Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Book Your Thanksgiving Pies!

It's time to think about booking your holiday pies! Yes, the Pie Queen had some successful pie-baking for y'all last year, even working out of that tiny, tiny, freezer-less Oakland studio. This year, I have a bigger kitchen and a lot more space at my disposal, so the pie-making will be happier (for me) and even tastier (for you).

What kinds of pies would you like? Here's what PQ's considering, but there's lots more in the repertoire! In general, at this time of year, PQ doesn't want to freak out you (or your guests) by putting weird things into your apple pie. Especially for this very tradition-bound holiday. Then again, PQ has made, upon request, both cherry pie and key-lime pie for Thanksgiving, and a good time was had by all, so if you're longing for Meyer lemon meringue or chocolate silk instead, it can happen. All pies are possible!

Crusts are all-butter; fabulous butter-lard or vegan/nondairy upon request.

Classic Autumn Apple
Made with a mix of tart and sweet California apples, lightly sweetened and spiced. With or without raisins.

Pumpkin No Libby's here! Made with fresh, slow-roasted winter squash, eggs, cream, and spices. A custardy delight!

Sweet Potato A Southern favorite! Made with baked sweet potato, brown sugar, eggs, and cream.

Cranberry-Tangerine Something different! A PQ family fave: tangy, ruby-red, chilled cranberry-tangerine filling in a crunchy walnut crust. Perfect with fresh whipped cream!

Pecan More nuts, less goop! Finally, a pecan pie that doesn't curl your molars. Also available in Chocolate-Pecan.

Pear & Quince A luscious autumn treat.

And a non-pie offering: Cranberry-Walnut Tea Bread. An excellent, lightly sweetened loaf that's perfect toasted and buttered for T-day (or day-after-T-day) breakfast.

Pies are $22-$28 each, and can be baked in a disposable foil pan or in a reusable glass or metal pan (available for refundable deposit or a small additional fee.)

For more info and to set up an order, call me at 415-623-6212 or email at dixieday(at)aol(dot)(com).

*Dietary restrictions: I can't promise a strictly gluten-free or nut-free environment for those with serious allergies. But if you just have a common dietary-choice issue, like being vegan or wheat-free, well, PQ loves a challenge! I can make vegan, wheat-free, dairy-free and/or eggless crusts and fillings, as well as wheat-free crusts. Just ask!*

What's for Dinner? Bugs!

So I helped cook up a very nice Halloween dessert a few days ago, something sure to delight and horrify even the most implacable kid. The recipe? Take one big scoop of ghostly white vanilla ice cream. Pour on a bloody avalanche of ruby-red syrup made from prickly pear (the spiny, dark-red cactus fruit called tuna in Mexican markets), as bright as the outtakes of a Richard Ramirez flick. Then came the coup de grace, the thing to separate the mere Butterfingers-eaters from the true aficianados of the deep-down Halloween scare.

I'm talking, of course, about the worms. The caramelized mealworms, to be precise, crunchy and sweet but absolutely undisguised in their utter mealworm-ness. A bloody sundae topped with actual candied worms: does it get any spookier than that?

Mealworms, it seems, are the larval form of the Tenebrio molitor, the darkling beetle. They're common in California, where they were long part of the diet of native peoples in the region. They were the final creepy-crawly delight in a night of Edible Insects and Other Rare Delicacies at the Headlands Center for the Arts last week. The event, part of a well-publicized trend towards insect-eating was conceived and run by Monica Martinez, a Mexican artist who now runs a special-events company called Don Bugito, specializing in edible insects, and chef/bioartist Phil Ross, founder of CRITTER, a very vocal champion of entomophagy. To Martinez and Ross, eating insects isn't a novelty or a gross-out dare; instead, they see the long culinary history in many countries and cultures, where bugs may have started out as a subsistance food in places where any readily available source of fat and protein was prized, wriggly or not, but later became prized as delicacies. Several reporters were on hand during our two days of kitchen prep for this dinner, and both Martinez and Ross spoke with great sincerity about the deliciousness of the bugs they were roasting, frying, and pan-toasting. As anyone who has lived in a New York City apartment knows, insects are an abundant, green and renewable resource; they will be here, rubbing their six or eight legs together and feasting in the back of our cabinets long after factory-farming of bigger four-legged creatures has exhausted the resources of the planet. (Even bedbugs, scourge of urban living, are edible, Martinez insists.)

The five-course tasting meal that Martinez and Ross came up with featured bugs (some brought in from Mexico, others local) in every course. There were no giant scorpions to saw through; this was not knife-and-fork eating. The insects--crickets, wax-moth larvae, fly eggs--were used more as garnish and flavorings than solid entrees. In fact, a few of the artists in attendance wished the insects had been more in evidence. What's the point of a bug dinner if you're not crunching down on wings and antennae? The plates were daintily sized, too, just a few bites per course. ("We're going out for a burger later," one artist whispered to me as she toyed with the last few mealworms on her plate.)

For anyone that was feeling a little squeamish, though, drink pairings came with every course, from worm-salted Mezcal Factoria del Santos to wash down the lake-fly fritters to honey wine spritzers with the wax-moth larvae and corn custards.

And while the $50-a-plate attendees may have the more elegant experience most enthusiastic bug eaters turned out to be the squadron of servers and volunteers who came out to help, many connected to Martinez through her work at La Cocina. (Don Bugito is part of La Cocina's small-business incubator program, receiving mentorship, business advice, and reduced kitchen-use rates.) Working hard for free throughout the evening, they got their reward at the end of the night, when all the extra food was piled on platters in the middle of the kitchen. No dainty portions here: the mostly-twentysomethings grabbed plates and dug in, popping Tecates and piling their plates high with avocado, corn, and zucchini speckled with escamoles fried in brown butter and tomatillo-jicama-cricket salad, munching with the same enthusiasm they'd bring to a super carnitas burrito from El Farolito. Scary? No way.