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#29 and #30 : "Mrs. Lovett's Meat Pies" and Apricot Chiffon Pie

"The closest shave I ever gave..."

Back in the early 90's (remember that far back?) Jeff had a co-op apartment on Fire Island. Every July he'd host a summer party, and all his friends from the city would come out for the day, swim in the ice-cold ocean, catch up, enjoy a picnic with lots of sangria, and even fly kites on the beach. That picnic always included empanadas, little meat pies that Jeff made in his NYC apartment and brought out to the Island.

(This is so old that it was taken with a regular camera and put into an old-fashioned photo album!)

One year (1992, to be exact) the empanadas almost didn't happen. We were seeing each other then, but not yet living together, and just before the party we had a horrific argument (neither of us remembers what it was all about. Something stupid.) Jeff was so upset that he headed out to Fire island, leaving the empanadas behind. He had to call Raúl, the doorman, to let me into the apartment. Raúl watched me suspiciously while I retrieved the empanadas and took them out on the Long Island Railroad...crisis solved.

Seven years later (1999), we had left the Fire Island co-op (and NYC) behind and had moved full-time to Greenport. Jeff called me at work one day and said, "What have you always said were your two dream roles?"

I said, "King Arthur in Camelot....and Sweeney Todd."

"I've been asked to be musical director for one of those shows out here," he said, "...and it isn't Camelot."

Yes, Jeff was Musical director for Sweeney at the NFCT. We worked together to get my audition song ("My Friends") just right. Luck was with me - the director had someone in mind for Sweeney, but that actor had just accepted a role in another musical and was unavailable - and I got the part!

We had a wonderful time doing the show, and the only disappointment was when the producer said "Absolutely not" to our idea of serving "Mrs. Lovett's" meat pies at intermission. To me, it was a stroke of marketing brilliance! Didn't happen.Too bad.

(Did I overdo it with the stage blood?)

Recently we were trying to think of something for dinner that we hadn't had too often, and that would avoid our using the oven during a heat wave. Jeff made picadillo, a Spanish dish of ground beef with garlic, onions, peppers, olives and tomatoes. I remembered it was often our filling for the empanadas that we hadn't made for years, and decided those would make a nice variation on pie for the blog.

Instead of our usual empanada dough, we decided to try one made with masa (ground corn meal) in place of some of the flour, and used our tortilla press to make the pies.

This must have been before my second cup of coffee. After adding vodka to the dry ingredients, I told Jeff the dough was awfully dry. "Did you add the water, too?" he asked. Oops. Good thing someone was paying attention to the recipe!

Amazing how much more pliant the dough was after adding the right amount of liquid. We chilled it, then cut the dough and rolled it up into balls for the tortilla press.

While the tortilla press works perfectly well when we make our own tortillas for Taco Tuesday, this dough was thicker and heavier (not to mention cold from being in the fridge.) We decided next time to roll the dough out with a rolling pin instead, to make the empanadas larger and thinner. But a tortilla press is great to have around. If you don't have one, well, get one!

The empanadas were good, though we decided the crust was too thick and the smaller empanadas didn't allow enough filling. Next time we'll go back to our usual dough, and make the empanadas larger. They made a nice dinner two nights in a row with very little oven time needed.

Later that week I found some apricot puree in the freezer that I'd made last year, and thought that would make a nice apricot chiffon pie. Jeff didn't seem too interested in that, so, since I had a Friends of the library meeting coming up, I decided the Friends might appreciate it more than Jeff. The recipe was from Martha Stewart and was pretty simple. It called for a crust made of shortbread cookies and pistachios, which sounded interesting.

I made the crust, baked it and let it cool while I worked on the apricot chiffon.

Since I already had apricot puree, the chiffon was pretty straightforward. I heated the puree, then stirred in some gelatin softened in water, then added egg yolks, straining the mixture through a sieve before letting it cool in an ice bath. Once it was cool I folded in some whipped egg whites. The best part was that the pie just needed to chill in order to set, with no more baking required.

It wasn't the prettiest pie i've made.....

The Verdict: No baking required.

The Friends were very happy to taste another pie, and thought the apricot chiffon was different and very tasty. One person even said, "This is better than that rhubarb pie you brought in last time." (This is known as a backhanded compliment.) There was just enough for Jeff to try and he thought the apricot filling was perfectly fine, if not his favorite. He did say, "Wow - what is IN that crust? It's really good." I'll be using that crust again for a future pie. And once the heat wave is over, Mrs. Lovett's Improved Empanadas may return for another starring role in the kitchen.

(And I'm halfway through the Sixty pies project!)

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