Monday, October 17, 2011

Table Talk

It's Sunday at the Wells House...which means a very big Sunday dinner. The old-fashioned kind...a real meat-and-potatoes-and-homemade-dessert meal with a lot of people around my table. We've been doing Sunday dinner for over 4 years now, and it is the highlight of the week. I'm inviting you to join us for dinner! Each week I will talk about what takes place around our table---the menu, recipes, table settings and the bantering and bickering that sometimes inspires us, other times challenges us, and always makes us laugh! Pull up a chair, I've got a place set just for you!

Today's menu is ham with pinot-plum sauce, twice-baked potatoes, yoshida-glazed asparagus, spinach salad with apple, maple-walnuts, feta and red onion, and sesame bread with butter. Dessert is retro banana cream pie.

The pinot-plum sauce evolved from a batch of plum butter I made and preserved a couple weeks ago. A friend gave us a huge bag of Italian prune-plums from his tree, and they were delicious. We ate them fresh (I think they are much better than regular plums…they are sweeter and meatier and the skins aren’t bitter) and I baked a couple “Pretty Plum Cakes,” but we still had so many and I didn’t want to waste them.  So I simmered a big pot of them slowly over the stove.  First they swirled into an amazing hue of purple and gold, then the crimson red seeped out of the skins and blended with the gold and purple, turning the entire pot into a bubbling pot of rich, fragrant burgundy butter.  My friend took a look as I was stirring and called it “autumn in a pot.”  A very fitting description.  So I opened a jar of that plum butter and added a cup of Oregon pinot noir, a healthy dash of dry mustard, some brown sugar, and a sprinkle of ground cloves.  Then I let it simmer until it was once again reduced to a saucy consistency.  We poured that over the slices of ham, and I think it was delicious!

But it’s dessert I want to talk about today.  I served banana cream pie…the real kind, not the Jell-O Brand yellow stuff!  My friend Judy made it for me and I fell in love with it and begged for the recipe.  Real custard with butter, milk and eggs, simmered until silky smooth.  Fresh bananas.  Flaky, tender crust.  And a dollop of real whipped cream.  You need to try it.  It’s not what you think.  It may look a little bland and unassuming (pale crust, pale bananas, pale custard, pale cream), but it is divine.  So go retro…think Grandma!  Here is the recipe:

1 9-inch baked pie shell (I used a pate brisee recipe)
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. corn starch
1/2 t. salt
3 c. milk
4 egg yolks, slightly beaten
2 T. butter
1 T. vanilla (best quality, I used vanilla paste)
2 large, ripe bananas
whipped cream for garnish

Prepare your favorite pie crust recipe and bake it.  Usually I use the recipe on the Tenderflake lard package, which I learned from the Wells Women...all skilled bakers.  But Tenderflake isn't available here in Oregon and American lard quite frankly tastes like pig to me and is an unappealing gray-ish color, so whenever we have visitors from Canada, I always have them tuck a couple pounds of lard into their luggage for me!  This time I tried a pate brisee, which Martha Stewart swears by.  I liked how it was a bit sturdier than my Tenderflake pastry, which worked well for the very soft custard filling.

1.  Stir together sugar, cornstarch and salt in a pan.  Blend yolks and milk and gradually stir into sugar mixture.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens.  Bring to a boil and cook 1 minute.  I love my All-Clad pot!  It is the best non-stick pan I've ever used.  It is perfect for this custard, because the cooked egg-milk mixture, which normally forms a sticky, hard-to-clean residue, washes away with a swish of soapy water!

2.  Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla.  I use vanilla paste, which is right from the vanilla bean and gives that delicious real-vanilla flavor that imitation extract cannot compare to.  I bought this little jar at Whole Foods.  It is amazing stuff and can be stirred into anything!

3.  Press plastic wrap against the surface of the filling right in the pan and cool to room temp.  The plastic wrap keeps a chewy film from forming over the custard.

4.  Peel and slice bananas and arrange over prepared crust in pan.  For a prettier pie, use a traditional round pie plate with a scalloped edge.  Because I have to feed a crowd, I made mine in a large rectangular baking dish and cut it into squares.  Not as attractive, but still delicious.

5.  Pour in cooled filling and chill pie for at least 2 hours.

6.  Slice and serve with a dollop of REAL whipped cream, lightly sweetened with powdered sugar and vanilla to taste.  Don't substitute with that stuff from a can or worse, Cool Whip!

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