Monday, January 27, 2014

Pushing Daisies: Perfect Pear Pie

Some time in the last two years, I managed to get myself addicted to binge-watching television programmes. I think it starts out with some Japanese tv dramas, then rewatching the first four seasons of the new Doctor Who because I hate the last two seasons so much, and then to other things. I hate to even think about how many hours I have spent in front of my computer screen, watching television. Grey's Anatomy, House, Game of Thrones, Scrubs, the list goes on. Some, like Grey's and GOT, I won't finish - Grey's because it is over-the-top dramatic  and GOT because I've read the A Song of Ice and Fire books and they are just so much better than the television version. In fact, I would go as far as to say the television adaptation is awful in comparison. George RR Martin, you sir are a literary genius. 

On the other hand, there are programmes that are worth continuing watching. House and Scrubs I will put in that category, more for their relevance (however inaccurate) to my chosen career than anything else. The first four seasons of Doctor Who also make it (I can't resist David Tennant), as does Broadchurch for its heart-wrenching brilliance. Even among these, one stands out: Pushing Daisies. A comedy-drama that revolves Ned the pie maker who has the ability to wake the dead, it is the most unassuming and hilarious work I have ever watched. The bright colours and playful acting make it seem like it should be a programme for children, but the sexual innuendos and underlying darker themes of life/love/death (the usual) make it both heartwarming and thought-provoking for adults.  

GIFs from Tumblr

Despite having been cancelled at the end of the second season, Pushing Daisies made such an impact that one of the pies made by Chuck (Ned's one and only with whom he has an extremely unconventional relationship) for her aunts has been accounted for by none other than Martha Stuart. It was as delicious as they made it look on the show and I have now found my go-to pastry crust, as well as a go-to filling should I wish to make a pie. I suppose I just said  I have a go-to pie, which is true. MAKE THIS. And WATCH ALL TWO SEASONS of Pushing Daisies. You will not regret either one.  Especially the latter - Lee Pace's eyebrows are amazing. 

I got in trouble for not wiping down the table before taking this photo... sorry. We don't usually live and eat in filfth. 

Ned and Chuck's Perfect Pear Pie (inspired by Pushing Daisies; recipe from Martha Stewart)


For the crust 

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon sugar
225g chilled unsalted butter, cut in pieces

¼ to ½ cup ice water

For the filling
1 pie dough for 2 crusts (as per above)
1 cup pecan pieces, toasted
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp kosher salt
½ cup packed dark-brown sugar
½ cups fresh or frozen cranberries
½ pounds pears, peeled, cored, cut into medium pieces
1 Tbsp unsalted butter, in pieces
2 Tbsp corn starch
1 large egg
sanding sugar (optional)


To make the crust: Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl. Add the butter and combine until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the ice water slowly while mixing, just until the dough holds together (do not over-mix). Turn the dough out onto a work surface and divide it in two. Place each half on a sheet of plastic wrap, flatten, and form two discs. Wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

To make the pie: On a lightly floured surface, roll out one half of the dough into a 30cm circle, brush off excess flour, and fit the dough to a 23cm pie dish (obviously mine was a bit smaller than this - I halved the recipe). Press the edges down around the inside, trim the dough to 1-1.5cm over the dish. Roll out remaining half of dough and transfer it to a baking sheet. Chill the pie shell and disk of dough. 

In a large bowl, combine the pecans, cinnamon, salt, sugar, cranberries, pears, butter, and corn starch. Mix well and transfer the mixture to the cold pie shell.

Whisk the egg with 2 teaspoons of water and brush the egg glaze around the rim of the dough. Transfer the cold disk of dough on top, press down gently, and press the top and bottom pieces of dough together, around the rim (you can either do this or do what I did and cut strips of dough to make a lattice pattern). Trim the top dough with scissors to about 1.5cm and fold it under. Crimp the edge of the pie as desired. Brush the surface of the pie with the egg wash. If going for the solid topp, make 3 slits in the top for steam to escape. Sprinkle sanding sugar over the top if desired. Freeze the pie for 30 minutes to firm up the butter and heat the oven to 200
°C, with a rack in the lower third. (I didn't freeze the pie so instead heated up the oven before I started assembling the pie - time is money!). 

Bake the pie for around 20 minutes, or until the crust begins to brown. Reduce the heat to 180
°C and continue to bake until the crust is richly golden brown, rotating as needed, for 40 to 55 minutes. Transfer the pie to a wire cooling rack to cool.

Serving: Cut pie and serve warm with ice cream (this step is mandatory).

- Matilda

P.S. Basically, the facts are these: I need to stop watching television. Well, stop binge-watching it at the very least. Somehow the desire to do such things deserted me during the holidays but I am more than certain that the itch will return come semester one, i.e. today, when this post is published. Here is a public declaration and promise to myself that I will not let myself get sucked into television as I did in 2013! 

Monday, January 20, 2014

30 Things to Do with Eggshells by The Prairie Homestead

List compiled by Jill on The Prairie Homestead.

**It is very important to only use eggshells from healthy, natural chickens if you or your animals are going to ingest the shells. Eggs from factory farms are not only less nutritious, but can also carry harmful pathogens. I personally have no problem eating raw eggs from my own free-range hens, but I wouldn’t do so with eggs from the store.**

1. Feed them to your chickens. Boost your flock’s calcium intake by crushing the shells and feeding them back to your hens. My girls much prefer crushed egg shells over the oyster shell supplement from the feed store. I wrote a post a while back that has all the details of collecting, crushing, and feeding the shells. 
2. Use the shell’s membrane as an all-natural bandage. I just discovered this idea, so I have yet to try it, but what a cool concept! The membrane of the shell is reported to help promote healing in cuts and scratches. This post should be able to answer most of your questions about using membranes as a first-aid tool. 
3. Boil the shells in your coffee. My first thought when I read this idea was ”Why on earth would you do that?” But apparently, people have been boiling eggshells in their coffee for centuries to help clarify the grounds and reduce bitterness. I have yet to give this a try myself, but it might be worth a try. Here is a Boiled Eggshell Coffee tutorial.
4. Sprinkle the shells around your garden to deter pests. Soft-bodied insects like slugs or snails don’t like crawling over sharp pieces of shell.
5. Give your tomatoes a calcium boost. Blossom-end rot is a common tomato problem, but I recently learned that it is actually caused by a calcium deficiency in the plant. Experienced gardeners often place eggshells in the bottom of the hole when transplanting their tomato plants to help combat this problem. I’m definitely trying this next year!6. Eat them. Yeah, I know. First I told you to eat your weeds, and now I’m saying to eat eggshells…Hey, I never claimed to be normal. ;) But yes, many folks actually do eat eggshells for their awesome amounts of calcium.  I’ve never actually tried it, but I know that several of my readers have. This post will give you all the info you need to make your own calcium-rich eggshell powder.
7. Use them to start seedlings. If homemade paper pots aren’t your style, give some of your smaller seedlings a start in rinsed-out shells. This post from Apartment Therapy will give you all the info and photos you need to get you started.
8. Toss them in the compost pile. Add calcium to your compost by adding shells to your pile or tumbler.
9. Sow directly into the soil. If none of the previous idea sound appealing and you don’t have a compost pile, then you can simply turn crushed shells directly into your garden patch. It’s still better than sending them to the garbage.
All of the following ideas were submitted by readers of The Prairie Homestead:
10. Potting Soil Addition: Used coffee grounds and egg shells are wonderful in potted plants. I use a 1:4 ratio. (From Tala)
11. Blade Sharpening: Keep them in the freezer and use to clean and sharpen blender blades by adding water. Then pour the mixture into your compost bin. (From Greenie and Ceridwyn)
12. Canine Remedy: I save mine and let them dry out, when I have a good size amount I crush them, then use a coffee grinder and make them into a powder. If one of my dogs get diarrhea, I just sprinkle a couple teaspoons of the powder on their food for a day and the diarrhea goes away. (From Terri)
13. Calcium Pills: I save my eggshells in a large bowl, then I steam them to sanitize them and let them dry. Then I grind them down (I use a vitamix but I think any blender would do if you crush them a little first, or just do it in a coffee grinder) into a fine powder and spoon them into 00 gelatin capsules for homemade calcium pills. (From Mari)
14. Mineral supplement: I sometimes soak egg shells in lemon water for a few weeks in the fridge. Then I add a tiny bit to my shakes to get extra minerals. (From Jill)
15. Tooth RemineralizingNatural has an article about using comfrey root & fresh egg shell (organic & pasture raised) for re-mineralizing your teeth.  Not sure about this particular method, but it would make sense due to the healing properties of the comfrey AND the minerals in the egg shell.  (From Jennifer)
16. Sidewalk chalk: 5-8 egg shells (finely ground), 1 tsp hot water, 1 tsp flour, food coloring optional…mix and pack into toilet tissue rolls and let dry. (From Linda)
17. First Aid Treatment: Fresh egg membranes applied, then allowed to dry, will “draw” minor infections: splinter, pimple, boil, etc. (From Anne)
18. Making Water Kefir: You can also use egg shell to nourish your water kefir grains.  You just add 1/4 of a clean egg shell to your water kefir while it’s brewing.  We’ve done this instead of buying mineral drops and it seems to work great. (From Jenna, Sherry, and Tiffani)
19. Christmas Ornaments: When I found a large cache of slightly-flawed plastic suncatcher ornaments to paint cheap at the local flea market a few years ago, I snatched a big bunch of them up.  I mixed regular acrylic colors with Elmer’s glue and various “texturizing” elements to pack those suncatchers with.  I tried everything from small seeds and spices, to sifted sand, and my favorite turned out to be crushed egg shells.  They were no longer transparent, but the flaws were covered, and they make very nice Christmas tree ornaments, wall hangings, mobiles, etc.  (From Sweetp)
20. Make Calcium Citrate: Make your own calcium citrate using only fresh farm raised, preferably organic, egg shells.  Rinse residual egg out of the shells and air dry. Crush the shell and add 1t. lemon juice per egg shell and cover.  The lemon juice will dissolve the shell and there you have it… calcium citrate. (From Mary Anne)
21. Calcium-Rich Vinegar: I was taught by my herbalist teacher to make a calcium rich vinegar by adding calcium rich herbs (nettles, dock, etc) and one clean high quality eggshell to apple cider vinegar.  It needs to infuse for at least six weeks, then be decanted.  But the calcium from the shell and the plants goes into the vinegar and can be used as regular vinegar would be in salad dressing, over cooked greens, etc.  (From Sara)
22. Pan Scrubber: Crushed egg shells work great to scrub pans that have food stuck in them. Yes they will break up, but they still do the job! (From Rose)
23. Ice Cream Addition (?): I was told companies put egg shell powder in cheap ice cream to add extra calcium.  I imagine you could do this when making homemade ice cream as well. (From Brenda)
24. Comestic Booster: Make it into a powder and add a little bit to your nail polish to strengthen nails. Take that same powder and put it into ice cube trays with water and rub it on your face– it helps reduce the look of wrinkles. Put the powder in your lotion– it softens your hands. (From Amy)
25. Add to Broth/Stocks: For extra calcium and minerals. (From Becky and Tiffani)
26. Arts and Crafts: Use to make mosaics or mixed-media art projects. (From Carol and Janet)
27. House Plant Booster: My Grandmother kept eggshells covered with water in a mason jar which she used to water her African violets. She had the most magnificent plants imaginable! (From Cynthia)
28. Wild Bird Treat: You can also feed them to the birds. They’re high in calcium and are great for birds in the spring when they are laying eggs– just make sure to sterilize them. Bake them in the oven for 20 minutes at 250 F and crush them. (From Susanne)
29. Laundry Whitener: To help your whites not to turn greyish, put a handful of clean and broken down eggshells and 2 slices of lemon in a little cheesecloth bag with your clothes in the washer. It will prevent the soap deposit that turns the white clothes grey.(From Emilie)
30. Garbage Disposal Cleaner: Toss a few shells down your disposal to help freshen things up. (From Carol)

And that's it! Click on the link above to see more reader suggestions that were submitted to The Prairie Homestead :)

- Matilda 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Espresso Ice Cream

For years I begged for an ice cream maker: "We'll save so much money on ice cream!" ... "We'll get to eat more of a variety of ice creams!" ... "It'll be fun!!" Before I realised, I am no longer a child. I have my own bank account. I have my own PayPal account. I have my own eBay account. I can buy my own ice cream maker! And so I did just that. Merry Christmas and a happy New Year Matilda, may you have a good time and try not to gorge yourself on too much ice cream.

Blue Ribbon is our 'cheap' ice cream brand of choice and when I was little, they made an absolutely delicious coffee flavour. Maybe people weren't buying it (oh don't worry, we were) or maybe the powers that be just decided that they didn't like coffee, but one day Blue Ribbon's coffee ice cream just did not appear  on the supermarket shelves. So after a test run of the ice cream machine with some peach froyo, it seemed fitting that I break in the machine with my family's favourite ice cream from my childhood. 

Usually food tastes better in your memories than when you eat it again after a long time, but with this ice cream it was not so. Good luck trying to stop at one or two scoops... 

Espresso Ice Cream (from Brown Eyed Baker)
Makes approximately 1L 


1½ cups whole milk
¾ cup granulated sugar
1½ cups whole bold-roast coffee beans
Pinch of salt
1½ cups heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ tsp finely ground espresso


1. Warm the milk, sugar, whole coffee beans, salt, and ½ cup of the cream in a medium saucepan. Once the mixture is warm, cover, remove from the heat, and let sit  at room temperature for 1 hour.

2. Rewarm the coffee-infused milk mixture. Pour the remaining 1 cup cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm coffee mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

3. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula (apparently it should register 76°C on an instant-read thermometer but I don't have one of those so I just winged it). Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream. Press on the coffee beans in the strainer to extract as much of the coffee flavor as possible, then discard the beans. Mix in the vanilla and the finely ground espresso and stir until cool over an ice bath.

4. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

5. Try not to eat in one sitting. 

- Matilda

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

In Honour of Jacques Kallis: Melktert

South Africa may have won the Test series against India with their win in Durban at the end of December last year, but they also suffered possibly their biggest loss ever: Jacques Kallis. After an astounding career spanning 18 years Kallis has provided not only his nation with a cricketer to be proud of, but a cricketer the world can hold in awe and respect. The numbers speak for themselves.

Image from Zinara's Tumblr

Growing up, watching the Saffas play was always a source of frustration for me. And it was because of this one man: Jacques Kallis. It didn't seem to matter what our top bowlers (or batsmen) did, he would find a way to defy them and put his team in a strong position at the end of a day's play. Even when his form slumped, he was still formidable. It seemed that just his presence on the field was enough to make the Aussie boys look like silly schoolchildren. Sure, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander are scary as hell, but they don't have the same feeling about them as Kallis does. It would be a lie to say I am happy to see him leave the International Test arena; I would have loved to have watch him play in Australia just one more time. 

Getty Images
In honour of this great South African all-rounder,  I decided to make a South African milk tart, or melktert in Afrikaans. It is very Dutch, so I'm not sure whether or not you would call it a traditional recipe... but in today's post-colonisation world, it's hard to draw lines as to where 'traditional' begins and ends. Either way, it is good to eat and that is the most important thing. Much lighter than European or Chinese custard/egg tarts, it is unique in its milky taste.  It is absolutely delicious topped with berries and some whipped cream. 

My tart pan wasn't as wide and deep as the one used for the original recipe so I made another mini-tart with the leftover pastry, as well as a baked custard with the remaining filling.  I've always wanted to make baked custard so I unintentionally manged to kill two birds with one stone! 

Milk Tart (from Delicious Magazine, April 2006)


For the crust

250g plain flour
110g icing sugar, sifted
110g unsalted butter. chilled
1 egg

For the filling 

2 cups milk
1 cinnamon stick
2 eggs, serparated
1 Tbsp cornflour
5 Tbsp plain flour, sifted 
5 Tbsp caster sugar 
½ tsp baking powder
25g butter, softened 
½ Tbsp ground cinnamon 
1 Tbsp icing sugar, sifted


To make the crust: Preheat the oven to 180°C and lightly grease a 24cm loose-bottomed tart pan. Whiz flour, icing sugar and butter in a food processor until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg and continue to process just until the mixture forms a smooth ball. Cover it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface, then line the pan. Trim off any excess pastry, refrigerate for 10 minutes, line the tart pan with baking paper, fill with rice and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the paper and weights and bake for a further 5 minutes.

To make the filling: Place the milk and cinnamon stick in a pan. Bring to scalding boil, remove from heat, then allow to infuse for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven to 170°C. Place yolks, flours, sugar and baking powder in a bowl, add a little infused milk, and stir to form a paste. Stir in the remaining milk, discard cinnamon, return the mixture to the pan over very low heat and cook for 5 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat, beat in butter, cover top with baking paper and cool.

Whisk eggwhites, then fold them into the custard. Pour the custard into the pastry case and bake for 25 minutes or until the filling is set and slightly puffed. Remove, cool slightly, and sift combined cinnamon and icing sugar over top. 

Serve with fruit and cream.

Getty Images
Thank you for everything, Mr Kallis. It has been an absolute pleasure and an honour to have been able to watch you play. All the best for the future and I hope South Africa is able to manage without you being around the team... although I wouldn't mind if they let us beat them in the upcoming Test series!

- Matilda

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Drunken Berry Cake

Photo from Natasha's Kitchen

Since I started getting into cooking a bit more three or fours year ago, I have always dreamed of making a fancy cake. Or fancy cupcakes. Or fancy biscuits. However the reality is that I don't have creative bone in my body and any attempt to prettify my kitchen creations in any way falls flat on its face. I suppose it doesn't really help that each time I try I get frustrated and haphazardly cut, mix, slather and poke whatever it is to/on the cake it is. Care is something that only comes to me when I'm hanging up my cricket posters or I'm attempting edit cricket photos or attempting to take photos of my friends with cricketers (or just photos of cricketers if I am to be perfectly honest).  Even then, my lack of artistic talent results in crookedly hung posters, pictures with terrible contrast, and photos featuring far too much ground or sky. So when one of my friends showed me a photo of the cake she had made for her mum's birthday - which, by the way, resembled the original photo above - I thought "surely it can't be that hard?" and decided to give it a go. My friend was right, the cake was delicious. It was addictive. It was everything it should be, except maybe pretty.

I have realised that the reasons for my downfall are many:

  1. I used regular cocoa powder instead of dark: the cake didn't look as chocolatey.
  2. I halved the recipe to compensate for the amount of sweets I was baking so we could actually have some chance of eating it all: hello Leaning Tower of Pisa - I should have made it only a two layer cake to make it structurally more sound.
  3. I used cottage cheese instead of cream cheese for the icing: it was delicious but I lacked patience so didn't beat it until it was smooth like normal icing.
  4. I used mixed berries: contributed to the structural instability and general ugliness
  5. I hurriedly cut the two cakes in half horizontally: maybe it would have been better to take some more time and actually look at what I was doing.
  6. I was lazy and didn't ice the outside: despite the lumps in the icing, this would have covered up the general mess and possibly have made it more bearable to look at + I ended up eating the icing by the spoonful and became incredibly tipsy which wasn't a very pleasant experience.
All those things aside, this cake was amazing. Rich, moist, and chocolatey, with the added freshness of berries and a festive feel provided by the rum. If you make this over the New Year period, maybe take it easy on the beer and wine - especially if you're a lightweight. 

Drunken Cherry Chocolate Cake (from Natasha's Kitchen)
Serves 12-16

For the cake 
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1½ cups white granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup warm milk 
1 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup unsweetened dark chocolate cocoa powder (which clearly I didn't use - just look at the colour of my cake eek)
2½ tsp baking powder
⅛ tsp fine sea salt

For the filling 
4 cups (450g) fresh pitted cherries (or berries)
½ cup golden rum 
¼ cup cold filtered water

For the frosting
225g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature 
3 cups powdered sugar
¼ tsp fine sea salt
450g cream cheese, softened to room temperature (or cottage cheese - makes it nice and fluffy....and lumpy)
4 Tbsp of the reserved cherry/rum syrup

To decorate (I obviously didn't bother with this) 
Semi-sweet chocolate chips to create shaved chocolate
A handful of fresh cherries for the top


Making your cherries/berries drunk: Roughly chop your pitted berries, place them in a bowl with ½ cup golden rum, and let them sit at room temperature for one hour. Drain the cherries in a sieve over a bowl. Keep both the cherries and the syrup.  

Making the cake: Preheat the oven to 180˚C, butter and flour two 20cm cake pans and set aside. Electrically whisk together 4 Tbsp soft butter, 1½ cups granulated sugar, 2 eggs and 1 tsp vanilla. Beat on high speed for 7 min until light and fluffy. Whisk in 1 cup warm milk until smooth. Sift together 1 cups flour, ¾ cups cocoa, ⅛ tsp salt, and 2½ tsp baking powder. Fold the sifted mixture into the batter just until combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared cake pans and bake at 180˚C for 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove the cakes from the oven and transfer them to a wire rack to cool as soon as they are able to be handled safely. 

Making the frosting: With an electric mixer, mix the butter, powdered sugar and salt on low speed or until combined (about one minute). Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture is pale and fluffy (about 2 minutes).  Add cream cheese gradually and mix until combined. Once all of the cream cheese has been is incorporated, continue to mix for one more minute. Add 4 Tbsp reserved cherry liquid, 1 Tbsp at a time and mix until combined (about one minute). Reserve the remaining cherry syrup. Refrigerate frosting until ready to use.

Assembling the cake: Slice each of the cake layers in half horizontally and evenly (unless you want your cake to look like mine) into two layers with a serrated knife. Place one layer cut side up on a cake stand. Stir ¼ cup cold filtered water into the the remaining cherry rum syrup and brush ⅓ of this generously onto the first cake layer. Cover the top with frosting and top with of the chopped boozy berries. Repeat with the next three layers but don’t put any syrup or frosting over the final layer. Refrigerate the unfrosted cake for 15-20 minutes to let it rest, then frost the top and sides. Decorate, serve, eat. 

Warning: this cake is highly addictive! It is also best after it has been left at room temperature for about half an hour before eating. This allows it to become deliciously moist and soft....and totally irresistible. 

Happy New Year! May 2014 be the best yet :-) 

- Matilda