Saturday, 24 November 2007

mincemeat pies

Frist off, I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving and was able to eat, eat and eat and drink and be merry. 'Tis the season whether you like it or not. I have mixed feelings about the holidays, part nostolgia, part hating the stress that comes with this time of year. However, rather than just sit and wallow in my own holiday hating attitude, I have resolved to make it better this year, perhaps better than ever. This resolution came about the day after Thanksgiving when I was taking it easy at my house, drinking a glass of wine and reading a book. All of the sudden I was aware of the looming dark cloud of Christmas off in the distance and had the sudden urge to run and hide under the covers. Instead, with a great deal energy, I pulled myself off the couch, poured another glass of wine and set off to my kitchen for some baking therapy.

I wanted to make something Christmasy, but not over the top. Nothing with sparkles or glitters or extravagant frostings. Something simple that evoked a feeling of comfort. Rumaging through cookbooks and random printed recipes I found exactly what I had been looking for in mincemeat pies. I say pies, plural, because I made them in a muffin tin to creat cute little pies, however, you of course could make one big mincemeat pie and it would be delicious all the same. I made these last year for a party with my friend Alex, who remembers mincemeat pie from growing up in Britian, and I have conveniently made them my own tradition to be excited about!

Traditional mincemeat pie has meat in it and traditional pasty crust has dairy in it; but here, you will find none of that. Extra apples in the filling make for a dense, rich mixture without using suet (a hard, saturated fat used a lot for those birdseed thingys). Vegan shortening and butter is available in health food stores but I actually found mine at Kroger in the health food section. I considered using a whole wheat crust like the one for my sweet potato pie, but I thought that the color and texture of one with white flour and vegan shortening would go much better, despite the fact that it is less nutritious. (Sorry)

So into the kicthen to whip up some mincemeat pies and combat the holiday blues. It's my new tradition- all my own. Nothing to do with childhood memories, ex-boyfriend memories, feeling alone while everyone else is wearing puff paint sweatshirts and singing carrols...all gone thanks to mincemeat! OK, I'm sort of kidding, and sort of not. It's important to have a tradition all your own if the holidays get you down. These things are super easy and cheap to make, it makes a lot and stores for a long time and it makes your house smell absolutely wonderful! Like one of those Christmas spice candles from Target, only better! It's the cheapest therapy I know.

I adapted this recipe from "How to be a Domestic Goddess" by Nigella Lawson. The filling I made straight from the book, but the pastry I adapted to be vegan using a few different ingredients. I hope you try these this year and enjoy sharing and nibbling on these tasty little unassuming creations. If you live in the South like I do, people may look at you a little funny when you present mincemeat pie, but once they taste it, all of that weirdness is forgotten. Once the filling is made it stores in the fridge for a couple of weeks, and the pastry can be stored in the freezer for a couple of months. This is handy to have stored away to make fresh baked goods for guests or a spur of the moment party. Once the mincemeat is cooked and pastry pulled together, the rest is a breeze. Making you look and feel stress free. Here's to a happy holiday season without the pressure and stress- just enjoy what you cook and eat and all will be well!

you will need these:
large sauce pan
large mixing bowl
wooden spoon
2 muffin tins (or 3 small tart pans)
biscuit cutter about 2 inches in diatmeter
rolling pin (or an empty wine bottle)

Nigella's suet-free mincemeat recipe as it appears in her book:

1 C plus 2 T dark brown sugar
1 C plus 2 T medium-dry hard cider
2 1/4 pounds tart cooking apples, peeled, halved, and quartered
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 C plus 2 T currants
1 C plue 2 T raisins
1/3 C natural-colored glace cherries, roughly chopped (I used unsweetend dried cherries)
1/3 C blanched almonds, fairly finely choppped
rind and juice of 1/2 lemon
6 T brandy or rum
1-pint or 2 1-quart canning jars (my note:if not using all within a couple of weeks, there is no need to can this)

In a large saucepan, dissolve the sugar in the cider over a gentle heat. Roughly chop the apples, and add them to the saucepan. Then add all the other ingredients except the brandy or rum, and simmer for 30 minutes or until everything looks pulpy. Take off heat and when it had cooled a little, srit in the brandy or rum. Spoon into sterilized jars (my note: or make little mincemeat pies!)

makes 4 pounds

Pastry crust (veganized by me) adapted from Nigella's book

1 2/3 C cake flour
1/4 C vegan non-trans fat vegetable shortening
1/4 C cold vegan butter such as Earth Balance brand
juice of 1 orange
pinch of salt

Not Nigella's instructions......

Put flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and work in shortening and "butter" small bits a time until it creates pea size crumbles. Work fast making sure to keep the ingrdients cold. Add the juice of an orange and mix until it comes together into a dough. Knead a couple of time and put it in the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes.

Now, how to assemble all of these words and paragraphs into a sensible recipe and ultimatley into little tasty mince pies:

Make the pastry dough as decribed above and let rest in the fridge

Make the mincemeat as explained above and let it simmer and fill your house with wonderful smells for at least 30 minutes.

While the mincemeat is stewing:
Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees

Pull pastry out of the fridge and roll out until fairly thin, but still durable. Perhaps 1/8 inch thick. Using your cookie/biscuit cutter (or jar, coffee cup...what gets the job done) cut out circles and press them into your muffin or tart pan. You might want to experiment with differnt sizes to make sure there is enough of a lip to creat small pies. The bigger the better.

Next, fill the little pies with the mincemeat (about a teaspoon- i love to go all out here and put lots of filling in, which always results in messy little pies----which is no good)

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 10-15 minutes or until browned on the edges.

Alternative assembling procedure:

Roll out pastry and cut circles with larger cutter, then make smaller circles to create little "hats" for the pies. So it's like mincemeat is just barely showing from underneath. OR, get creative with little stars (like Nigella) or any other top you can think of. But don't wear yourself out with this, making plain pies is still just as enjoyable!

Serve with a light dusting of powdered sugar (totally optional) and mulled wine (not quite as optinal)

Cheers to a wonderful holiday season and creating new, wonderful traditions!

Thursday, 8 November 2007

sweet potato pie

I always forget that sweet potatoes are really good for me. In fact, they are the most nutrient packed vegetable around. This strange little oblong tuber contains complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins A and C, iron, calcium and fiber. And the darker the interior, the more beta carotene it has. Not to mention it is absolutely necessary when speaking of southern food culture and cuisine. No proper southern meal served in the months of October to December is complete without a big pile sweet potates. Unfortunatley, a lot people insult this vegetable's integrity by smothering it in marshmellows, butter, brown sugar....OK, maybe not insult- because these things are pretty tasty, but they certianly compromise the nutritional benefits. However, if left to speak for themselves, sweet potates make quite a good argument as to why they should be left alone, or adorned in a more wholesome way. The sweet potates I have been getting with my weekly CSA basket are so low maintenance that all it takes for them to be ready is to be sliced with a knife and simply boiled or baked. They carmelize all on their own when baked and when paired with savory dishes, they almost overpower the dish with their sweetness. I saw this as their cry to be mashed and put in a pie crust.

Pie crust. Of course, you can buy pie crust, even natural whole wheat pie crust and make a tasty pie that everyone will love. But why? If you are going to make pie, go all out and commit to the whole shebang. Dawn your apron, roll up your sleves and turn on some pie-making music. I promise it will fill a void in your soul that would otherwise be left empty by using a pre-made crust. Being the complete baking dork that I am, nothing gives me greater pleasure in the kithen than waking up early on a fall morning and making pastry crust in a cool, dimly lit kitchen. I'm guessing you do not share this desire (if you do, please get in touch with me...) and want something a little more practical. I found practical for you and even found it with nutritional components to boot!

The filling used in this pie is just simple, quality ingredients. Organic sweet potates, vegan milk, agar (sea vegetable used to thicken) and pure maple syrup. Spices are optional. I chose to bake the potatoes for a sweeter, roasted, flavor and left the skins on in the finished product, creating a more rustic filling with nice texture. If using organic potatoes eating the skins is not bad, in fact, it's more nutritious and tasty. If you are not using organic potatoes, maybe consider peeling them to try and lower the pesticide intake...oh, just buy organic! The idea behind this pie is to let the sweet potato shine- this is its solo and should be respected as such. Choose the best quality potatoes you can find. The better your potato, the better you pie will be. The crust is a recipe taken from one of my favorite cookbooks, "The Balanced Plate", by Renee Loux. It's a great crust that requires little maintenance. Just mix the ingredients and press the crust directly into the pie pan. No resting, chilling or dealing with annoying sticky plastic wrap. I have typed the recipe for you exaclty as it appears in the book (minus her introduction and nutritional facts). I hope you enjoy making this pie as much as you enjoy eating it and sharing it. Simple, honest and tasty is the motto here.

you will need these:
aluminum foil
baking sheet
mixing bowl
small sauce pan
9 or 10 inch pie or tart pan
potato masher or a large spoon

for the filling:
1 1/2- 2 pounds organic sweet potatoes
2/3 C vegan milk of choice (i used plain soy milk)
1 1/2 T *agar flakes (found in natural health food stores in the seaweed section)
3/4 C pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp sea salt (optional)
1/2 tsp all spice (optional)

*agar can also be used to make vegan "jell-o" and pudding. however, if seaweed scares you, or if you don't want to splurge because it can be kind of pricey, use 1 T arrowroot powder instead. just warm the milk, don't boil it and dissolve the arrowroot at the same time during the directions you would prepare the agar. (no simmering necessary, just put it in a bowl) the pie might not be as firm, but i'm sure it will be just as tasty.

the crust as it appears in "The Balanced Plate": (extra detail and description are left out for the purpose of maintaining a somewhat short post, however, i have included everything necessary to make the crust and have kept it word for word)

"Flaky Pie Crust" (pg. 341)

1 C unbleached whole wheat pastry flour
1 C spelt flour or additional whole wheat pastry flour
2 T organic granulated sweetener, such as organic evaporated cane juice, organic sugar or brown sugar, Sucant, or maple sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp finely gound sea salt
8 T cold-pressed coconut butter, palm oil, or organic vegetable oil, such as grapeseed oil or safflower oil
1 T maple syrup
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
3-6 T filtered water

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

sift the flours, granulated sweetener, baking powder, and salt into a bowl.

mix in the coconut butter or oil, maple syrup, vinegar, and 3 tablespoons of the filtered water, first with a wooden spoon, then with your hands until dough forms. If the dough is too dry, add another tablesppon or two of water.

press evenly into a 9 or 10 inch pie plate.

if you want to roll, flatten the dough into a disk on a piece of waxed paper large enough to wrap the dough in and refigerate for at least 30 minutes. roll the dough between two sheets of waxed paper. transfer the rolled dough to a pie plate. lightly flouring the surface of the dough and folding it in half makes the transfer easier. press the dough into the corners of the pie plate or tart pan. trim any excess dough from the rim of the plate or pan. prebake the crust or fill and bake pie as directed.

note: the dough will keep fresh in the fridge for 2 days, or sealed in a bag or container and frozen for a month or two. if fressing, thaw in the fridge for a few hours before pressing or rolling.

to assembe the pie in an efficient and timely fashion:

pre-heat oven to 425 degrees

wash the sweet potatoes really thoroughly and poke each one several times with a fork

wrap them all together in a piece of tin foil and bake until extremely soft. this could take and hour or so

meanwhile, make the crust from the recipe above and store (in the pan) in the fridge

once the potates are nice and mushy, unwrap them and place them in a bowl to let them cool. lower the oven temperature to 400 degrees

at this point, you may start pre-baking your crust if that is what you choose. pre-baking it will give it more of a nutty flavor, but is not necessary

pour milk and agar into saucepan and bring to a boil

lower temperature to simmer and stir continuously for about 10 minutes or until all the agar is disolved

pour the milk into the bowl with the potatoes along with the maple syrup and spice and mash until nice and smooth (you could also put this mixture into a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. my blender sucks and did not blend properly, so i ended up mashing. the end result of an un-blended mixture is more rustic with a bit more texture from the soft skins. i highly recommend mashing to blending)

plop mixture into pie crust and bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees

lower the temperature and bake for another 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees

cool completely before slicing

stores in the refrigerator for a couple of days

serves 6-8

pairs well with dark rum, a brisk fall evening and a couple of best friends

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