25 August 2007

The Problems with Pie

So, I've been purposefully avoiding this post.

The last one was written as my pie was chilling. I was feeling good about it, then.

Well, it turns out, it was merely OK. The meringue was great. I could have beaten the egg whites just a bit stiffer, and I probably loaded too much atop the pie, but overall, it held up, tasted great and had wonderful texture. The custard on the other hand was not so good.

I'm probably selling it a little short. The flavor was wonderful; it was merely a problem with the consistency of the custard. It didn't hold. It was too runny. There was no way to get a perfect wedge of pie. And although it is no surprise, it certainly didn't look like the beautiful pillowy pie in the picture of the cookbook.

So, since it wasn't a flavor issue, I'm thinking that with some tweaking of technique that I can get it down. And by tweaking, I mostly mean practice on my part. I'm going to believe that the recipe is good, and my practice is rusty.

That said, we still enjoyed the pie. Seth was probably irritated how I was critiquing every bite. But, alas, he knows me well, and likely anticipated this, or was nonetheless surprised by my analysis of the creamy yellow custard.

To vindicate myself, I have to share a happy accident. These happen in kitchens all the time. Christiane once told me some great story about a kitchen accident that turned into a wildly popular item. I can't remember the story, but the theme rings clear. It's like when Christiane made her great cheesecake recipe in mini-muffin molds. They tasted great, but for some reason, the centers of the cakes depressed after cooling. The look was less than attractive, so we fixed them by piping a whipped strawberry cream cheese frosting on top. They turned out beautifully and tasted great.

We ended up making the recipe again, the next time, counting on the depression to hold the yummy frosting. A fabulous mistake turned great!

Well, on a recent weeknight I arrived at home tired from work. Knowing we'd probably eat out the next night, I decided to cook dinner. I stepped in the back yard with Wiley and found inspiration in the garden. With a yellow squash and tomatoes, I set out to make a pasta sauce.

I anticipated a thin cream sauce with tomatoes and squash over pasta. I sauted onions and garlic, then added squash and tomatoes. As I was moving along, I decided to add some cream and puree the mixture once it was cooked down. The puree was much thicker than I anticipated, so I attempted to thin it a bit with my pasta water. As I left it bubbling on the stovetop while my pasta finished cooking, I took a taste.

At first I was wildly disappointed. It was a texture thing, just not at all what I expected, and it was a little bland. I added some seasoning and some fresh grated parm. Once the pasta was cooked, I added it into the sauce pan and stirred. The sauce, thick from the pureed squash, clung to the pasta quite well.

The result looked very much like a mac' 'n' cheese. The orange-tinted sauce (achieved by the yellow squash and red tomatoes) coated the corkscrew pasta (Roa's brand I buy at Safeway. Noting the brand and type of pasta is important because it really impacts the way pasta interacts with sauce.). I topped with a little more grated parm and some toasted pine nuts.

I decided to call the dish "Faux Cheese." It did, of course, have some cheese in it, but it turned out to be a way healthier version of homey mac' 'n' cheese. And I'm not even talking about fat content. I just mean healthier in the sense of a more well-rounded meal. It had some dairy, but it also had some great veggies. I even topped it with spinach leaf stems, chopped to resemble green onions. (When I buy spinach -- not the baby bagged kind, the real deal -- I rinse the stems, pat them dry and freeze them. You can easily pull them out of the freezer individually, slice them just like a green onion and add them to dishes for a little color and nutrition!)

So, looking back, it's probably good that I waited this long to blog about the pie. I have perspective. Instead of being totally disappointed about how it turned out, I am able to remember that seldom is there perfection in the kitchen. However, sometimes the accidents turn into unexpected surprises. That wasn't the case with the pie, nor a recent batch of oatmeal cookies in which the butter melted too quickly in the oven, causing flat, thin cookies, but, hey, the pasta was worth remembering.

To love to cook, to love the vibe in the kitchen -- the way the oven warms a cold winter morning or the open window whips the stove's flame on a breezy summer evening -- is why my kitchen is a haven in my home. And why, to cook is nourishment for my soul, not just my stomach.

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