What We Spent and What We Ate: F-You, Pies. F-You.

Humble Pie

Pat says I’m a spazzy cook.  I have these manic episodes in the kitchen that usually result in some minor disaster.  Pie making for Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law’s was no exception.

On Thanksgiving morning, I threw together two pumpkin pies and my quince and cranberry pie was off to a good start.  I poached the quince and cranberries in honey with a vanilla bean.  The house smelled like heaven, but I didn’t enjoy it because I was too busy flitting about the kitchen like a circus monkey on speed.  I strained the fruit and made the syrup by adding a little flour and butter to the honey.  It was a little thick, but it tasted so good it didn’t matter.  I proceeded to roll out my crust, put it in my pie plate and add the quince and cranberry.

And that’s when things started to go downhill.  There wasn’t enough fruit to fill the giant pie pan, so I had to rush to peel and slice a few apples and mix them in.  Then I put the streusel on top. . . . and realized I’d forgotten to add the syrup.  I dumped out the fruit and rinsed off the streusel, removing all flavor from the quince slices.  Then I put a couple layers back in the pie dish, drizzled some syrup over it and went to tend to a fist fight in the living room.

I returned and put in the rest of the fruit and sprinkled on what was left of the streusel.  Then I realized I’d forgotten the syrup again.

All I could do was say, “Oh F*%#@  it” and just put the thing in the oven.  Then I entered my full-on manic phase.  I started doing ten things at once and I over-cooked the pie, rendering the fruit dry and rubbery.

I decided (with less than two hours until Thanksgiving dinner) I needed to make another pie.  I called my mom, got directions for her Dear Abby pecan pie, doubled it and made another giant pie.

I only had half the brown sugar, so I added Muscovado sugar–a very dark, mollasesy sugar that costs a million dollars and I was saving for somthing special.  I didn’t have enough corn syrup, so I added a couple teaspoons of black strap mollases.  It was kind of a globby mess, but in my frenzied state, I was obliviously optimistic.  I crimped the crust perfectly and turned every pecan face down (my mother always does this–she says it’s because jumbled pecans used to upset her father).  Then I cooked it until it was burning slightly on top.  I was a little worried that it still had some jiggle to it, but we had to leave.  I put all the pies and kids in the car and ran out the door–only 10 minutes behind schedule.

After an amazing dinner, I came into the kitchen to whip the whipped cream.  I was feeling nervous and I over-whipped it into near-butter.  I coped with this well and my sister-in-law, Trish and I started cutting pies.  I was still holding it together–even when the slices of quince pie were impossible to remove from the pie dish without falling apart.  Then I heard Trish say, “The pecan pie is a little runny.”  I looked over and saw the BP oil spill revisited in my pie dish.  A big gush of black sludge was pouring out from under the shell.  At this point I freaked.  To make matters worse, the pumpkin pie was overcooked and the new pre-made crust I’d used as back-up was lousy.

Everyone looked kind of sad about the pie.  It was little comfort when someone said, “The ice-cream is good.”  I was Icarus, only instead of wax wings I had made experimental pie filling.  And I’d crashed and burned.

Pat’s mom cheered me up and I was soon distracted by my three-year-old who was spitting on the floor because his older brothers had tricked him into eating dog food.

The next day Pat reminded me that his family loved me and didn’t care and I’d had a wonderful Thanksgiving. True, I was lucky enough to spend my Thanksgiving with a house-full of people I love. Next Thanksgiving, I’m going to make something way easier and just enjoy the day.  My mother-in-law makes it look effortless and maybe someday I’ll be able to do it as well as she does.  Until then, I’ve got to learn to focus on the Thankful  part instead of the impress the in-laws part.

I wish I had a picture of my black sludge pie.  It would make me laugh and remind me not to over-shoot the mark.

Partial pie redemption

My pie crust came out pretty good the second time I made it.  I got the Cook’s Illustrated butter/lard/vodka thing down, I think.  I agree with the comments advising you follow the recipe exactly.  Pie crust time is no time to get creative.

I had leftover crust and quince to go with the vanilla syrup I forgot to use in the Thanksgiving pie.  I made (and undercooked) this:

I also had leftover pumpkin and chersonskaya squash filling.  For Saturday morning’s breakfast I mixed the filling with a couple of eggs, a cup or so of quinoa flakes, and a little leftover sweetened condensed milk.  I poured the mixture in little ramekins and baked them for about 1/2 hour at 350 degrees.  It’s like pie for breakfast!

What We Ate:  A dress size worth of carbs.

Saturday: spinach and pasta, salmon, roasted fennel

I made pasta for the first time.  It was easy in theory, but I had to make it several times to get the dough right.  Then I didn’t roll it thinly enough.  But I learned a lot and I can’t wait to do it again.  Lute helped me with my pasta machine, which doesn’t have a clamp to hold it in place.  We were quite a pair with our arms tangled, yelling at each other (and the pasta) and cheering when each piece was done.

I tried a Martha Stewart orechiette recipe first– I really liked this photo tutorial and have imitated it here.

I also tried this pasta dough recipe.  My cousin accidentally dumped olive oil in my volcano when I asked him to drizzle about a teaspoon in.  I compensated by adding fewer eggs and it came out fairly good.  I’ll try it again following the recipe.

As for the weird headless pictures of me–I made Luther promise not to take pictures of my face since I am a government spy.  Actually, I just didn’t have any make up on and my hair looked like a rat’s nest.

Martha Stewart Orechiette Recipe that I used for noodles:


2 cups semolina flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon coarse salt

1 cup water, divided, plus more if needed


Pile your flours and salt on your work surface.

Mix them with your hands.  Isaac loved this–he was very excited that we got to make a big mess on the table. 

Make a pile.

Then make a little volcano.

Then pour in 1/2 cup water.  In the batch shown here, I used an egg, too.  Mix in the flour until it’s all incorporated.  I unknowingly created an active volcano and it erupted.  There is no picture because Lute was scrambling to help scoop up the runaway egg and water.  It was pretty hilarious.

Keep adding water, a tablespoon at a time, until it forms a dough.  I’m pretty sure it’s not supposed to look like this.

Then knead the dough for a while.  It took me a little under 10 minutes.  It was a great workout and more fun than the gym.

You should wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let is set up for a while.  The orechiette was a pain to cut, so I ended up rolling it through the pasta machine and making noodles.  They were yummy with olive oil, parmesan and spinach.  I’ll try the orechiette later–you can make extra and freeze it, so it’s worth the effort if you have time.

Sunday: butternut ravioli with brown butter and sage and purslane salad with walnuts, apples and fresh cranberry dressing

For the filling, I just put cream, melted butter, squash, nutmeg, salt and pepper in the baby food maker (even if you don’t have a baby, you need one of these).  I used this ravioli recipe and the same basic procedure as the day before.  I didn’t roll it thin enough, but it was still good.  It was fun using the little ravioli cutter my mother-in-law gave me–you can see it off to the right.

For the sauce, I just browned some butter in a little saucepan and tossed in some thinly sliced strips of sage.  I had to run outside and pluck off some leaves from the sage plant Pat had bought at Home Depot and planted earlier that day.  Luckily, the plant is still alive.  And Home Depot sage tastes good.

You will be extra happy if you let the sage get crispy in the browned butter.

Monday: leftover beans and naan

I also used the leftover beans for lunch the next day.  You can put anything on a tostada shell and it will taste good.

Tuesday: lamb, pomegranate and quince stew; whole wheat couscous; roasted cauliflower with mint, ginger and lime; green salad with toasted pine nuts.

I got the lamb and pomegranate idea from a Jamie Oliver recipe that I can’t get to open on his web site.  Lamb and pomegranate is a common Persian pairing–and it’s amazing.

First, I dredged the lamb in a little flower and browned it and added some cinnamon, cloves, ground cardamom,

I added the meat to my crock pot with about a cup of concentrated pomegranate syrup from LeLe market.  It’s cheap and worked out well.  I deglazed the pan with port, and added some onion, celery, cloves, fresh ginger, 7 spice powder, and freshly ground cardamom seeds.


Later I added walnuts and diced quince.  The quince were great, but I hated the walnuts in it.

I topped it off with fresh pomegranate seeds and chocolate mint from the garden.

It was a quiet dinner, which means it was a good stew.

Wednesday: macaroni and cheese with bacon and carmelized onion

Pat had to bring a dish to the pot luck at work and he signed up for mac and cheese.  I’ve always used my old Joy of Cooking recipe.  I’ve had plenty of other good macaroni and cheeses, but I’m loyal to this one.

Joy of Cooking Macaroni and Cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 1 1/2-quart deep baking dish. Bring to a rolling boil in a medium saucepan:

6 cups water

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Add and cook just until tender:

2 cups elbow macaroni (8 ounces)

Drain and remove to a large bowl. Have ready:

2 1/4 cups grated sharp Cheddar or Colby cheese

Melt in a large saucepan over medium-low heat:

2 tablespoons butter

Whisk in and cook, whisking, for 3 minutes:

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Gradually whisk in:

2 cups whole milk (you can warm it or scald it first if you want)

Stir in:

1/2 medium onion, minced

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika

Simmer gently, stirring often, for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in two-thirds of the cheese. Season with:

salt and ground black pepper to taste

Stir in the macaroni. Pour half of the mixture into the baking dish and sprinkle with half of the remaining cheese. Top with the remaining macaroni and then the remaining cheese. Melt in a small skillet over medium heat:

1 tablespoon butter (I use more and sometimes I use olive oil)

Add and toss to coat:

1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs (I use quite a bit more than this–when we have good bread, I save some especially for this purpose)

Sprinkle over the top of the macaroni. Bake until the breadcrumbs are lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

I doubled the recipe (note the giant pot of bechemel) and Pat insisted we top it off with carmelized onions and bacon.




Thursday: Thanksgiving.  I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

Friday:  stuffed acorn squash

I made an easy version of a recent New York Times recipe using quinoa instead of risotto.  We didn’t have any wine, so I didn’t think it was worth the effort.  It only took about 15 minutes total work time and it was really good.  I mixed in toasted pine nuts, dried cranberries, chopped kale (blanched and squeezed dry), carmelized onions, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.  It was good with a little drizzle of melted butter on top.

What We Spent: Not much.

We spent about $60 at the Wednesday farmers’ market and $97.88 at Sprouts.  Pat spent another $20 on bacon, cheese, Barilla macaroni and a few other things.  Total=  about $178

Related Links:

Life of Pies


5 Comments on “What We Spent and What We Ate: F-You, Pies. F-You.”

  1. Margot Mason says:

    Kristen, your blog is SUPERB! Anthony groaned from the pit of his commiserating stomach when he heard about poor Walter’s inadvertent taste ‘o canine fare.. Keep it up girl! You are a true inspiration to this fearful cook! Margot and Anthony

  2. df says:

    You are fearless and creative in the kitchen and a joy to read! Your pie disasters have played out in similar ways in my kitchen, but I’m not so good at sharing my disasters. I really should, because I’m so incredibly envious of your post title, and it just doesn’t work unless you are addressing a disaster. Keep fighting!

  3. […] What We Spent and What We Ate: F-You, Pies. F-You, by The Food Fighters, November 26. This Thanksgiving post is from my very favorite blog, about a Phoenix family striving to eat heathfully and thoughtfully each week. […]

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