Monday, December 19, 2011

greek style zucchini pancakes

not having to make a pie each week has left me searching for something to do.  who wants to clean the house or do laundry?  me neither!!!  so i jumped at the chance to participate in a community pick recipe test on  my choice was the greek style zucchini pancakes.  zucchini is one of my favorite things from the garden and i miss it now that winter has arrived.  luckily, my herbs were still growing and i had plenty of mint, parsley and chinese leeks.  the recipe calls for chives but chinese leeks are so similar in appearance and while they have a hint of garlic in the flavor, they are a great substitution.
mint on the left, leeks in the middle and flat parsley on the right.  with the cold temperatures, these herbs are still producing and are not sending out flowers.  we also have some oregano, thyme, sage and rosemary out there too.

the directions called for grating the zucchini, placing it in a colander lined with cheesecloth and then salting it to draw out the moisture.  when i did this, i could hear a sizzling/bubbling noise and it was amazing how much liquid i was able to squeeze out.  i was skeptical that what started out as nearly 5 cups of grated zucchini would eventually end up as two cups but it did.  just look at all of that green juice!

the recipe was very simple to follow even with a typo;  the ingredient list called for baking powder but the instructions referenced baking soda.  a quick email to the author fixed that-use baking powder!  hopefully she has fixed that on the site at well.  
to save time, i used a small portions scoop-#50 to be exact.  it helped me get a consistent size and the recipe stated i would get 24 small pancakes and i got exactly that-24.  my old paella pan gets a frequent work out and it was perfect for frying these pancakes.

greek style zucchini pancakes
recipe #14816 from, member dymnyno

Makes 12-3 inch pancakes, or 24 bite sized pancakes

2 pounds green zucchini, 2 cups aftergrating and squeezing as much moisture as possible
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons chives, minced
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh curly parsley, minced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest(finely zested)
4 tablespoons crumbled Greek feta
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
4 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
olive oil for frying pancakes

using the large holes on a box grater, shred the zucchini. line a colander with cheese cloth and put the zucchini in the colander. sprinkle about a tablespoon of salt and toss the zucchini. try to extract as much liquid as you can from the shredded zucchini. pick up the cheesecloth and wring as much more as you can until you feel the zucchini is pretty dry. add the herbs, pepper flakes and zest and mix.  add the flour and baking powder and eggs and mix.  pour a very thin layer of olive oil into a frying pan and heat over medium high heat. using a tablespoon, scoop a heaping spoonful into the pan and flatten the top a little.  this should make a 3 inch patty. repeat until the pan is full.  fry until a nice brown and flip and cook the other side.  for bite sized appetizers, use a teaspoon.  set aside on paper towels and finish the rest of the pancakes.

serve alone or with your favorite yogurt (Greek, of course). The sauce should be very simple, like just with some lemon zest or chives, because there are so many flavors going on in the pancakes.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

almond butter hummus with kale chips

has it really been a month since the pie challenge ended?  wow-time flew!  while i have been contemplating my next project, i have allowed myself to be totally sucked into the holiday madness.  the husband and i have both been busy with work-him way more than me, such is the life of the executive banquet chef for a university.  that has left me at home alone for more than a few meals.  when i am left to cook for myself, you can be pretty sure that it will not be an elaborate meal and it will most likely be vegetarian and quite possibly vegan.  

lately, without our girls at home(both are living elsewhere right now), we have taken to purchasing more organic produce and are shifting our diet towards less meat laden meals. as i have mentioned before, i have had a few blood tests come back with higher than normal levels of cholesterol.  thankfully, the highest number so far has been less than 220 but that doesn't mean i shouldn't be concerned.  a diet change that eliminated many dairy products has helped me get that number back down below 200 and i hope to keep it there.  

my recent obsession with the cookbook, appetite for reduction has given me a new weapon for my arsenal too.  that book is chock full of great vegan recipes that even a carnivore can find satisfying-providing they eat veggies, beans and grains.  while i do not plan to make the leap to a vegan diet, i am happy to say that i can easily eat vegan meals and not feel deprived.   darry is also learning to enjoy some of these changes and he recently experimented with some organic kale chips, a tasty addition to my favorite meal for one, hummus on crusty bread.  and before you say "hummus, how boring"  keep in mind that i never do anything boring-of course i have changed it up a bit!  i am not a huge fan of tahini; it tastes a little bitter to me and the level of saturated fat is high enough to cause me to think twice before consuming it.  so a thought occurred to me, what if i used unsweetened almond butter instead?  wow!!!  what a concept and what a difference-i am sold and will probably never reach for tahini again!

almond butter hummus with kale chips
yields about 1 1/2 cups hummus

1 (15oz) can of chick peas
4 tablespoons unsweetened almond butter
2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
salt-if desired
kale chips-purchase or home made (great recipe here)
baguette slices or other bread

drain the chickpeas but reserve the juice.  place all of the remaining ingredients into the bowl of a food processor with the drained chickpeas and pulse to combine.  scrape the bowl and run until it is smooth adding the reserved liquid as needed to reach the desired consistency.

to serve, top each of the baguette slices with a tablespoon or two of the hummus and top it off with a kale chip.  enjoy!!!

and if you would like to try this out, please do and remember that the pies are no longer the focus here but the power of pies will always be with me...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

that can't be a quesadilla...

 one of my coworkers is from el salvador.  every now and then, she will arrive in the cafe with a bag of sweets from her favorite bakery, la espiga.  even though it is a mexican bakery, they often have traditional little el salvadorian cakes called quesadilla.  yes, quesadilla and no, it doesn't have tortillas in it.  these cakes are popular all over el salvador and are made with cheese-usually a freshly crumbled farmers cheese, but frequently parmesan cheese.  they are wonderfully rich with a slightly cheesy aroma.  and much to my surprise, even better if they sit for a day.

on a recent visit to a new mexican bakery near my house, i spied a tray of quesadillas in the showcase and added it to my tray.  all of the mexican bakeries are self serve; you pick up a tray and a pair of tongs and make your selections from the cabinets and racks and then give it to the cashier.
not bad for less than $5 dollars.  from the left:  bolillo(i bought 2 but the other is missing...), concha, quesadilla, butter cookie(that tasted a little like coconut to me) and a cheese turnover.

 the quesadilla from la conchita panaderia y pasteleria.  they had a little bit of a sandy texture from what i am guessing is rice flour.  the cake is sweet and even though it contains parmesan cheese, i could not detect it in the flavor.

now that i am not obsessing/stressing over pies, i decided that it might be fun to try and make some of these at home.  a quick surf and off i was baking my own quesadillas.  after about 5 or 6 batches, i finally settled on a recipe that isn't too buttery but is plenty moist with a noticeable cheese aroma.

 i can have cake?  twitch likes cake...
no cake for twitch!!!

 the fine, moist crumb and slightly cheesy flavor makes these good with a cup of dark roast coffee.  a few notes;  i tested these with rice flour, equal parts of all purpose and rice flour as well as masa harina(buy the plain stuff not the tortilla/tamale mix).  every recipe i read called for either all purpose or rice flour or a combination but either will work.  one recipe i read called for cake flour but i did not try that.  i used buttermilk but it could be sour cream, mexican crema or just milk.  and if you do not want to use parmesan, try a mexican crumbling cheese, just be sure to break it into small pieces.

el salvadorian quesadillias
yields 6 muffins

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup rice flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
sesame seeds

preheat the oven to 325.  grease and flour a 6 cup muffin tin.  melt the butter and set aside to cool.  in a mixing bowl, whisk the rice flour, sugar, cheese and baking powder to combine them.  pour in the butter and the buttermilk and stir to make a paste.  whisk in the egg and combine completely.  divide the batter between the cups in the tin.  sprinkle some sesame seeds on the top and bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes.  allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 10 minutes then turn them out to cool completely.  


Monday, November 28, 2011

secret ingredient pie, #52 of 52-the final pie of the challenge!

wow-the final pie.  how quickly the year went.  well, now what?  don't know yet but i will be sure to do something crazy, something inappropriate, something stupid and who knows what else but in the mean time, i've got some splaining to do...

i decided to have some fun on thanksgiving and all at the expense of my family and guests.  they were kind enough to play along-some more than others (kids-what are you gonna do with them?)  and they were served a pie and told to guess what i made it from.  it kinda looked like it could be some sort of squash pie but alas, it wasn't...only one of our guests was able to figure it out-and he nailed it!

the inspiration for this pie came from my job.  every day, or at least it seems like every day, i partially bake pie shells for use in my pie recipes.  to do this, i line each pie shell with a restaurant sized coffee filter and fill that with pinto beans.  the beans act as a weight and keep the crust from puffing up.  the running joke is that the bean pies must be popular since i bake so many...yes, those are crickets chirping-i don't find the joke very funny either; after hearing it on a nearly daily basis for 7 years, can you blame me?  so anyway, what was funny though was the day one of my latino coworkers had the realization that if she bakes those bean pies every day, they must taste good-he then proceeded to taste some of the beans.  did i mention that i reuse the beans, a lot, until they stink so bad that i replace them?  we never did talk about those beans he tasted and trust me, he never tasted another.  but anyway, i came across a recipe for navy bean pie in an old farm journal cookbook and decided to give it a try but not tell anyone what was in the filling.

a few notes, first of all, anytime i am going to fill a pie shell with a custard filling, i partially bake it to be sure that the bottom crust is baked and not gummy when the pie filling is finished baking.  the recipe calls for evaporated milk which is something i never use and i have found that half and half is a perfect substitution.  to save time, i used canned beans that were drained and rinsed and then pureed in a food processor.

white bean pie
1 (9") pie serving 8-10
adapted from farm journals navy bean pie recipe

1 (9") pie crust must be an extra deep crust or a 10" crust, partially baked
2 (15) ounce cans white beans-i used great northern beans
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 eggs
12 ounces half and half
preheat the oven to 350.  place the partially baked pie shell on a sturdy baking sheet to make placing it in the oven and removing it a little easier.  drain and rinse the beans and then place them into the bowl of a food processor.  add the brown sugar and pulse to combine and then run till smooth taking the time to scrape the bowl a few times to get every last bean pureed.  add the honey and spices and pulse to combine. add the eggs and run till smooth, scraping the machine at least once.  finally, add the half and half and combine.  pour it into the prepared pie shell and bake until it is set, 50-55 minutes.  allow it to cool and serve it as you would serve a pumpkin pie.

and there you have it, the last pie...on wards and all that to what ever comes next.   bake one and send me a photo, i will post it here.  may the power of pie see you safely through the next year...

oh, by the way, do you remember when i was baking pies with my daughters?  my younger daughter, devon and i baked an apple pie together.  well, she is currently living in northern california with her grandparents while she attends school.  they were having a little pre-thanksgiving thanksgiving dinner and she baked one with her grandmother.
and here it is!  they used the same recipe that she and i used, the one straight out of my book.  looks beautiful and they enjoyed the pie!  so get in that kitchen with a kid or a grandparent or somebody else that is truly important to you and bake some sweet memories!  you will have more than fun, you will have a memory that will last much longer than that pie no matter how it turns out!!!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

it's a pie, it's a cheesecake, no wait! it's both, pie #51 of 52

so it was the week before thanksgiving and all through the house...wait, wrong story...well, it was the week before thanksgiving and i got completely derailed from my plan of posting this before the holiday.  it ultimately ended up being done in time for thanksgiving but sadly, not in time for anyone to see and attempt it.  hopefully, you will forgive me and then run out and buy the ingredients to try and bake one for the next big holiday celebration.

remember last year's big thing-cherpumple cakes?  when i saw them posted all over the internet, i wanted to try one.  then i saw the recipe-frozen pies and cake mix...major disappointment! no time to play with that many scratch recipes this week.  instead i decided to bake my own version based on things my family enjoys.  there was one holiday season that after baking about a bejillion pies in the cafe, i refused to make any for our annual thanksgiving trash can turkey extravaganza.  needless to say, even though they enjoyed the pumpkin cheesecake i baked, they missed having a pie on the table.  this year i decided to combine two pies with a cheesecake and see what would happen.

word of warning, this is not a quick dessert.  to do it right, right meaning so that it doesn't fall apart, it will take you more than a day to complete, possibly 2 to 3 evenings if you have limited time to work on it.  another important note, i never use springform pans or a water bath to bake cheesecakes!!!  this recipe uses heavy gauge cake pans and if you follow the directions, the cake will work just fine.  you may even want to consider baking your cheesecakes in a cake pan all the time; it is so much easier to use than a springform pan and a water bath!

first step was to make half of a pecan pie in a 6" cake pan.  it was so cute!  after baking it, i chilled it completely so that i could take it out of the pan without destroying it.  by gently warming the bottom over very low heat on the stove, i was able to turn the cold pecan pie out in one piece.  since the crust stood a little taller than the filling and got a little dark, i carefully cut it off using a serrated knife.
the cheesecake filling was quickly assembled in the food processor.  the cookie crust was pressed into a 10" cake pan.  i set the pecan pie in the center of the crust and carefully ladled in the cheesecake filling.  it was baked and then completely chilled overnight before i set out to make the turtle pie topping.

the cheesecake is removed from the pan using the same method as the pecan pie.  cover a flat platter with plastic wrap and lightly spray it with pan spray.  gently warm the bottom of the cake pan, place the prepared platter upside-down over the cheesecake and invert it.  the cheesecake should slowly slide out of the pan.  then you can place your serving plate onto the bottom of the cake and invert it again.  sounds tricky but it works!

the turtle pie topping is made from a single can of sweetened condensed milk that has been baked to caramelize it.  on the left, straight out of the can and on the right, after two hours of baking. 

neatly spread the hot caramel over the cheesecake portion of the cake.  spread it out evenly.  then back into the fridge to chill it so the chocolate topping can go on.  the chocolate topping is made very quickly in the microwave and is easily applied to the pie with a piping bag.

pecan pie in a pumpkin cheesecake
1 (10") cheesecake serving about 14

pecan pie
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon liquid-i used buttermilk
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 cup pecan pieces
preheat the oven to 300.  cut the cold butter into small cubes.  place the flour, powdered sugar and salt into the bowl of a food processor.  sprinkle the butter cubes over the top of the dry ingredients and pulse together until it resembles a coarse meal.  add the egg yolk and the liquid and pulse until it forms a soft dough.  using your fingers, carefully press the dough into a greased 6" cake pan.  line the crust with paper and fill with weights and bake until it is no longer glossy on the bottom and it barely shows any color, about 30 minutes.  

while the shell partially bakes, make the filling by mixing the brown sugar, vanilla and cinnamon in a bowl.  whisk in the butter and mix until smooth.  add the eggs, one at a time and mix each one in completely.  finally, whisk in the corn syrup.  when the crust is ready, remove from the oven, turn the oven temperature up to 350 and carefully remove the weights and the paper from the pan.  place the pecans in the crust and pour in the custard filling.  return the pan to the oven and bake it until it is set all the way across, about 40 minutes.  allow the pie to cool and then chill it until it is completely cold and unmold the pie as described above.

pumpkin cheesecake
2 cups cookie crumbs
4 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 pound cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
4 eggs
1/3 cup sour cream

preheat the oven to 300.  make the crust by combining the cookie crumbs, sugar and butter.  carefully press the mixture into a greased 10" cake pan.  to mix the filling, place the cream cheese, pumpkin, brown sugar, flour and spice into the bowl of a food processor.  pulse to combine and be sure to scrape the bowl at least once.  with the machine running, add the eggs 1 at a time.  scrape the bowl again and add the sour cream.  pulse it, scrape it and pulse it again.  

to assemble, place the cold pecan pie in the center of the cheesecake pan.  carefully spoon the filling around it without getting any on top of the pecan pie.  bake the cake for 45 minutes then carefully run a knife around the edge of the cake to release it from the pan and prevent cracking.  turn the oven off and leave the cake in the oven with the door just slightly open for 15 minutes.  remove from the oven, the cheesecake should be slightly puffed and feel almost firm to the touch.  let it cool and then chill it overnight before proceeding with the turtle pie topping.

turtle pie topping
1 (14) ounce can sweetened condensed milk
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/4 cup half and half
heat the oven to 350.  pour the sweetened condensed milk into a small covered casserole dish.  place the dish in a pan of water so that the water comes up to the same height as the milk.  carefully place in the oven and bake.  every 30 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and whisk the milk completely to ensure even caramelization.  this will take about 2 hours and during that last 30 minutes, you may have to do this a little more often to prevent scorching.  using the photos above as a guide, top the cheesecake portion (after you have taken the cake out of the pan!!!) with the caramel.  chill completely before topping it with the chocolate mixture.

break up the chocolate and place in a microwave safe bowl.  add the half and half and using 15 second intervals, heat on the lowest setting until the chocolate melts.  stir it until smooth.  place in a piping bag with a small (#4 to #6) straight tip and make the lattice top by using a quick back and forth motion.  turn the cake a 1/4 turn and repeat the action to get a chocolate lattice design.  allow the cake to chill for about 30 minutes to set the chocolate.

and now that my food coma is lifting, bake one and send me a photo-i will post it here!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

mexican chocolate tart with cinnamon toast crunch crust, pie #50 of 52

pie # 50...have to let that sink in for a minute.  i realize that it is a little late in being posted but that couldn't be avoided-i lost 3 weeks when the house was robbed and i am still trying to get back to normal, don't know if i ever will.  last two pies will be part of our trashcan thanksgiving extravaganza so look for them this week.

anyway, since the kids are both out of the house for the foreseeable future, my husband and i have been able to find the bottom shelf of the pantry closet as well as see to the back of it.  amazing what has been lurking in there.  i found two boxes of ibarra chocolate and the unopened box of cinnamon toast crunch cereal that i purchased for a visiting 6 year old-had no idea that a 6 year old wouldn't like cereal that was sweet.  no matter, it makes a fantastic crust for a no bake tart.

the chocolate is flavored with cinnamon and almonds and is rather grainy in appearance due to the sugar crystals.  ibarra is meant to be used for hot chocolate style drinks but it has long been a favorite of ours for cooking and baking.  my husband will drop a puck into a pot of chili and i have favored it blended with bittersweet chocolate to dip biscotti in, specifically my blue corn pecan biscotti.  

to make the crust, i crushed the cereal after i measured it.  don't turn it into a powder but rather a collection of crumbs that are not completely uniform in size.  to punch up the almond flavor, i toasted some almonds in a skillet on the stove so the tart was truly a no-bake tart!

mexican chocolate cinnamon crunch tart 
1(9") tart serving 8-10

1/2 cup sliced almonds
4 cups cinnamon toast crunch cereal
1/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and hot
toast the almonds in a skillet over medium heat until they are golden brown-be sure to watch them constantly as they will color quickly.  remove from the heat and turn them out onto a plate to cool.  using your hands, crush the cereal in a bowl until it is mostly small crumbs with some powder and very few large pieces.  roughly chop the almonds so that they are roughly the same size as the cereal crumbs.  add the almonds, sugar and hot butter and mix to combine.   dump the mixture into a tart pan with a removable bottom and press it evenly up the sides and across the bottom.  set aside.

chocolate filling
9 ounces ibarra chocolate-i used 3 pucks
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup half and half
place the ingredients in a microwavable bowl and using the lowest setting, heat it in 30 second intervals taking the time to stir the mixture after each heat cycle.  when the chocolate has all melted and is smooth, pour it into the prepared crust and make the white chocolate swirl.

white chocolate swirl
1 1/2 ounce white chocolate
1 tablespoon half and half
mix the ingredients in a microwavable bowl and heat it on the lowest setting until it is melted, about 30 seconds.  stir until smooth and then using a small spoon, drizzle all over the top of the tart.  take a tooth pick and swirl the white chocolate into the tart so that it is marbleized.  carefully place the tart in the fridge to cool and set for at least 2 hours.  to serve, remove the ring and carefully insert a thin palette knife between the crust and the metal bottom.  move the palette knife around to completely release the crust and then slide it onto a flat serving platter.  to cut, use a hot, wet knife taking care to completely clean the blade between slices for perfect cuts.

and as always, make it and send me a photo, i will post it here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

apple butter-walnut linzer tart; pie #49 of 52

when apples come into season, i love to make applesauce.  the rest of the time, i indulge in apple butter-i love the spicy flavor.  linzer tarts have always been a favorite of mine.  the spicy, nutty dough is so rich and the tartness of the traditional raspberry filling go so well together.  since it is definitely fall, i decided to left these two favorite things collide and see what came of it.

i took a traditional linzer tart dough and used some walnuts in it.  the tart shell was filled with purchased apple butter, topped with a lattice and baked until golden brown.  the filling was slightly tangy and a perfect compliment to the rich walnut dough.  since the apple butter is the predominant flavor , use a good one that you like, either purchased or home made.

apple butter-walnut linzer tart
1 (9") tart serving 8

3/4 cup almonds, natural sliced
3/4 cup walnuts, pieces
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups apple butter
preheat the oven to 350.  toast the almonds and walnuts until fragrant and lightly browned, 5-7 minutes.  allow the nuts to cool.  turn the oven down to 325.  place the sugar in the bowl of a food processor with the nuts and pulse together until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.  add the sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves, salt and baking powder and pulse it to combine thoroughly.  sprinkle the butter cubes over the top of the mixture and pulse to form a crumbly mass.  add the egg yolks and vanilla and pulse to form a soft dough.  shape a disk using 1/3 of the dough, wrap it and chill it.  press the remaining dough evenly into a tart pan with a removable bottom.  place the tart shell on a baking tray and line the shell with baking paper or coffee filters, fill with baking weights and partially bake the crust until it no longer looks shiny in the bottom and has just barely begun to show color, about 30 minutes.  turn the oven back up to 350.  remove the tart shell from the oven and carefully lift out the weights and paper.  spread the apple butter evenly in the tart shell.  roll the remaining piece of dough out about 1/8-1/4 inch thick and cut 3/4" strips of dough.  lay the strips over the filling to form a lattice top.  bake the tart until golden brown on top and the apple butter is bubbly, about 50 minutes. allow it to cool before removing from the pan. 

the end is very near...may the tart be with you...send a photo and i will post it here. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

the holidays bring sweet memories of my grandparents; torta di nonna, pie #48 of 52

sweets have always played a part in my life.  as a very young child, i was lucky enough to spend time with my great grandmother and she always had some sweet treat waiting for me.  maybe it was a bowl of jello-most likely a bowl of jello and on occasion, it was one of those crazy crown jewel jello cakes.  i can remember lots of little italian cookies and pastries, most of which i am sure she didn't make but remember them i do.  the strong flavor of bitter almonds and anise...creamy, cheesy fillings studded with candied lemon peel or chocolate chips, mmmmmmm...  as the holidays approach, i am thinking of my grandparents;  my irish grandfather who always had a bowl of hard candies and candy ribbons at christmas, my italian grandmother who would have a box of cookies and pastries from the italian bakery in town and her mother, my great grandmother who has inspired me to learn all i can about baking.  so, with this in mind, i made something that i am sure my italian relatives are familiar with, torta di nonna or grandmothers tart which has a sweet flaky crust flavored with lemon and a creamy custard filling that is loaded with vanilla.  it can be served cold but it tastes best as it cools to room temperature.

torta di nonna

1 (9") tart serving 8

1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest, about 1/2 lemon
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 egg
1 egg yolk
preheat the oven to 325.  place the flour, sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor.  pulse to combine.  sprinkle the butter pieces over the top of the flour mixture and pulse until it resembles a coarse meal.  add the eggs and pulse until it comes together and forms a soft dough.  press 2/3 of the dough into a 9" tart pan with a removable bottom making certain that the dough is evenly distributed.  refrigerate the remaining piece of dough for the top crust.  line the tart shell with baking paper or coffee filters, fill with weights and place on a sturdy tray.  bake until the bottom no longer looks glossy but no coloring has begun, about 30 minutes.  while this bakes, make the custard filling.

custard filling
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
2 eggs
place the cornstarch in a heat proof bowl.  whisk in a small amount of milk to make a smooth paste.  whisk the eggs into the starch and set aside.  place the remaining milk in a sauce pot with a heavy bottom and add the sugar and vanilla bean.  heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally to melt the sugar, until it comes to a boil.  temper the eggs by whisking in 1/3 of the hot milk.  place the milk back on the heat and whisk the hot eggs into the milk.  while stirring continuously, bring the custard to a boil and allow it to boil for a full minute.  remove the weights from the partially baked tart shell and pour the custard through a mesh strainer into the tart shell.  set this aside, turn the oven up to 350 and roll the remaining piece of dough into a 9" circle.  cut a hole in the center and carefully transfer the top to the tart.  sprinkle sugar over the top of the tart and bake until a nice golden brown, about 35 minutes.  allow it to cool completely before trying to remove it from the bottom disk of the pan.

as always, let the power of pie be your savior.  bake one, send me a photo and see it here.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

two for one: butterscotch pie and blueberry pie with almond crunch topping, pies #46 & 47 of 52

for months, my husband has been asking me to make a butterscotch pie.  personally, i like fruit pies better.  so, rather than try to figure out how to make a fruity butterscotch pie, i went ahead and made two pies.  luckily, we had some visitors and they helped us eat the pies!

butterscotch is a tricky flavor to achieve.  many recipes simply expect the use of butter and brown sugar to give the flavor.  that's a start but not likely to give you that buttery caramel flavor found in the little yellow hard candies.  to really get that flavor, you need to caramelize some brown sugar and combine it with dark rum and a pinch of salt.  caramelizing brown sugar is very tricky; it can quickly go from slightly colored to black and bitter.  with that in mind, i opted to go with plain granulated sugar since it is easier to see the color gradations.  

on the blueberry pie, i didn't have fresh berries on hand so i used some frozen berries and if you ask me, that is just fine.  if you are lucky enough to pick your own fresh berries, do you let them go to waste?  i'm thinking not and that what isn't consumed quickly, is frozen for later use.  yes i know that there are purists out there that will scoff at the idea of using frozen berries, but i am not one of them.  sometimes, you have to use what is available and at this time of year, those frozen berries will have much more flavor than anything fresh coming to us from the other side of the world.  if you do use frozen berries, just be sure to let them thaw completely before baking and to add the juices to the pie.  baking a pie with frozen berries in the filling will add a lot of time to the baking and it could mean a burned crust or topping!  to make this pie a little different, i decided to give it a crumb topping made with almond paste and toasted sliced almonds.  blueberries and almond go together very nicely.  and for those of you, like myself, that do not have a kitchen scale handy, purchase the almond paste in the can.  you can remove both ends of the can push out the paste, cut the cylinder of paste into half and then cut each half into 4 equal pieces and get your 1 ounce of almond paste.  don't worry, you can freeze the extra and then anytime a recipe calls for almond paste by the ounce, you will just need to thaw the required number of 1 oz. wedges.

butterscotch pie
blueberry pie with almond crunch topping
each recipe yields 1 (9") pie serving 8

butterscotch pie
1 (9") pie shell, fully baked (can be any kind you like, even graham cracker)
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon corn syrup
3 tablespoons corn starch
2 cups half and half
3 egg yolks
1" piece of vanilla bean, split open
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons dark rum

place the sugar, water and corn syrup in a sauce pot (at least 2 quart capacity) with a heavy bottom.  cover the pot and place over medium heat until it boils for about 1 minute.  remove the lid and check to see that there aren't any sugar crystals on the sides of the pot.  if any crystals are present, use a wet brush to wash them away.  allow the mixture to boil until it begins to color.  while this is boiling, place the corn starch in a heat proof bowl with about a 1/4 cup of the half and half and whisk it smooth.  add the egg yolks to this mixture and whisk together.   place the remaining half and half in a pot with the vanilla bean and the salt and heat over medium low heat but do not allow it to boil-just get it hot.  when the sugar begins to color, gently swirl the pan to color it evenly.  when it is a nice amber color, carefully pour in a small amount of the hot half and half-THIS WILL BOIL UP AND RELEASE LOTS OF STEAM!!!  this step can be dangerous if you are not paying attention or if you try to pour it all in at once, so please, do this in batches and with caution.  when all of the half and half is in the pot with the caramel, stir over medium heat to dissolve any sugar that has settled to the bottom.  when this reaches a boil, pour a small amount into the egg yolk mixture and whisk it smooth.  replace the hot half and half on the burner and carefully whisk in the tempered egg yolks.  continue to cook, stirring gently, until it reaches a boil.  boil the mixture for a full minute to cook the cornstarch and thicken the mixture.  remove the pot from the heat, stir in the dark rum and pour the hot mixture through a mesh strainer right into the baked pie shell.  spread the filling out evenly, press plastic wrap to the surface and refrigerate it until it is cold.  to serve, top with whipped cream or serve it with whipped cream on the side.  

for the whipped cream topping in the photo, i whipped 1 1/3 cups heavy whipping cream with 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract until it was stiff and then spread it over the cold filling.

blueberry pie with almond crunch topping
1 (9") pie shell, home made or purchased
1/2 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
zest of 1 lemon
1 pound of blueberries-can be fresh or frozen (and thawed)
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 ounce almond paste, cut into small pieces

preheat the oven to 350.  place the pie shell on a sturdy baking sheet that is lined with parchment paper and greased.  toast the almonds on a separate tray until slightly browned and fragrant, about 5-7 minutes, cool them completely.  in a mixing bowl, rub the sugar with the cornstarch, ginger and lemon zest until it is combined.  add the blueberries and toss them to coat them (include the juices too if you are using thawed berries).  pour the filling into the pie shell.  to make the topping, place the almonds, flour, brown sugar and baking soda into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine.  sprinkle the pieces of butter and almond paste over the top of the mixture and pulse it until it looks sandy and it begins to clump.  spread the crumb topping evenly over the pie filling and bake it until the fruit filling is bubbly and the topping is browned, about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes.  cool completely before cutting or the filling will not hold it's shape and will run out.

may the force be with you...and as always, make one and take a photo and i will share it here!

Friday, November 11, 2011

oh honey, it's jess pie; honey chess pie, #45 of 52

this is one of my favorite secret weapons (well, as much as one can expect from a pie as a weapon) when it comes to dessert.  it doesn't get much more southern than chess pie.  go anywhere in the south from potlucks, meat & threes (another southern staple), country markets to any place that sells desserts and you will most likely encounter a chess pie.  they are an intriguing combination of butter, eggs and sugar-lots of sugar.  always bordering on the edge of a diabetic coma, the combination is usually a little creamy and if made well, it brings even the most crotchety of folks back to their childhood and before you know it, you are listening to endless stories of mama and her chess pies.  unfortunately, most of them are just sweet and a little crumbly-not very appetizing or worth the extra roll in your middle.  but, as the pastry chef of a restaurant that is a southern dining destination-i had no choice but to include chess pies in the line up.  as a yankee pastry chef, i was at a loss for a good recipe.  i asked around but no one was willing to give up mama's best chess pie recipe.  

my salvation came when a coworker handed me a copy of edna lewis and scott peacocks book, the gift of southern cooking.  in that book i found a recipe for lemon chess pie and so began my education of what a good chess pie is.  for one, while it is sweet, it should have a creamy texture and a balanced flavor.  i was soon the proud owner of a good plain ol' chess pie recipe.  

not too long after that, i had a minor epiphany in the form of honey.  while measuring some wildflower honey, i was taken in by the aroma which led to my tasting it.  first of all, let's get this straight, i am not a big fan of honey-too sweet, sometimes a little bitter, just not my choice of sweeteners.  so when i tasted this local wild flower honey-wow!!! is all i can say.  it was produced by a menonite community in kentucky and the complex flavor was amazing.  i gave it some thought and knew i needed to come up with a pie recipe to showcase that honey.  the light bulb went off and honey chess pie was born.  since honey is the predominant flavor, use a true wildflower honey and make sure it is a brand that does not filter or process the honey-that changes the flavor and can make it bitter tasting.  as a beekeeper, i suggest you look for a local beekeepers association and purchase honey from their members.  what difference does it make?  small scale beekeepers are not likely to mix their honey with corn syrup, remove the pollen, pasteurize it or subject it to any other undesirable process.  and one more thing, if a honey producer claims to be organic-put the bottle back on the shelf.  do you really think you can tell a bee to only gather honey from organic flowers?  bees can fly as far as 8 miles in one trip-they go where they want to go.  a bee will produce about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in a lifetime which lasts about 6 weeks.  a healthy colony will have 40,000-50,000 bees in it.  be sure to give the girls some respect and then make this pie and savor every honey packed spoonful!

honey chess pie
1 (9") pie serving 8-10

1 (9") pie shell, partially baked
3/4 cup wildflower honey
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons cornmeal-preferably white
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 eggs, at room temperature
3 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup heavy cream

preheat the oven to 350.  place the pie shell on a sturdy baking sheet and set aside.  place the honey, brown sugar, butter, cornmeal, flour, vanilla and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor.  pulse until the mixture is smooth.  with the machine running, add the eggs, one at a time, processing until blended and scraping the bowl after each addition.  with the machine on, add the lemon juice and then the heavy cream through the feed tube.  scrape the filling into the pie shell.  bake in the center of the oven for about 40-45 minutes or until the edges puff up slightly and the center is firm.  let cool completely before serving.  pie will be easier to slice if it is cold, use a hot and wet knife-clean it between cuts.  however, it tastes best if closer to room temp so let it stand out at room temp after cutting.

and there you have it.  bake one, send me a photo and see it here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

shoo fly, don't bother me...pie #44 of 52

and so it starts-the catching up that is.  so many pies, so little time to spend here sharing them.  first, let me say that it is wonderful to be able to share those pies.  after 3 weeks of wallowing in the whole robbery drama, i am now connected and secured but damn, i'm still mad!  i lost 10,000 photos and tons of files as well as one fantastic camera.  but, i need to move on...

so, first up is a personal favorite, shoo fly pie.  it even comes with its own catchy little song, "shoo fly, don't bother me!  shoo fly, don't bother me..."  just don't ask me to sing that too you.  the inspiration was a trip to pennsylvania and a chance to roam antique stores with my mom.  i was up there to appear on qvc and if you like, you can watch my appearance on "in the kitchen with david" here.  what an amazing experience that was and david is every bit as nice and friendly as he seems on tv.  but, i digress, while out hunting with mom, i spied a nifty little pie dish and it came with a recipe for shoo fly pie-i had to give it a try.
i loved the design and colors but honestly, i had my doubts about the recipe.  

 as you can see, there aren't any clear directions and the amounts are a bit sketchy too.  but i managed to figure it out and forged ahead with the plans.  something so simple, so easy and believe it or not, quite tasty.  however, being in the south, i used sorghum rather than molasses and for anyone who wants to make this, i suggest you do the same if you can find it.

shoo fly pie
1 (9") pie serving 8

1 (9") pie crust
1/2 cup sorghum (or molasses)
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup dark brown sugar-packed
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
preheat the oven to 325.  partially bake the pie shell using the method described in pie #29 but do not bake the pie shell completely since it will be going back into the oven.  raise the oven temp to 350 and mix the filling as follows:  whisk the sorghum with the water and baking soda.   pour into the prepared pie shell.  rub the flour, brown sugar and butter together to form a crumb topping.  sprinkle over the top of the filling and no, it isn't going to sink!  bake until the filling sets in the center and the crumb topping is a little toasty, about 45 minutes.  allow it to cool before serving.

so folks, stay tuned, i have at least 5 more to post just to get caught up and then i am going to go ahead a little so that my big finale will actually be posted before thanksgiving.  may the power of pie be with you!  and as always, bake one, take a photo and send it to me-i will post it here!

Friday, November 4, 2011

now that's a rainbow cake!

it's been a month, exactly one month today, that my house was broken into and my computer was stolen.  what a month it has been!  my media tour is moving along and i have replaced my computer-added a security system to the house also since just replacing the doors a second time seemed useless.  let's hope it makes a difference.  time has flown and things have blurred a bit so imagine my surprise when i realized that i had missed more than half of mary, the food librarians annual bundt fest!!!   i just had to fix that and send some bundt love her way and i couldn't think of anything better than a little zebra action.  but for those of you who know me, you know that i wouldn't be happy with just two colors, no, after the month i had, i needed the whole damn rainbow!!!!!!!  get ready mary, here comes the rainbow bundt...

after mixing the batter, i separated it into 5 equal parts.  then i added color to 4 of the portions and left one plain.  all i had to use was a package of mc cormicks neon egg colors which consisted of pink, purple, blue and green.  each color mixed in differently and they each needed different amounts to get the color saturation just right.  to get the stripes, you carefully pour in spoonfuls of each color batter to the same spot in the pan to make rings.  the rings spread out and fill the pan and if you use a bundt pan like i did, it looks really amazing.

now, how cool is that?  the stuff that dreams are made of if you ask me.   okay, i admit it, the stress is getting to me-obviously, neon colored cakes are all it takes to amaze me...

a few notes before we get started.  first, i increased the recipe by half to fill the bundt pan, after all, mary is having a bundt fest.  second, i omitted the cocoa powder in the recipe since i wanted a rainbow cake.

rainbow bundt cake
adapted from king arthur flour
1 twelve cup bunt serving 12-16

6 eggs
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup canola oil
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups milk
liquid food colors, as many as you like
preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour a 12 cup bundt pan.  place the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt into a large mixing bowl and on medium, whip until it thickens-about 10 minutes.  slowly pour the oil in taking care not to hit the beaters or you will wear it and so will your kitchen.  if you are using a hand held mixer, put it away now, and if you are using a stand mixer, remove the bowl from the machine and pour the batter into a large but shallow bowl.  sift the flour and baking powder over the egg mixture and carefully fold it into the batter.  fold the milk in last-if you have followed this order, you should not have any lumps.  if you have lumps, run the batter through a mesh strainer to break up the lumps and smooth out the batter.  divide the batter into 5 bowls (1 1/2 cups each) and tint as desired.  using a serving spoon, carefully pour spoonfuls of each color into the same spot in the pan to create a bullseye pattern that spreads and fills the pan.  bake until a tester inserted comes out clean, about an hour to an hour and 10 minutes.  allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then carefully turn it out onto a rack to cool completely.

be sure to check out mary's month long bundt fest-i love big bundts 3 and do bake one with her!

oh, one more thing.  before you start wondering about my photos, and whether i have lost my mind, my camera was also stolen.  those photos were taken with my not so smart phone (no iPhone or droid for me).

Friday, October 28, 2011

where did she go?

actually, no where and everywhere all at the same time.  the explanation-my house was broken into and one of the things taken was my computer.  that said, i have been a little lost and out of sorts-slightly pathetic, don't you think?  never thought i would miss that thing as much as i did when it was suddenly gone.  word to the wise (strange word for describing thieves, no?) don't try that again-i won't give this one up without a fight!!!

so, even though i was disconnected, i still managed to bake some pies.  look for some photos and recipes to be posted soon.  a preview of those recipes:  honey chess, shoo fly, blueberry with crunchy almond topping and butterscotch pies!  may the power of the pie be with you and keep your computer safe...

Friday, September 30, 2011

baking sweet memories with my daughters, part 2: crumb topped apple pie, #43 of 52

in my previous post, i baked a tart with my daughter alix; a sort of all growed up/movin out on my own party for the two of us.  this week, i was given the opportunity to do the same with my daughter devon.  you see, she too has moved out and is now in california where she will be attending school.  it was important to me to take the time to teach each of them a little about baking with the hope that they will take this new skill and use it to make their lives a little sweeter.  and in devon's case, it was a chance to pass a baton;  apple pie is my father in laws favorite pie and since she is now living with my in laws, it is something that she can make for him.

no matter what, i enjoyed every minute of baking with my daughters and cannot wait for the next chance to do so.  for now, i am adjusting to an empty nest and a husband who works all different shifts; in other words, i am spending a lot of time by myself.  it may be a little quiet here but it gives me a chance to do all the things that a book release requires.  my book was released the first week of september and it has been a little hectic.  since the book is out there, i decided to use my recipe for apple pie as this weeks challenge.

miss devon peeling and slicing 5 granny smith apples

tossing the apples with the spices and cornstarch

we got a little crazy and used a 7" pie plate and piled the apples in a tall dome

the pie was topped off with the crumbs and into the oven she went.  the height of the pie made a slight increase in the baking time.  it was tasty served warm from the oven with vanilla ice cream-perfection!

arkansas sweetly spiced apple crumb pie
serves 6-8

1(9”) pie shell, unbaked
6 cups sliced apples, any variety suitable for baking
3/4cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1-teaspoon cinnamon
1/2teaspoon nutmeg
1/2teaspoon cardamom
1/4teaspoon cloves
1-cup crumb topping, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 350.  Grease a sturdy baking sheet and line it with foil or parchment paper and grease that as well.  Place the pie shell on the baking sheet and set it aside.  In a bowl, rub the brown sugar, starch and spices together until blended.  Add the apples and toss them to coat them.  Dump the apple mix into the pie shell; scrape any sugar mix and juices into the bowl as well.  Sprinkle the topping evenly over the pie leaving about a 1-1/2” border around the edge-as the apples bake, they will sink and the entire top will have crumbs.  If you put the crumbs close to the edges, they may run out with any of the juices that boil over and then you may not have much topping near the edges.  Bake for about an hour and 15 minutes or until the juices are bubbling and the crumb topping is lightly browned all over.  Allow it to set before cutting, although this will be tough to do, who can resist warm apple pie? 

Crumb topping
Makes about 1-1/3 cups

1/2cup all purpose flour
1/2cup rolled oats
1/3cup dark brown sugar
1/2teaspoon cinnamon
1/8teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and slightly cold
Place the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix them gently to break up the sugar but take care not to break the oats.  Add the butter and use your hands to gently rub the ingredients together to make small clumps.  Your final result should be a free flowing mixture with some lumps that will clump together when squeezed in your hand.  This can be done in the food processor with the pulse button, a quick time saving method, but will result in the oats being cut.  It can also be done in a stand mixer with the flat beater, which is the method we use in the cafe.

so get in that kitchen and bake some sweet memories with someone you love-send me a photo and i will post it here!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

baking sweet memories with my daughters, part 1: chocolate pecan tart, pie #42 of 52

it has always been a hope of mine that my two daughters will embrace the art of home made food.  to me, a well made meal is an event and when shared with family, there isn't much out there that can top it. over the years, both of my girls have shown a desire to bake, mostly cookies with the occasional cake thrown in.  but with all of these pies i have been baking, i have wanted to spend an afternoon baking a pie with each of them.  this last week, i finally got that wish.  alix was home for a visit and to help her sister get packed for the big move west and i took advantage of the time to bake a tart with alix.  when asked what kind of pie she would like to make, she chose chocolate pecan-you can't go wrong with chocolate and when you add pecans, it's even better!

we quickly mixed up a batch of tart dough using the food processor and alix pressed it into the pan with her fingers-no rolling pin required!  be sure to use a tart pan with a removable bottom to make cutting serving the easy.

using my foolproof method for partially baking a tart/pie shell, alix lined the shell with a large coffee filter and filled it full of marbles-my choice of pie weights.

while the tart shell baked, we mixed up the filling.  for a smooth filling every time, it is important that the ingredients are combined in the proper order.  otherwise, the custard separates in the oven and it the chocolate will float to the top.  to emulsify the filling, the brown sugar is whisked with the melted butter and chocolate mixture, the cinnamon and vanilla.  then the eggs are whisked in one at a time.  the final addition is the corn syrup.  be sure to scrape that bowl as you go.
alix whisking in the corn syrup-gotta love the action shots!

toast the pecans if you like and then chop them up and fill the shell with them.

pour the custard over the chopped nuts

decorate it with pecan halves

baked to fudgy perfection!  let it cool completely before removing it from the pan or it may crumble

chocolate pecan tart
serves 8

for the tart shell, use half of the recipe for tart dough from pie #39.  freeze the second half for another time and partially bake the tart shell at 325 for 20-25 minutes.  the dough should no longer look glossy and it will not have begun to color.  remove the weights and proceed with the recipe.

1 cup pecan pieces
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1.5 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 eggs
3/4 cup corn syrup
pecan halves to decorate the tart, at least 1 cup
preheat the oven to 350.  toast the pecan pieces on a baking tray until fragrant, about 5-7 minutes.  place the pecans in the partially baked tart shell.  melt the butter and the chocolate together by placing them in a microwave safe bowl and using the lowest power setting.  place the brown sugar in a mixing bowl with the vanilla and cinnamon.  whisk in the melted chocolate and butter.  whisk in the eggs, one at a time.  be sure to scrape the bowl between additions.  finally, whisk in the corn syrup and pour the custard into the prepared tart shell.  carefully arrange the pecan halves on the top of the tart.  bake until it puffs up and is almost set in the center, about 30-35 minutes.  allow the tart to cool completely before removing it from the pan or cutting.

as always, if you bake one, send me a photo and i will post it here.  may the power of pecans be with