As I think back on this summer, I realize that for me, it was all about getting better. I mean that literally of course as I refer to my recovery from ankle surgery. But I also invested quite a bit of time to make myself, my blog and even my cooking better.
Most recently I attended the International Food Blogger Conference which was held right here in Seattle. Two full days (and two evenings) chock full of panels, new (and old) friends and lots of tasty food. My favorite session was an inspirational slide show and talk from photographer Penny De Los Santos. She just made me (and I think everyone else there) want to be better. Because of her, you’ll probably be seeing a few more photo essays on the blog (much like this one from last Saturday) as I self-assign new photography projects for myself.
My other big summer project was a 5-week class series at Cornish College for the Arts called the Art of Food. Here’s the description:
A series of evenings in which different aspects of food + art get explored: food AND art, food AS art, artists and their food practices, food blogging, food as a medium for leading a creative life, food photography, the creative practice of gardening, art + food + sustainability. Participants include author and master forager Langdon Cook, Chef Becky Selengut, “Top Cheftestant” and artist Robin Leventhal, photographer Clare Barboza, food writers Molly Wizenberg and Shauna James Ahern, and Delancey owner and composer/dancer Brandon Pettit.
My favorite weeks were the two that were focused on photography with Clare Barboza and food writing with Molly Wizenberg and Shauna James Ahern. I’ve really been trying to improve my food photography over the last year and it was great to have input from a professional. Here’s a couple of the photos I took at class:
You can see the rest at my Flickr site here.
I also really enjoyed the week focused on food writing. I am always a little nervous about my writing and I am really trying to improve this as well. During the class we read examples of several popular food writers, Frances Lam, Jonathon Gold, MFK Fisher, Laurie Colwin and others. The piece from Laurie Colwin was titled “Tomato Pie” from the book More Home Cooking. It was a beautiful description of a recipe for Tomato Pie.
“I have never yet encountered tomatoes in any form unloved by me. Often at night I find myself ruminating about two previously mysterious tomato dishes, which I was brazen enough to get the recipes for. One is Tomato Pie and is a staple of a tea shop call 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. The pie has a double biscuit-dough crust, made by blending 2 cups flour, 1 stick butter, 4 teaspoons baking powder, and approximately 3/4 cup milk, either by hand or in a food processor. You roll out half the dough on a floured surface and line a 9-inch pie plate with it. Then you add the tomatoes. Mary makes this pie year round and uses first-quality canned tomatoes, but at this time of year 2 pounds peeled fresh tomatoes are fine, too. Drain well and slice thin two 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, then lay the slices over the crust and scatter them with chopped basil, chives, or scallions, depending on their availability and your mood. Grate 1-1/2 cups sharp Cheddar and sprinkle 1 cup of it on top of the tomatoes. Then over this drizzle 1/3 cup mayonnaise that has been thinned with 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and top everything with the rest of the grated Cheddar. Roll out the remaining dough, fit it over the filling, and pinch the edges of the dough together to seal them. Cut several steam vents in the top crust and bake the pie at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes. 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 degree oven until it is hot.
It is hard to describe how delicious this is, especially on a hot day with a glass of magnificent iced tea in a beautiful setting, but it would doubtless be just as scrumptious on a cold day in your warm kitchen with a cup of coffee.”
Her description was so lovely that I knew I just had to cook this dish. I made it for brunch for a group of friends (several of whom are, or used to be, fellow personal chefs) and it received rave reviews. Basically the pie was tomatoes, cheddar cheese in a biscuit crust (and really, how could that combo not be good). It was obvious that this recipe was ripe for adaptation.
After the last class (the food photography session), many of the props (read leftover food) were divided among the students that had stayed to help clean up. I ended up with 2 mini cupcakes, one tomatillo, a lime and a bunch of bell peppers and hot peppers. So, after I ate the cupcakes, I decided to get to work on turning the peppers into something delicious. Of course, I would roast the peppers and make a version of that delicious pie.
Here’s the ingredients for the filling:
And for the crust:
I started by roasting the peppers. I roasted mine right over the flame on my gas stove, but they can easily be done on a grill or under the broiler. Just cook the peppers until they are blackened then through them in a covered bowl and let them sit for at least five minutes.
Once they are cool enough to handle the skins will peel right off. Try to keep the seeds out of the peeled pepper pile and no matter how much easier it would make things, do not run the peppers under water or all the roasty-toasty goodness will go right done the drain. Oh yeah, and notice the gloves, gloves are a must when you are seeding really hot peppers (because if you don’t wear gloves you will invariably touch your eye and then pain will ensue).
I cut the bell peppers into strips and then diced the smaller peppers (I wasn’t sure just how hot they were and I didn’t want to end up with a huge bite of “burn your mouth” hot pepper in the finished dish). Then I set this aside to work on the crust.
The crust comes together very easily in a food processor. Just whir together the butter, flour and baking powder until it looks a bit like fine sand. It doesn’t take long, maybe 10 seconds.
I added the milk and then gave it another whir. It will come together as a dough fairly quickly.
At this point I moved the dough to a very well floured work surface. This dough is very sticky so flour is your best friend. Flour your hands, flour the rolling pin, flour the work surface, trust me.
I divided the dough into two halves and rolled one of them out until it is large enough to cover the bottom and sides of the pan. In addition to being sticky, this dough is also very forgiving. Holes can be easily smushed back together.
Once the bottom crust was in the pan I laid in the peppers, the tomatillo (which didn’t add much to the mix so I’ve left it out of the recipe below) half the cheese and the chopped scallions.
I stirred together the juice of a lime and 1/3 cup of mayonnaise and drizzled this over the pie.
Then I added the rest of the cheese and topped the pie with the second half of the biscuit dough, trimmed off the excess dough, pinched together the edges and then cut a few vent holes in the top.
Into the oven (I used my toaster oven) for 25 minutes until the crust was golden brown and delicious and the pie was warm and toasty inside.
While I adored the tomato version of the pie that Laurie Colwin write so beautifully about this version was another lovely take. Sharp from the cheddar and tangy from the lime with a beautifully crisp and tender crust.
My friends who were over for yet another potluck (and belly dancing, but we’re not going to talk about that) all agreed it was delightful as well.
Next up I think a sweet version of this pie is in order. I think berries with goat cheese might be nice but it’s a little past berry season. Maybe plums…
ROASTED PEPPER AND CHEDDAR PIE
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, cut into cubes
2/3 cup milk
4 bell peppers
5-6 jalapenos, serranos or other hot peppers
1 1/2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
6 scallions, chopped
1/3 cup mayonnaise
juice from one lime
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Roast and peel the peppers and hot peppers. Cut the peppers into strips and dice the hot peppers. Stir together then set aside. In a small bowl or measuring cup stir together the mayonnaise and lime juice.
In the bowl of a food processor pulse together the flour, baking powder and butter (it should resemble dry sand). Add the milk and continue to pulse until the dough come together. Divide the dough into two pieces. On a well-floured surface roll out half the dough and line a 9-inch pie plate with it.
Cover the bottom of the pan with the pepper mixture. Sprinkle on half of the cheese and all of the scallions. Drizzle the mayonnaise mixture evenly over the scallions then sprinkle on the remaining cheese.
Roll out the second half of the dough, lay it on top of the filling, trim off the excess dough and pinch the edges of the dough together to seal them. Cut several slits in the top crust to vent.
Bake the pie for about 25 minutes or until the crust is golden and the filling is warmed through.