Jan. 31, 2010

31 Jan

9:30 am

2  slices of wheat toast with Nutella

1 glass of skim milk

1 pm

1 bratwurst with mustard

8 celery sticks with ranch dressing

2 cans of Diet Pepsi

3 pm

1 orange

8 pm

chipped beef on biscuits

side mixed green salad with vinaigrette

1 glass of orange juice

Manwich. Hamburger Helper. Dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets. These are all dishes that I have eaten over the years because of my friend Abigail. But those dishes pale in comparison to her latest offering; chipped beef. If you have a grandparent who’s served in the military, they will remember S.O.S., or shit on a shingle. This is one of those dishes created in wartime scarcity with a cheap meat substitute, and to eat chipped beef is to travel back to a time when Rosie the Riveter helped turn out warships to fight the Axis power. If you watched Top Chef last season, you’ll remember this dish as something Jennifer Carroll made for Nigella Lawson and promptly got blasted by the judges. It’s not surprising, Jennifer is from Philadelphia and chipped beef is fairly popular in the northeast part of the United States. Chipped beef is air-dried beef slices that can only be described as Pringles made out of meat. Hormel, the largest manufacturer of chipped beef, actually compares it to the great Italian air-cured beef bresaola, which is like saying a Mazda Miata is comparable to a Ferrari. The beef chips are cooked in a bechamel sauce to make what tastes like a salty sausage gravy. Our friend Lucy was kind enough to bake Pillsbury biscuits, and the combination was oddly compelling, if salty. Somehow, beef chips are almost fat free. I don’t even want to know the chemical process to get to that point.

9:30 pm

1 slice of shoofly pie

Like horse-drawn carriages, beards, barns, Harrison Ford in “Witness” and Weird Al’s “Amish Paradise,” the shoofly pie is synonymous with the Pennsylvania Dutch. This incredibly dense and moist molasses pie is impossible to find in Los Angeles and I’ve never heard of it until I caught an episode of Good Eats on molasses. The recipe is really easy, and since Abigail was making a dish distinctive to that part of the United States, I figured shoofly pie would make a fitting dessert.

Shoofly pie recipe

I mostly stuck with Alton Brown’s recipe, but one crucial note must be added. Molasses is incredibly dense, so 12 oz. will actually weigh one pound. Hence, you should double-check any recipes with molasses to see if it calls for weight or volume. Conversely, some of us, like me, don’t have kitchen scales. I had to convert 8 oz. by weight into cups by hand. Generally, 1 cup of molasses per shoofly pie should work. I also added a bit of cinnamon and allspice to the batter. Cloves would work pretty well too.

Shoofly pies distinctive trait is that baking soda isn’t mixed in with the leavening agents. It’s mixed with boiling water instead to kick-start it. The result is a pie that won’t rise but retains a lot of moisture. Some people like their pie “wet-bottomed,” which means the bottom of the batter is still liquid. That results in a stronger molasses flavor. You can adjust the wetness of the pie by varying the amount of dry ingredients in the molasses. Some pies omit it entirely and just use it as a crumb topping, which makes for a true wet-bottomed pie. I made a relatively dry cake, which was by design. I’ve never ate shoofly pie before, and none of my friends or family heard of it. I didn’t want to overwhelm anyone on first bite. I baked two pies, one for my mom and the other for Abigail. I shared this test-slice with my mom and her eyes lit up after one bite. “It’s GOOD,” she exclaimed. “It’s not sweet, but it tastes like sugar.” My brother was less enthusiastic, he said it’s more of an acquired taste but could see why some people would love it. That’s the best way to describe shoofly pie. It is an acquired taste, and the only flavor is pretty much sugar. But there’s a lot of depth and complexion to the sweetness, and I can’t come up with a comparable flavor. The recipe is easy enough, and since you can’t find it anywhere in LA, I suggest making one if you’re curious.

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