar
3 T. all-purpose flour (I wouldn't hold it against you if you added a little more, just in case!)
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1-inch piece vanilla bean, split
7 ripe medium peaches, peeled pitted and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 T. fresh lemon juice
Butter Pie Dough or Cream Cheese Pie Dough (or Pillsbury!!!)
1 T. unsalted butter

In a medium bowl, mix the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt. Using the tip of a knife, scrape out the tiny seeds from the vanilla bean and add to the mixture. The pod can be saved for another purpose or discarded. Add the peaches and lemon juice and toss.

Fit the dough into a 9-inch pie pan. Fill the shell with the peach mixture and dot with butter. Trim the overhanging dough to a 1/2-inch overhang. Center the remaining dough over the filling. Fold the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust and pinch together firmly to seal. Crimp the dough. Cut a few slits in the top crust to allow the steam to escape. Place the pie on a baking sheet and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, position a rack in the bottom third of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees.

Bake the pie for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and continue baking until the crust is golden brown and the peaches are tender when pierced through a slit with the tip of a knife, 50 minutes to 1 hour.

Cool 1-2 hours before cutting.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Late night eating in the ID

And we thought we were being so clever by taking the bus to the Sounders vs. Barcelona game on Wednesday. Ha!

Oh, it probably was better than trying to drive through the mayhem, but we sure as heck didn’t want to stand in line at the bus stop for an hour. Nor did we want to struggle with the drunks in Pioneer Square. So we instead headed to the International District to see if anything was open where we could grab a bite to eat.

If only we'd paid a little closer attention. Just that weekend The Seattle Weekly had published an article about the "Ragin' Asian" scene in Seattle that keeps ID restaurants open until as late as 3:30 a.m. Unbeknownst to us, we could have gone to any number of restaurants within minutes of the ID bus station, but luckily the place we found turned out to be a real gem.

What led us there was a sign on King Street that Bryan thought said Noodles, so we walked toward it and saw the sign actually said Models. No worries, though, because right next to it was a cafe that really did say noodles and it had people in it, so we ended up at the Homestyle Hong Kong Cafe.

I was not disappointed. The menu was full of congee and different kinds of noodles and other dishes. But I saw congee and there was no turning back. There was a moment when I was wondering if it was appropriate to order congee at night, since it's typically something Mom serves in the morning, but then I saw "real" Asians ordering it so I figured I was good to go!

When the congee, which I ordered with preserved duck eggs and pork, arrived I was so excited it didn't cross my mind that since the congee was sizzling, the stone pot it was in was probably even hotter. Um, ouch. So watch out for the bowl, but do get the congee if rice cooked into mush sounds like something you would like.

My former Seattle P-I co-worker, Hsiao-Ching Chou, who has gone on to do much bigger and better things in the foodie world, includes some instructions on making congee here, but stay tuned for Mom's. She told me once how she makes it and it made my head spin. It's supposed to be a simple meal, but of course Mom turns in into a gourmet masterpiece. And people wonder why I fear cooking Chinese food!

I do think I'm going to try to bring Mom to the Homestyle Hong Kong Cafe someday, even though she hates eating out. Let somebody else make the congee for once!