Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pears ... and Pie

My parents gave me a 1/2 bushel of pears, because it's fruit harvest season, here on the east coast! You might remember that I also got a slew of apples. I've made apple crisp, apple pie, apple sauce, stewed apples, apple muffins...later, if I remember, I'll share the list.

But this is not about apples. It's about pears.

Last night, I made a pear and apple pie. For the first time in my life, I discovered the joy of making a pie crust using a food processor. The food processor that Nick and I have is a "Magimix", which we bought in 1986, while living in Germany. The Magimix is a ProtoCuisinart. Ours is a 220 volter, made for Europe, and it's fully equipped with a recipe book "en Francais, s'il vous plait"! And I still use this Magimix, over 20 years later.

I used it to make the crust.

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 stick butter
2 tablespoons crisco

put all this in the food processor, with the metal blade, and pulse about 6 times.

Then, add about 1/2 cup water, iced. Pulse again, a few times, and there is a beautiful, hands-free pie crust dough! This recipe is adapted from Julia Child.

I put it in the refrigerator for 1/2 hour before rolling it out.

This pie...only took half the above recipe, as I put a crumb crust on top, decorated, of course with an apple cutout, drawn freehand. The remainder is in the refrigerator, for later use. Pie crust, if wrapped well, will keep for weeks at a time. I learned this from the Pillsbury people, who sell 'ready made' pie crust in the grocery store. I don't buy that very often...and after discovering the joys of food processor dough, I won't in the future, at all!

After baked, this dough was light, crispy, and perfect for a fruit pie.

So, for inquiring minds, here's what I did for the filling:

6 cups more or less of mixed pears and apples, cored, peeled, and sliced
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup flour

Mix the above all together, and put in the rolled out pie crust.

Top with crumb topping:

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
mix in 2 tablespoons butter until crumbly

Bake at 350 degrees F. until done. This is when the crust looks crisp, the pie is bubbling, and your just "knows"...that the baking is done.

The pie you see is ready for transport to a friend's house for dinner! We served it with homemade ice cream.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bird Food

Really! Food for birds.

I had about 3/4 cup of bacon fat, collected over the past month or two. Nick and I don't eat bacon that much, and I mostly use it as a flavoring. But I save the grease, and sometimes use it in cooking. Bacon grease makes a fantastic medium in which to fry potatoes.

But I try not to eat animal fat too often, so inspired by the bacon fat in my refrigerator, and by the knowledge that winter is coming, I decided to use the fat to make some suet for birdfeeding. As I write this, the finished product is cooling, and not yet served to the birds. I have high hopes that this offering to the birds will be well received by them, thus you're hearing about it now. In the unlikely event the birds to not like my offering, I'll comment to this post later.

Nick is faithful in feeding the birds. Every morning in late autumn through early spring, right after making coffee, Nick goes outside to stock the feeders. He does this no matter what the weather. In the middle of a snowstorm, he clears off the feeders, and creates a clean space on the deck, putting birdseed down. This is typical of Nick - he loves the birds - and is one of the many things I love about my dear husband. We feed the birds every day in winter with a mixture of suet (especially for the insect eater types), sunflower seeds, and millet mixture. In summer, we taper off, feeding them just a small portion of seeds only - no suet. We understand from the people who are paid to know these things, ( and intuitively this makes sense) that birds need to learn how to forage for themselves, and the way to do that is to limit 'free' food in the seasons during which their natural food (insects, grubs, seeds, or whatever each species likes to eat) is most available. Lots of birds choose our yard in which to raise their families, so it is very important to us that the young ones learn that the feeder is not the only place to find food!

We're lucky in that we live on a 2 acre lot, and the houses are pretty far apart here. Our yard is neat, but not manicured. We don't fertilize our grass. We don't use pesticides. Our lawn looks pretty good. Happily, we do not live in one of those hypergroomed "mcMansion" type neighborhoods, in which everyone "has" to have a monoculture green grass lawn or risk social ostracization. Our neighborhood has a variety of people living in it - from 'first original owners' to young families. Our home was built in 1948.

Our lawn is a mixture of what grows there naturally and survives not getting watered, and getting its head chopped off by the lawnmower every few weeks. So really, we live on kind of a bird sanctuary, since much of our lot is filed with forest 'edge' type growth. Bushes, evergreens, and a mixture of small and tall deciduous trees, with some open patches of grass and low growing plants. We get around 35 inches of rain here annually, so the growth is lush. Birds love it here. We have counted over 65 species since we've lived here.

So let's get to the good stuff, shall we? A quick internet search yielded a recipe for peanut butter suet. I used this as my base, but departed quite radically. Here's what I did.

Melt: 1 pound of chunky peanut butter, along with
3/4 cup of bacon fat and
1/2 cup of crisco.

I figured the crisco, as a hydrogenated vegetable fat, along with the peanut butter, which are both solid at room temperature, would work to hold the mass together.

Next, I took the pot off the stove. Then I stirred in:
1 cup raisins
2 cups cornmeal
1 cup sunflower seeds
2 cups millet birdfood mix
1 cup wheat gluten, and
3 cups of rye flour.
Finally, I tossed in about 1/2 cup of bulghur wheat.

The raisins, the rye flour, the bulghur and the wheat gluten were all geriatric - been sitting in my cabinet who-knows-how long! I needed the gluten, I knew, because the rye and the corn have hardly any natural gluten, so something needed to hold the grains together.

After mixing the above, I added about 1 1/2 cup water. (Not sure exactly how much.) I added enough so that the texture was correct.

I kneaded this a few minutes, then molded it into a plastic square, which was the container in which some commercial suet had come.

I made several squares, and they're cooling and drying slightly on the table. Once they're dry, I'll package them up for this winter's bird feeding.

I think the birds are going to like this, because when I was mixing the ingredients, Nick came in the kitchen and told me how good this stuff smelled. It did smell good. Kind of like a natural foods fanatic's version of a peanut butter cookie!

Looks like I made this stuff just in time, because the first junco of the season arrived at our birdfeeder this morning.