Category Archives: food

Shiny Apple Pi (and some peach pie pi, too)

This week’s friday foto finder theme is “shiny.” I have loads of photos of shiny things in my photo library, but seeing as it’s Pi Day, I coudln’t resist including some pi (and some pie).

Apple pi, on a shiny plate. (The apple is pretty shiny, too.)


A shiny pi server.


Here is this year’s annual Pi Day pie, which was somewhat experimental: a peach blueberry pie with a crust topping in the shape of pi, and filled out with circles of pie crust (each of which had the circumference of roughly 2πr). To see some of the other pi pies from my past, check out my old post, easy as pi.

To see what other shiny bits people are sharing, check out the fff blog.

fff 200x60

Picking strawberries (friday foto finder: red)

Now that June is around the corner, that means that we are approaching strawberry season here in New England. The days of strawberry picking come and go quickly here, with the picking season typically lasting only a couple of weeks.

I love to take the kids to nearby farms to pick fruit. I love that it lets them see where their food comes from.

There’s also nothing quite like eating a freshly picked ripe red strawberry, warm from the hot sun.

The local berries don’t last as long once picked as the store-bought ones–they can spoil in only a day or two after being picked. Happily, we have no problem using them all. They always disappear far too quickly, seemingly no matter how many we pick!

This week’s friday foto finder challenge is to present something red. Red things abound in my photo library, yet I had a hard time choosing. I find I have too much to say about too many of my photos. I want to have time to tell the stories that go with the images. So I picked these red berries to share with you.

If you feel like seeing (more) red, check out the other entries on the friday foto finder blog.

Easy as pie

pi pie
My 2010 Pi Pie

Happy Pi Day! In celebration of Pi Day¹, and its auspicious landing on a Thursday, I offer to you this very large helping of pie-themed things. Mmmm, pie.

  • Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie: a line from the nursery rhyme Sing of song of sixpence²:

    Sing a song of sixpence
    a pocket full of rye
    four and twenty blackbirds
    baked in a pie

  • Little Jack Horner: Another nursery rhyme with pie.

    Little Jack Horner
    Sat in the corner,
    Eating a Christmas pie;
    He put in his thumb,
    And pulled out a plum,
    And said ‘What a good boy am I!

  • little jack horner  wsatterlee 1882 king with pie 012

  • Can she make a cherry pie?: A line from the folk song Billy Boy.
  • pie in the sky: used to describe plans or hopes considered unrealistic and overly optimistic
  • “high apple pie in the sky hopes”: a line from the song High Hopes, a song sung by Frank Sinatra
  • as easy as pie: an expression meaning “very easy.” In my experience, pie is not the easiest thing in the world to make. It involves crust, an oven, preparation of ingredients.³
  • “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe,” a quote by Carl Sagan
  • As American as apple pie: an expression meant to describe something quintessentially American. Of course, many cultures have versions of apple pies.⁴ Apple pie has nevertheless achieved a place in American culture:

    Although apple pies have been eaten since long before the European colonisation of the Americas, “as American as apple pie” is a saying in the United States, meaning “typically American”.[14] In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, apple pie became a symbol of American prosperity and national pride. A newspaper article published in 1902 declared that “No pie-eating people can be permanently vanquished.”[15] The dish was also commemorated in the phrase “for Mom and apple pie” – supposedly the stock answer of American soldiers in World War II, whenever journalists asked why they were going to war.[16]

    (From the Apple Pie Wiki Page⁵.)

  • American Pie: Don McLean’s signature song, first released in 1971. Bye-bye Miss American Pie… (I’m quite fond of this large-scale lip dub video version of the song produced by the city of Grand Rapids Michigan.)
  • American Pie (1999): a movie that includes various analogies of sex and pie.
  • pie-eyed: drunk
  • piebald: having patches of black and white (or other colors), especially describing the coat of an animal.
  • pie chart: a type of graph in which proportions of a whole (such as a whole data set) are depicted as wedges of a circle
    pie-pie-chart
  • piece of the pie: an expression meaning a share in something, such as a reward or credit.
  • mud pie: a pattie-shaped blob of mud, commonly made when playing in the mud
  • sweetie pie: a common term of endearment
  • cow pie: Not actually a pie made of cow (that would would be a beef pot pie), but a lump of cow manure. (Definitely not a term of endearment)
  • pie in the face: a bit of slapstick comedy, usually involving a whipped cream pie. Just like it sounds, it involves someone getting a pie in the face.
  • 10 banana cream pies: Sesame Street once featured a rather clumsy baker who would stand at the top of a flight of stairs, and announce the number of some sort of dessert he was holding, before falling and spilling all of them. He may not actually have used banana cream pies for 10, but the phrase seems to have stuck. (cf. the use on the show The Family Guy.)

Have more pies to bring to the table? Throw ‘em in the comments.

¹ So-called, as the date (at least as it is written here in the US) is 3-14, is reminiscent of the number Pi’s initial 3 digits: 3.14. My past celebrations of Pi Day have included easy as pi, my personal gallery of Pi Pies, and a Pi-themed list.
²I was surprised to learn that this nursery rhyme was actual used by pirates to convey messages. This is the sort of thing that would usually send me to Snopes to check, but in this case Snopes is where I found it.
³ Toast is much easier to make.
⁴ I love tarte aux pommes as made in France. You know what was hard to get in France when I lived there, though? Doritos.
⁵Really. Apple pie has a Wiki page. So do pumpkin pie, pecan pie and cherry pie.

Images: Little Jack Horner and the king with the pie are both from Project Gutenberg.

rainbow cupcakes


Over the last couple of years, and several cupcake productions, I came up with a method for making rainbow-topped cupcakes that is easy, fun, and very colorful. (Did I mention they have rainbows? We’re big fans of rainbows in this house.)

What you’ll need:

  • cupcakes (duh)
  • frosting, preferably in a light color (I make the standard butter cream frosting based on the recipe on a package of powdered sugar)
  • decorating sugar in a range of rainbow colors (also called sugar crystals or sugar sprinkles) I used bright pink, orange, yellow, light green, light blue and purple
  • (optional) other candy decorations
  • one or more small round dishes (soy sauce dishes are ideal, as they are the right size for cupcakes, and have a slight curvature)

What to do:
1. Pour out a small amount (about 1 teaspoon) of single color of sugar into the soy sauce dish.
2. With a finger, nudge the sugar over to one side of the dish, making a thick line. Don’t worry too much about shaping it.

3. Pour in your next color, and again nudge the sugar. The sugar will start to look like stripes.

4. Repeat with each of your next colors until either you have no more room, or until you have put in as many stripes as you like.

Repeat with multiple dishes if you want to make a production line.

5. Frost a cupcake, or a few cupcakes.

6. Invert the cupcake, and carefully lower onto the sugar stripes. Gently roll it around, pressing lightly, so that the whole top of the cupcake makes contact with the sugar.

7. Turn it back right-side up and admire the rainbow. (Here’s where I seem not to have taken a photo.)

If you want to add other candy sprinkles (like these stars), sprinkle a handful onto the top of the sugar stripes. (You’ll need to put the candy sprinkles again each time you dip a cupcake, but the rainbow stripes will last a few dips.)


This time I remembered to take a photo.

8. Frost another cupcake and dip it. With each dipping, the sugar stripes will shrink a bit. You can experiment with rolling the cupcake top around to make different patterns with the stripes. When the sugar gets low, push the stripes aside and start adding more stripes (like in steps 1 through 4.) Or, if you want to keep the stripes more even, you could dump out your sugar and start fresh in your dish. As for me, I enjoyed seeing the way the stripes shifted with each cupcake, and the patterns that emerged from adding additional stripes as the sugar in a dish ran low.

You can see here that the stripes vary, with the colors being more curvy in some parts, or more tightly spaced.

9. I also added white chocolate unicorns to the tops, after the sugaring. (I made these in advance with one of these unicorn candy molds. They were probably more trouble than they were worth, but I am a glutton for punishment. Unicorn-shaped sugary sweet punishment.) These needed a dab of frosting to stick to the cupcakes.

Notes:

  • I don’t know how long it takes to do this project. It’s probably faster if you don’t stop to take pictures a gazillion times. I think it took a good hour, but it was fun.
  • I could imagine doing this as a project with kids, especially if you are flexible about how the stripes will turn out. (And also if you anticipate needing to clean up a lot of spilt sugar.)
  • You could also experiment with making other stripe-based patterns with the sugar, such as for holiday themes (eg. red, white and blue or whatnot) or just in some favorite colors
  • While I’m not super thrilled about using all this artificial color, it does strike me that the sugar-sprinkle topping probably has less food coloring than you’d use to make saturated color frosting, or that you might use to make, e.g., rainbow cake batter. You might also try using natural dye colored sugars, such as those from India Tree.

Other Tips:

  • Wait to frost the cupcakes until you have the sugar ready. You’ll need the frosting to be freshly spread to get the sugar to stick. (If you do frost the cupcakes earlier, or use pre-fosted ones, try giving the frosting a bid of spreading with a knife.)
  • If your sugar came in a container with a shaker top (with little holes), remove the shaker insert to pour. (Or, if you have the kind of container that has the shaker built in, you might want to make the holes bigger using a knife or kitchen scissors. Shaking it out will be tedious and you will feel like stabbing something anyhow. If you do not want to mess with the integrity of your shaker, or if the hole is still too small to really pour, shake your sugar into a separate bowl, and then pour into your soy sauce dish when you have a good amount. If you shake into the soy sauce dish directly, the sugar will fly everywhere, and the integrity of your stripes will be breached.)

  • Why do they do this?


    I was lucky not to have injured myself in this step. They also make sugar that comes in separate jars, which is easier to pour.


These were some that I made a couple of years ago. At the time, I was attempting tie-dye cupcakes. They evolved into rainbows.

a dozen tomatoeufs

Back in the summer of 2007, I participated in a CSA, and found myself frequently overwhelmed by produce. Case in point: for several weeks in a row, I received 10 pounds of tomatoes a week. For people who do things like make pasta sauce and can it, this sort of bounty probably sounds wonderful. For me, who did neither, it was about 9 pounds of tomatoes too many per week.

I made it through, with many tomatoes shared with friends, many caprese salads, and probably a certain amount of compost.¹

I also had fun taking photos of the tomatoes. One week I had a large number of little egg-sized tomatoes, which inspired me to play with my food. (The yolk is a little round yellow tomato.)

¹ I also produced a fair amount of tomato posts, including a tomato ThThTh list, and a post about excessive tomatoes, in which I actually first posted these photos.²
² It’s so funny to go back and look at some of my old posts. I was a posting maniac back when this blog was in its infancy. Also, I was often pretty damn funny. If I do say so myself.³
³ Apparently, I do.

the great tomato debate

In the US, we are frequently subjected to the debate over the tomato’s status: Is it a fruit or a vegetable?

The answer, of course, is “yes.”

Because the real question is whether you are asking the question from a botanical or a culinary standpoint.

Botanically, it is unquestionably a fruit:

In botany, a fruit is a part of a flowering plant that derives from specific tissues of the flower, one or more ovaries, and in some cases accessory tissues.

But so is a bell pepper. Or zucchini. Or a butternut squash. But because these things are regularly cooked or included in savory dishes, they are considered vegetables. Culinarily, at least in the US and many European countries, tomatoes are treated as vegetables. You find them cooked into sauces and stews, roasted with garlic, or you might eat them raw, chopped up with herbs and olive oil on bruschetta. They go in the salad with lettuce and onion, not the salad with strawberries and melon.

However, in other parts of the world, the tomato’s status as a fruit is more widely accepted. I remember an occasion where we had a bit of a semester-end party on the last day of a particularly intensive class. People signed up to bring things. A guy from Korea signed up to bring some fruit, and he brought a little box of grape tomatoes, and it led to an interesting discussion.

I remembered this when we were served this dessert at the conference banquet¹ in Shanghai back in May:

The fruit salad consisted of chunks of melon, and grape tomatoes. Aside from my interest in the appearance of tomatoes in a fruit salad, it was a thoroughly disappointing dessert. Which, I suppose, was fitting.³

So, do you want to weigh in the debate?⁴

¹ Sadly, as is often the case with large-scale meals, the quality of the food was pretty mediocre. Pretty much everything I tried was bland.²

² Of course, my options were somewhat limited by my largely vegetarian diet constraints. So I didn’t partake, for example, of this soup. I did, however, appreciate that I was able to easily identify this as chicken soup. Other items that were served to us without explanation were more mysterious.

³ Did I mention the food was mediocre? The food was mediocre.

⁴ And if so, do you want to weigh in using pounds or kilograms?

fruit salad with raspberries and doldrums

Some friends invited us over for a pre-Thanksgiving pot-luck feast this evening. (Well, the feast was this evening. They invited us a week ago. Really, it would be a poor plan to invite people over for a spur-of-the-moment pot-luck. You’d probably end up with a lot of crackers and cereal. Probably many fewer casseroles. Which could actually be a good thing, depending on how you feel about casseroles.)

Anyhow, since we didn’t have to go scavenging through our cupboards, and were able to plan ahead, we went with several dishes. (Dishes containing food, even.) One of these dishes was a fruit salad prepared by Phoebe. She had the idea to make one, and even mentioned this before our trip to the grocery store. She worked really hard on it, spending close to 2 hours on it. She included raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, apple, pear, clementines, grapes, banana and mango. She did almost all of the cutting herself (I helped halve and core the apple and pear, as well as pitting and peeling the mango, since they were trickier.) I was very proud of her for seeing this task through from idea to finish. And I was proud of myself for minimizing my micromanagement. I let her decide which fruits to use, and let her decide how to cut things. Mostly this hands-off approach of mine was because my own hands were busy cooking the other dishes. (Or the other food things that we put in the dishes.)

The results of all of this included a salad that was both beautiful and tasty, and a Phoebe with a sense of accomplishment.

Phoebe’s phenomenal phruit salad.

As for the doldrums, they are all mine. I was on quite a roll with the daily posting, but I seem to have fallen off my roll. Probably because I spent many hours today cooking and socializing, and now I’m tired. It got to be after 11, and I found that all my post ideas of the previous days seem to have evaporated. (Well, some haven’t evaporated, but I need more time to write them than is available before midnight.) So I went for the low-hanging fruit salad.

Not coming soon to a chocolatier near you. Hopefully.

Last night I discovered that there had been an unfortunate incident in my refrigerator involving my emergency stash of dark chocolate. What, you don’t have an emergency stash? Well, it wasn’t really that I planned it that way. I bought a big stash to give away, and then ate most of it over a period of many months. 2 bars remained, often forgotten. Last night, I remembered them. I eagerly pulled out the plastic bag that wrapped up the 2 bars, and was surprised to find the bag looking wet. I pulled out the chocolate, and the wrappers looked wet, too. Not a good sign. I realized that they were oily. I peered back into the dimly lit recesses of my refrigerator, a scary thing to do even on better days. It did not take long to discover a little tub of pesto, laying on its side, its lid clearly not tightly sealed. The smell confirmed it was the culprit. Ever the optimist, I carefully removed the foil-lined wrapper from the bar of orange-infused 70% cacao fair trade organic dark chocolate, dropping it into a clean container without letting the outside of the wrapper or my oily fingers touch the chocolate surface. I washed my hands, and took an optimistic nibble. A second less optimistic nibble confirmed: the chocolate had been pestoed. Fatally so.

Because you know what is not a winning flavor combination? Dark chocolate with orange, basil, garlic, parmesan, and olive oil. Just in case anyone out there was considering experimenting.

Also, it is very hard to wash the smell of pesto off one’s hands. I keep washing them, but it won’t go away. I’m like Lady MacBeth, but with pesto. (Yet who would have thought the little tub to have had so much oily pesto in it?)

When red + white = blue. (Experiments using red cabbage to dye eggs blue)

Abstract:
+ =

Introduction:
A couple of years ago, I learned that it was possible to dye eggs blue using red cabbage.¹ Typically, we have used a variety of artificial coloring options for our egg-dying needs, whether liquid food coloring or the store-bought Paas-type kits. Last year I was determined to try my hand at doing some natural dyes with vegetables. In the end, I gave up on my plans for using onion skins or artichokes. (The water from steaming artichokes is often an intense bright blue-green, but not from the particular ones I made that day). But I followed through with the cabbage.

I had forgotten how long it took to dye the eggs, but looking back at the photos, I see that it did indeed take a lot longer than the food coloring. So be warned: The eggs took a good couple of hours of soaking to get blue.

Methodology:
I started by cutting up some red cabbage and boiling it in some water.²

The resulting juice was quite purple, and I was doubtful that it would produce blue. It was, however, quite pretty. (6:18 p.m.)

We dunked the first egg and let it soak. 16 minutes later, a peek showed the egg looking somewhat lilac-colored. (6:34 p.m.)

At some point, I added a bit of vinegar to the cabbage juice, inspired by the instructions for dying eggs on the box of food coloring. The purple cabbage juice turned even redder, which made me even more doubtful of achieving blueness. So I poured some more cabbage juice into another glass to have one without vinegar, and dunked another egg to soak.

Here we are, almost an hour after first dunk. Getting to be the kids’ bedtime. Time to break out the chemicals. Here’s Phoebe, squeezing out some blue food coloring. (7:22 p.m.)

I don’t have a time for when the first egg (from the vinegar mixture) came out, but it did indeed come out blue eventually. Having read up a bit on red cabbage (as one is wont to do), I had learned that red cabbage juice changes color based on pH levels. Acid leads to redder colors, and adding something alkaline, and raising the pH, should make it bluer. I then tried adding baking soda to the cabbage juice with the vinegar. The change was instant and dramatic, turning from red to greenish blue.

Here we are, hours after the first dunk. (11:27 p.m.) The two glasses show “neutral” cabbage juice (left), and alkaline cabbage juice (right). In the background are the rest of the completed eggs, mostly dyed with food coloring. (I think the first cabbage dyed one is there in the photo, too. Second row, left, behind a yellow egg.)

Results:
Here are the chemically-dyed (top) and cabbagely-dyed (bottom) blue eggs arranged together. The lighter-colored leftmost cabbage-dyed egg is the one from the baking soda solution. (Blotchiness is due to condensation that happened from putting the previously-refrigerated eggs outside for the egg hunt.)

3 of one, a half half dozen of the other.

Discussion
In the process, I realized why it is that it helps to add vinegar to dye eggs. Egg shells are composed primarily of calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is commonly used to neutralize acidity and raise the pH level: it is the main ingredient of antacids such as Tums, as well as agricultural lime. Acids can dissolve calcium carbonate. I’m guessing that adding vinegar starts to break down the egg shell, allowing the color to permeate and bond more quickly to the shell.

This would explain why the redder cabbage juice with added acidity led to a bluer shell (or got there faster) than the bluer-appearing cabbage juice with baking soda added.

Future study:
This year, I’m hoping to try the cabbage dye again, and also to experiment with beets, carrots, berries, and turmeric. I also may play around with acidity levels of the dye solutions again, as well as using brown eggs in addition to white. I wonder if pre-soaking an egg in vinegar would make it more permeable to dyes. (Did you know that you can dissolve the shell off an egg with vinegar? That’s another science experiment for us to do.)

Conclusions:
Can you tell I’ve been wrapped up in academic writing? I need to get to bed.³

References:
More resources on using natural food dyes for eggs can be found at various places around the web:
Natural Easter Egg Dyes on about.com, Making natural Easter egg dye, Three ways to dye eggs, Natural Easter Egg Dyes

Appendix:
Here are all of the photos from above, plus a few more.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


¹ I think it was from NotSoSage, who sadly, has purged her blog archives. I’m pretty sure she also made red/purple eggs using red onion skins.
² That’s not entirely true, I started by buying a red cabbage. And there were steps leading up to that as well. I had to get up in the morning, for example. Sometimes that is the hardest step.
³ Seriously, I need to get to bed.