baking, cooking, dessert, entrees, home cooking, huzhou, mysterious ingredients

Butter Me Up

06.08.09 | 4 Comments

I am proud to say that I was a very…unique little girl. You’ve heard about the whole Singin’ in the Rain thing, and at the start of this blog I believe I mentioned how, when I was 5, I was so enamored of the name Crystal that I made my parents call me Crystal. Crystal Friedman. Rolls off the tongue like an anvil.

I’d venture that my most assertively quirky phase was circa the Crystal Era, when I refused to wear clothes that were NOT purple. Now, I have no distinct memory of the Purple Period, but my mother has recounted it many times. And since my sartorial choices were, at that time, still in her control, the burden fell to her to dress her kid in solid purple. (That sounds like a David Sedaris book title.)

You may or may not have noticed, but they don’t make many purple clothes. That’s me, the individualist from the start.

Foods, like cars, rarely come (naturally) in purple. Hmm, purple foods, purple foods.

1. Eggplant
2. Plums
3. Grapes
4. Mangosteens

Lucky for my mom and my body, I didn’t mandate that my victuals match my outfit. I live in fear that I’ll get mine when I have a child who will only eat blue foods. And my mother will laugh.

Last week, I discovered a new purple food. Okay, well, I knew it existed, but I had never actually seen or eaten it. It existed abstractly in California or New York farmer’s markets. So imagine my surprise when, this week, my seemingly ordinary-looking sweet potatoes turned out to be the color of my childhood ideal.

Potatoes here come with a lot of dirt still on them, so I couldn’t tell they were purple when I bought them.

O.M.G. You guys, these came from the ground?! I thought food came from a grocery store? What’s next, animals with BONES?

I knew I had to do something with these purple potatoes that was more exciting than just roasting them in my oven. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long. This weekend I held another one of our Laowai Fun Meals, in which we make the (usually) non-Chinese foods we love.

I decided that purple potatoes would be perfect for gnocchi. Here’s the progression.

They looked rather like Play-Doh.

Look at them all huddled together and gossiping.

Gnocchi are sociable little creatures.

I pan-fried them in some butter and sage. It was nice—not outstanding, and would have been better if fresh sage existed in China. Technicalities.

TJ’s awesome girlfriend, Jean, made some curry. It was Japanese style rather than Indian or Thai style, not too spicy, and very tasty. She’s a good cook—last time we got together, she made sushi.

For over a month, Erik had been relentlessly pestering —I mean, subtly hint-dropping—that I make an apple pie, apparently one of his culinary soft spots. What he didn’t know is that he was dealing with the girl who made a film about making apple pie in her film class days [which was a critical a darling, as it made everyone hungry]. Since this weekend I had nothing else to do, I decided, what the hell! I’ll make an apple pie.

It had been a long time since I’d made a pie, and I wasn’t sure if it was like riding a bicycle. I didn’t have a recipe on hand, so I pilfered the always-trusted Smitten Kitchen all-butter pie crust (with no shortening in the Huzh, there was really no choice either way). Keeping this crust dough cold is of the utmost importance for a flaky, lovely crust. This proved a bit of a challenge, since the days now average a high of 34C/93F un-air conditioned, clingingly moist degrees.

So I made ice cubes, chilled the water, chilled the butter. I even chilled the flour. I was surprised by how easily I managed to roll out the crust, as I was rather anxious of a flour-clouded, dough-sticking disaster.

Deb at Smitten Kitchen suggests that you do something creative with the dough scraps you cut off from the overhang. Oh I thought of something creative alright—it went a little something like nom nom nom. Since the crust is two sticks of butter and a couple cups of flour bound by water[I probably bought half of Huzhou's butter supply for Saturday], I sprinkled some sugar on it to make it more palatable. That’s creativity at its height.

I chilled the rolled-out crust as I went to work on the filling. I used the filling recipe from another of Smitten Kitchen’s apple pies, but added more cinnamon and a few mini dots of butter to the apples.

This recipe also suggested an egg white wash and a sugar sprinkling once the top crust was rolled out. This sounded like a good idea to me, but then I realized I didn’t have a brush.

So I smeared with my fingers. I tried to sprinkle sugar, but since it’s so humid here that you can hear the mosquitos sweat, no matter how well I seal my dry ingredients, they always clump. The sugar was no exception.

I know what’s going to come next is going to be a big shock for everyone; probably something akin to learning that there is no Santa Claus, but: I am not a perfect cook. I know that it totally seems that way, and I am sorry that I’ve perpetuated the illusion that I am, in fact, Julia Child’s reincarnate.

Turns out that egg white wash/smear?

Not such a great idea.

Baking in my toaster oven can be tricky business. Some things don’t take as long, some things take much longer, and the damn thing doesn’t cook evenly. So the part of the pie I was checking on through the door looked fine. It was only when I deigned open the door that I saw this carnage.

Great. I’m sure that when Erik and TJ were dreaming about their beloved apple pie, they were especially looking forward to replenishing their body’s carbon reserves.

Luckily, it wasn’t that bad. It was the worst in the very center, and I thought it still tasted fine, not to carbon-y. Maybe all the butter helped.

But still. Ugly.

The filling, for some reason, got really soupy and liquid-y, yet was likewise still quite tasty.

Come pie time, I was nervous that it wouldn’t be good. Turns out my fears were unfounded, because ten minutes later, the four of us had finished the ENTIRE pie. Even I, the king AND queen of dessert bingeing, had anticipated that there would be about a third of the pie left. It was so validating to be among such enthusiastic apple pie snarfers.

When I’m an old woman, I shall wear purple and eat apple pie for breakfast every day.

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