"You Should Only Be Happy" ... devouring pie!
While most of my loved ones find my devotion to the minute details of food to be mildly amusing and possibly excruciatingly tedious (though they're too polite to say so to my face!), Thom and I have avidly discussed tart cherry varieties, ethnic markets in Dearborn, Sicilians considering it a sacrilege to put oregano into pasta sauce, and -- most recently -- pies. Types of crusts ... fillings ... sweet ... savory ... what constitutes a pie? ... deconstruction of pie ... the search for new twists on pie. Pie, pie and more pie!
The Slow Food movement is a noble one which was founded in Italy "to counteract fast food and fast life," and its local branch strives "to preserve and cultivate our culinary heritage and celebrate traditional Midwestern hospitality." And what is more a part of Midwestern culture than pie, especially when it features locally-produced ingredients??? But the "Pie Lovers Unite" event wasn't just a showcase for pies: it was also a bakers' contest. I knew from the first moment I heard about the contest that I would enter my Double Cherry Crisp Pie.
This favorite puts two different varieties of tart Michigan cherries -- standard bright red Montmorency and darker Balatons -- to use, with a shortbread-like crust and a cinnamon-y crisp topping. What savory option to make, however ...?
That takes us back to "What constitutes a pie?" Sparing you the long debate, I decided to make a Crustless Greek Lamb Pie with a tomato-goat cheese filling and drizzled with pureed spinach. Jeremy and I spent a glorious morning at the Farmers Market purchasing ingredients (items and vendors to be named at the end of this entry). Technically the pie had a crust ... it just didn't have a flour-lard-shortening crust; instead, I combined ground lamb and rice to make a base for the rich, colorful filling. The final product wasn't particularly photogenic, but it did taste exceptionally good!
Thom's entry, though, was gorgeous! "Savory Corn-Lamb Summer Skillet Pie" was an inspiration that he'd never tried before, but which came together as though it was simply meant to be. A cornbread crust using Chelsea's own Jiffy mix, topped with a rich lamb stew that had just a hint of heat from a single jalapeno, and not-quite covered with a thinned cornbread batter to form a lattice crust over creamy goat cheese ... sigh. Yes, it was every bit as amazing as it sounds (and everyone who hears me rave about it has been putting in requests for their own personal samples!). We debated chilled vs. softened butter to cut into the bottom crust, whether the weight of the stew would prevent the cornbread base from rising properly, and other details; but it baked right up in my cast-iron skillet, and was absolutely ready for its close-up as it came out of the oven just in time to compete.
The event itself was so much fun! Amazing coffee from Mighty Good Coffee (with a new storefront on Main!), songs about pie, a pie Polka played during the "pie walks," a "Pie-ku" contest ... warmth, conviviality, and -- best of all! -- the opportunity to try as many of the more than 40 pie offerings as one could possibly fit onto a dessert plate while ignoring any concerns about that nuisance of a deadly sin, gluttony.
And then came the end of the festivities and the awarding of prizes. I'm not the official sponsor, and my memory is a sieve (as my son, Jeremy, will readily attest to); so it's not my place to name all the winners. But I am tremendously proud to announce that Thom -- who could easily have taken several categories ("Savory Pie," "Prettiest Pie," and even "Best in Show" if that had been an option) won for "Most Unique Pie"! He loved that because it was an award for innovation and creativity, which had been among his goals (taste, of course, being paramount). So in his very first effort at competition, Thom became a prize-winning cook!!!
The bottom crust had become a perfect layer of cornbread, soaking up just enough of the gravy from the stew to be light and moist; the goat cheese was rich and creamy, poking through the lattice topping; the cilantro leaves on top were a lovely garnish ... all in all, Thom's pie was an extraordinary way to exhibit Michigan's summer produce; but it could also be a warm, inviting comfort food during our long, cold winters.
And so, here is the recipe for Savory Corn-Lamb Summer Skillet Pie. May you enjoy it as much as Thom and I -- and, clearly, the "Pie Lovers Unite!" judges -- did!
Savory Corn-Lamb Summer Skillet Pie
Stew: 3 tablespoons flour 1 teaspoon salt freshly ground pepper to taste 2 pounds lamb, cut into 1/2” cubes 1 small jalapeno, minced 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 large sweet onion, chopped 3/4 cup water 3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped 1 tablespoon smoked paprika 2 ears corn, cooked 6 ounces goat cheese
Crust: 2 boxes Jiffy cornbread mix 1/2 cup butter, chilled 2 ears corn, cooked
Topping: 1/2 box Jiffy cornbread mix 1 egg yolk 3/8 cup milk 1 tablespoons melted butter cilantro leaves, for garnish
Stew: Combine flour, salt and pepper; dredge lamb in flour mixture. Brown lamb in the olive oil, then add jalapeno and onion; cook until vegetables are softened. Add water, cilantro, paprika and corn; cover and simmer for 1 hour.
Crust: Preheat oven to 350Â° F. Combine Jiffy mix and butter; cut butter in until crumbly. Remove corn from ears and mix into dough. Press dough into bottom and up the sides of a seasoned 9” cast iron skillet.
Pour stew over crust, and top with crumbled goat cheese.
Topping: Combine Jiffy mix with egg yolk, milk and melted butter. Place into a small baggie, snip a corner off, and create a lattice crust with the batter. Place cilantro leaves decoratively over the top and bake 45 minutes on the center rack. Move pie to top rack for 5 minutes, until pie is golden around the edges and top crust is set when touched lightly.
Our List of Amazing Locally-Produced Ingredients and Vendors:
Balaton Cherries: Wasem Fruit Farm, Kapnick Orchards Montmorency Cherries: Merry Berry Farms Red Onions: Fusilier Farms Free-Range Eggs: Windy Acres Farms Stone-Ground Flour: Ernst Farms Ground Lamb: Hannewald Lamb Garlic: Tantre Farm Tomatoes: Donahee and Sons Goat Cheese with Rosemary: Zingerman's Creamery Spinach, Cilantro: Devulders Farm Butter, Milk: Calder Dairy
The phrase "You Should Always Be Happy" (written in Hebrew on the stone pictured next to the blog's title) comes from Deuteronomy 16:15, and is my wish for all my readers as they cook along with me ... may you always be happy here!