Tomato Pie

I've long wanted to try this recipe for Tomato Pie.  I first read about it in Laurie Colwin's More Home Cooking. Colwin first had it " a tea shop called Chaiwalla, owned by Mary O'Brien, in Salisbury, Connecticut. According to Mary, the original recipe was found in a cookbook put out by the nearby Hotchkiss School, but she has changed it sufficiently to claim it as her own."

So it looked delicious and not that complicated so here we go, and you're going to make it with me! Preheat the oven to 400 and let's go...

So the pie is a double-crust pie and you can make your own crust. I used a Trader Joe's pre-made crust. Be sure to bring it to room temperature 30 minutes before you start putting the pie together. I didn't do this which put a slight crimp (cough) in my plans but it was fine in the end.

You need 2 28-oz cans of whole peeled tomato. "Drain well and slice thin," says the recipe and I had a feeling "Drain well" was going to be the make-or-break factor of this pie. So I drained the whole tomatoes in a colander in a sink, and then after slicing them, put them back in the colander to drain more, pressing down on them a little. Either way it's a soggy business.

Grate 1 1/2 cups of sharp cheddar cheese.

Chop about 1/4 of whatever fresh herbs you have to hand.  All the basil is dead in my garden but I had parsley, chives and a couple sprigs of oregano so that's what I chopped

Put the bottom crust into the pie pan.  Arrange the drained, sliced tomatoes in the bottom.  Sprinkle herbs on the tomatoes.

Sprinkle 1 cup of the cheese.  Whisk together 1/3 cup mayonnaise and 2 tablespoons lemon juice and drizzle on top, followed by the rest of the cheese

Put on the top crust and crimp.  And shut up because crimping pie crust is right up there with making gravy for me.  I suck at it.

Slice some steam vents in the top crust and into the 400 it goes for about 25 minutes.  Within 5 minutes you'll notice a really great smell coming into your kitchen.  At about 10 minutes I noticed the edges of the crust were browning pretty quickly so I covered them with some foil.

After 25 minutes, take pie out of the oven and set to cool on the curved shelf of your kitchen pass-through window which your architect designed with the express purpose of cooling a pie thereupon.

"The secret of this pie, according to Mary, is to reheat it before serving, which among other things ensures that the cheese is soft and gooey.  She usually bakes it early in the morning, then reheats it in the evening in a 350 oven until it is hot."

So it was delicious and different.  I thought the bottom crust still came out soggy so next time I'm going to borrow a trick from quiche making and put a layer of cheese down first on the bottom crust; this creates a vacuum seal to keep the tomato juices from doing that thing they do.

Concerning Gingerbread

I have a few favorite books that I faithfully read every year, usually in the fall: Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede; Elizabeth Ehrlich's Miriam's Kitchen; and Laurie Colwin's twin masterpieces, Home Cooking and More Home Cooking.

I was in bed with the latter two this weekend (I love writing that), dreaming of comforting things to eat now that the tiniest bit of chill is in the evening air, and now that I am a touch more inclined to make dessert. Like gingerbread.

Says Colwin:

The sad fact is that gingerbread is on the decline, although it is alive and well in the children's books of the fifties, where cheerful housewives wait at home for the arrival of their hungry children at three o'clock, ready with a great big pan of warm gingerbread and some ice-cold milk.

You do not need to be a housebound mother to make gingerbread. All you need is to put aside an hour or so to mix up the batter and bake it, and then, provided you do not have a huge mob waiting to devour the gingerbread immediately, it will pay you back for a few days because it gets better as it ages. I myself never have any around long enough to age, but my English cookbooks assure me that a few days make all the difference.

Colwin then offers her personal thoughts on gingerbread, namely that the more ginger the better, and molasses should never be used because it is too bitter. She prefers pure cane syrup and endorses that made by the C. S. Steen Syrup Mill. Of course her books were written in 1992 and she helpfully offers the reader the address and phone number of said company. Ten years later, you simply can go to their website if you wish to order syrup. Colwin also advocates Lyle's Golden Syrup which is available in most grocery stores and I myself have some in the cupboard but only because I've made this gingerbread before.

Colwin gives two gingerbread recipes in More Home Cooking, and I go with the one from Delia Smith's Book of Cakes, which is called "Damp Gingerbread." I could call it "Moist Gingerbread" and watch the majority of my girlfriends go screaming from the room. But I won't. However I will give you my own little tweaks and modifications as we get down to business and get to perfuming your kitchen.

Moi—... Damp Gingerbread

  • 9 tbsp butter (that's one stick plus one tablespoon from a second stick)
  • 12 oz Lyle's Golden Syrup (that's 1 1/2 cups and a little bit annoying because Lyle's comes in an 11 oz bottle. I use 1 cup of the golden syrup and scant 1/2 cup of Grandma's molasses, and do so without a trace of bitterness)
  • 2 cups plus 2 tbsp flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger (can be a level spoon or a heaping spoon, depending on your taste)
  • 3/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 heaping tablespoon fresh ginger (and stop me if you've heard this before, but if you are a ginger person, Spice World's bottled pressed ginger could and should be one of your very best friends, and see funny story at the end of the post)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a baking dish with butter or spray with Pam.

Melt butter, golden syrup and molasses in a saucepan and set aside

Sift flour, salt, baking soda, and spices into a mixing bowl and set aside

In a separate small bowl, whisk egg, milk and pressed ginger

Pour syrup and butter onto dry ingredients and mix well. Add egg-milk-ginger mixture and mix well. The batter will be very liquid: this is damp gingerbread.

Pour into baking pan and bake for 50-55 minutes until the middle is just set with the edges pulling away from the sides of the dish.  Your kitchen is going to smell amazing and don't be surprised if you feel inclined to string up some lights and create a holiday station on Pandora. At the very least you should light a candle.

Cool for ten minutes before turning out.

Serve with a dollop of whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, or just eat it straight out of the pan. Try to save some, wrapped in foil, because it really does improve with age.

*Funny story about bottled ginger: I was in Stop & Shop yesterday, trawling the produce section where I know they keep those jars of ginger. They are usually on the lower shelves beneath the bins, cozied up with the bags of apple chips and the jars of minced garlic and the bags of pine nuts. But they weren't there. I scoured every last lower shelf and then went over to the ethnic aisle, thinking maybe they'd moved in with the Asian ingredients. No, not there either.  

I checked the produce section one more time and then finally asked a clerk. He wrinkled his eyebrows, asked if I didn't mean ginger root? No, I said, it was bottled fresh ginger. He asked another clerk. Clerk2 said yes, the bottled stuff, he knew what I meant but he hadn't seen it stocked lately. Had I tried the ethnic aisle? Yes I had.

Clerk2 apologized, as did Clerk1, and I thanked them both and moved on. As I was passing the refrigerated display of bagged lettuce and other salad stuff, AH-HAH!!! There they were! Hiding!  

"Hey!" I called out happily to Clerk1 and Clerk2, holding up my prize, "Found it!"  

And they just seemed really happy about it, and apologized again for not knowing their own section. They were cute. It's these little things that make your day.

Potato Salad

There is no such thing as really bad potato salad. So long as the potatoes are not undercooked, it all tastes pretty good to me. Some potato salads are sublime, some are miraculous and some are merely ordinary, but I have yet to taste any that was awful. When I was young, potato salad was considered summer food. My mother made her mother’s version, which included chopped celery and catsup in the dressing. It was known as pink potato salad and was served at picnics and barbecues as an accompaniment to fried or grilled chicken. No one would have ever thought of serving it in a formal setting.

Once I was out on my own and could cook to please myself, I figured that since I loved potato salad so much, other people did, too. I began to serve it to my friends at dinner parties.

”Oh, potato salad,” they would say. “I haven’t had any homemade in years!”

I gave it to them with thin sliced, peppery flank steak, and with cold roast chicken in the summer and hot roast chicken in the winter. It was always a hit.
— "Potato Salad," from Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin

The only person who loves potato salad more than me is Pandagirl. I shamelessly bribed her to come food shopping with me tonight by promising potato salad with dinner.

My version of potato salad involves frozen peas going into the boiling water with the potatoes for the last 2 minutes. Then it's tossed with chopped scallions, chopped celery, mayonnaise, and mucho chopped dill. I especially love using blue potatoes because it just comes out so pretty, but Trader Joe's had no blues tonight so I went with their aptly named "teeny tiny" potatoes.

This was served on the deck with grilled chicken (marinaded in olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and chopped oregano), and steamed asparagus (naked). And a bouquet of roses and peonies (cough).

Are you a potato salad fan, and if so, what is your special version?

Black Bean Soup

Soup has come to symbolize the ultimate in comfort and safety. Many years ago, when I was about fifteen, I saw someone served a cup of soup, and this vision, which had all the sentimental charm of a painting by Sir Edwin Landseer, is indelibly imprinted on my mind.It was a cold, rainy autumn night and some grubby teenagers had gathered at a friend’s rather splendid house. We heard the crunch of a car on gravel. A taxi pulled up and into the wet night stepped the friend’s older sister, who was coming home from college for the weekend. She was probably nineteen but she looked liked the picture of sophistication. She wore brown pumps, a green tweed suit, pearl earrings and her hair was pulled back in a French twist.

She took off her wet coat, sat down in front of the fire and her mother brought her a large, ornamental bone china cup of soup. She warmed her hands on the cup and then she set it on its saucer, balanced it on her lap and ate the soup with a bouillon spoon. The dog, a weimaraner, lay dozing at her feet. Outside the rain clattered. Inside that pretty living room, all was safe

Of course you need not have a weimaraner or a fire or anyone coming home from college. To feel safe and warm on a cold wet night, all you really need is soup.
— "Soup," from Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin.

It wasn't wet tonight but damn, it was cold. I cannot deal with with the extreme months of the year, the brutally cold and the beastly hot. During February and August I become something of a lunatic.

Soup is out of the question in August. In February, it is essential.

Tonight I had black bean soup on my mind, and cans of black beans in the pantry. Some die-hards will insist that dried beans make the best soup, and I can appreciate that but usually I am thinking up what to make for dinner an hour before we eat. You can't soak beans in an hour.  

Someday I will try dried beans but for tonight the canned was fine, along with my trusty recipe that I wrote down a thousand years ago from the back of a can of Goya black beans.

This recipe did not contain a diced onion or celery, both of which I added myself because it seemed logical to have them. Some black bean soup recipes have carrots but I feel they make the soup a really weird color. It's all preference.

Preferential Black Bean Soup

  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 bouillon cube
  • 3 tablespoons sherry
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 3 cans black beans, not drained.

Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat.  Add onion and celery, saute 5 minutes.  Add garlic, cumin, oregano, pepper flakes and bay leaves, and bouillon cube.  Saute another 5 minutes until bouillon is dissolved.  Add water, sherry, brown sugar, and vinegar.  Stir to combine.

Add beans, stir well.  Lower heat, cover and simmer at least 15 minutes to let flavors meld, but you can keep it on a low flame as long as you need.

You can serve as is, or puree in a blender or with an immersion blender.

I like mine with a dollop of sour cream or greek yogurt, some quartered cherry tomatoes, and chopped fresh parsley or cilantro.

And a baked potato (Jeep's idea).

Nursery Supper

Nursery Supper is the meal one partakes with the nanny, in the nursery, while the adults of the household dine in state downstairs. I cannot seem to arrange this in my own household. Probably because I'm one of the adults and I can't be in pajamas in the nursery while my children dine in state. I simply haven't the servants required.

The closest I came to this concept was Playroom Supper, back before house renovations and we had this nifty room off the living room that the kids played and watched TV in. To all intents and purposes it was a nursery, less the sleeping quarters, and though I would not change a thing about the new configuration of the house, I find I do miss that little room. It was cozy, cheerful. Christmas lights were tacked around the windows all year long. The kids' artwork hung on the walls. It had a wicker couch and a little table and chairs, and on nights when Jeeps was working late in the city, I would serve Playroom Supper, and we'd eat at the little table and watch Rachel Ray or House Hunters (this was back when I had control of the TV).

More often than not, what we ate at Playroom Supper was scrambled eggs. Because Rosamunde Pilcher said so in Coming Home:

[Diana] came to settle herself in the corner of the nursery sofa, close to the fire. 'Do you girls want to come down for dinner, or do you want to have nursery supper with Mary?'

"'Do we have to change if we come down for dinner?' Loveday asked.

"'Oh, darling, what a silly question, of course you have to.'

"'In that case, I think we'll just stay up here and eat scrambled eggs or something.'

"Diana raised her lovely eyebrows. 'What about Judith?'

"Judith said, 'I love scrambled eggs, and I haven't got a dress to change into.'

"'Well, if that's what you both want, I'll tell Nettlebed. Hetty can carry up a tray for you.' She reached into the pocket of her pale-grey cardigan and produced her cigarettes and her gold lighter. She lit one and reached for an ashtray.  'Judith, what about that beautiful box you brought with you? You promised you'd show it to me after tea. Bring it over here and we'll look at it now.'"

I, too, love scrambled eggs, not only for myself to enjoy but as my favorite fall-back for dinner on those nights when I can't think of a thing, or the kids just seem too tired to contemplate anything more complicated than eggs and toast. When I hear friends tell of children who don't or won't eat scrambled eggs, I try not to look horrified. No judgement on them, it's just that I don't know what I'd do. Cold cereal, I guess. Bread and milk? My very dear friend Francie served waffles and fruit salad for dinner the other night. She's one of my food heroines.

In Home Cooking, Mrs. Colwin devotes an entire chapter to nursery food, which I could happily transpose here and force you to read. But I won't do that, I will just put it in a china plate with the letters of the alphabet around the rim, and spoonfeed you the brilliant essence:

"A long time ago it occurred to me that when people are tired and hungry, which in adult life is most of the time, they do not want to be confronted by an intellectually challenging meal: they want to be consoled...

Of course I do not mean that you should feed your friends pastina and beef tea (although I would be glad to be served either). But dishes such as shepherd's pie and chicken soup are a kind of edible therapy. After a good nursery dinner you want your guests to smile happily and say with childlike contentment: 'I haven't had that in years.'"

Children cannot resist this kind of food because, I feel, it is trustworthy. It is solid, dependable and, most of all, recognizable. There are no tricks with a scrambled egg. Nothing fishy about a meatball on top of pasta. And if it is a perfect bite-sized meatball for their little mouth, so much the better. In fact, with kids, the smaller the food, the better. They are born noshers. If life could be served on a cracker or picked up with a toothpick, what a wonderful world it would be.

Last night's lid potatoes illustrate this perfectly. When I serve my kids nursery food, their manners materialize, unprompted and impeccable. They turn downright lovey. "Oh, Mom, this is delicious, I love this dinner. Thank you."

Who can resist?

Roast Chicken

There is nothing like roast chicken. It is helpful and agreeable, the perfect dish no matter what the circumstances. Elegant or homey, a dish for a dinner party or a family supper; it will not let you down.
— "Roast Chicken", from More Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin

Tonight I roasted a chicken and served it with sauteed sweet potatoes and edamame. I roast a chicken nearly every week. If I am particularly flush, I will roast two chickens and have the second to eat cold for lunches. Truthfully, I like cold roast chicken better than hot, and even more truthfully, I like cold roast chicken for breakfast better than lunch.

Enough confessions, darling, or else we shall fall madly in love and ruin everything.

I always struggled with time and temperature when it came to roasting, until Ms. Colwin showed me the way: 325 for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. I tried it once and have never looked back. Perfect roast chicken every time.

As for prep, I don't do anything fancy. Wash the bird in cold water and pat dry with paper towels, inside and out. Moisture creates steam and ideally you want dry heat rather than steam, although it won't ruin your dinner.

Remove the bag of giblets whatever you think you should do with it.  And speaking of which, here is an old Sprint PCS commercial that I LOVE. Even though the woman in the spot is regarding a Thanksgiving turkey, her delivery is spot-on.

You want me to put my hand in the what?

You want me to put my hand in the what?

Put your bird breast-up on the roasting rack in the roasting pan. Stuff the bird with a halved lemon, a thousand cloves of garlic (or less), and some sprigs of sage, rosemary, thyme, Simon or Garfunkle. Drizzle olive oil over the bird, rub into the skin, sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika.

Roast at 325 for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. When the leg bone wiggles in the joint and the thigh meat registers 165 degrees on a meat thermometer, it is done. Let sit for at least 15 minutes to let the juices settle. Carve and serve.

Carve. Hah. I cannot carve a chicken to save my life. Really. It's embarrassing. I usually fob the job off on a willing guest, or use kitchen shears, or tear the bird apart with my hands in private while unapologetically eating the roast chicken skin and the tail and the wingtips—with the privilege that comes from being the chef.

Roast Chicken.jpg

I also have a gravy problem but I'm in a support group. I'm doing OK. One lump at a time.

Now here's a little story about roast chicken. My mother, being the groovy foodie she is, gave me one of those baking dishes with the central cone so you can roast your chicken vertically, ensuring evenly crisp and beautiful skin. As per manufacturer's recommendation, the cone is filled up with ale and the chicken is sprinkled with salt and pepper.  

I was having company for dinner one night, so I roasted one chicken vertically, and had a second chicken roasted in the traditional way. Just so we could all make a comparison.

The consensus seemed to be that both chickens were equally delicious. The vertical roasted method did not produce evenly crisp and browned skin, rather the neck and shoulders were beautiful and from the waist down it was...not. Furthermore, the ale in the cone didn't seem to bring anything to the table.

My mom later tried roasting just a turkey breast in the vertical roaster and said it was a howling success. I trust her on these things. Furthermore, roasting just the turkey breast skirts the whole issue of, "You want me to put my hand in the what?!"