Thursday, August 25, 2011

tomato pie with caramelized onions and fontina cheese, #37 of 52 pies

for gardeners, tomatoes are the holy grail.  every gardener you meet will have a favorite; hybrid or heirloom, red or yellow, sweet or classic flavored.  the choices are abundant.  in our garden, there are mostly heirlooms and they range in color from striped reds, purple and yellow.  there are cherries and slicers of all sizes.  at least that is what the tags promised.  what the tags do not tell you is that if your summer is extremely hot and dry, you won't be picking much and what is there, the squirrels will get before it ripens...and if you are as lucky as we are, you will also get a dose of fusarium wilt in the bed to really make it difficult.

getting off to a late start hasn't helped much either.  we had a cool and wet spring that caused us to put the plants in the bed later than we wanted but it also looks as if a couple of those hybrids we planted might make it and produce a few fruits for us.  meanwhile, my tomato sandwich obsessed husband has had to satisfy his yen for white bread slathered with thick slabs of tomato and mayonnaise by purchasing tomatoes at the farmers market and i have had to cancel my plans to stand in the garden and stuff my face with cherry tomatoes  still warm from the morning sun...

decent tomatoes can be had if you are willing to pay for them and pay you will!  i found some kentucky heirloom tomatoes at my local supermarket for $4.99 per pound and while pricey, they had nice flavor and made it possible to bake this pie.  this recipe isn't totally original but i did make some changes to it to punch up the flavor.

a red and yellow striped heirloom tomato from the supermarket.  it not only looked like it was home grown, it tasted like it too.  a little sweet and not very acidic, these are one of the varieties that will have you cutting it into wedges and eating it as if it were a peach.

 taking the time to caramelize the onions will add lots of flavor and so will the use of fresh herbs.  we have a lot of basil, oregano and sage in the garden and they made a flavorful addition to the pie.

tomato pie with caramelized onions
and fontina cheese
adapted from
serves 6-8

1 (9") pie shell-home made or purchased and partially baked
2-3 large or 3-4 medium sized ripe tomatoes
2-3 tablespoons bacon fat (or olive oil)
1 large onion, sliced
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/3 cup fresh herbs-measure them first then chop them
salt & fresh cracked pepper
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 cup freshly grated fontina cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

preheat the oven to 300 and prebake the pie shell using the instructions to pie #29 but do not bake it completely since it will be returning to the oven(partially baking the pie shell-it should just barely have color and the bottom crust will no longer appear shiny when you lift out the weights).  turn the oven up to 350.  cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out as much of the juice and seeds as you can.  dice them into bite size pieces, place them in a strainer which is set over a bowl and place a weight on the tomatoes-you want to remove the juice without pureeing the tomatoes so do not use a heavy weight, just one that causes enough pressure to remove the juice.  while the tomatoes drain, heat the bacon fat in a skillet over medium heat and saute the onions.  as they begin to color, stir them to allow even caramelizing.  add the garlic and the herbs once the onions have caramelized and saute them for a minute or two.  remove the onion mixture from the heat and place it in a mixing bowl.  measure out 3 cups of tomatoes and add them to the onions.  toss them to combine them, season with the salt and pepper and then scrape the filling into the partially baked pie shell.  in a clean bowl, combine the mayonnaise and the cheeses to form a thick topping.  carefully spread the topping over the surface of the filling.  bake until golden brown on top, about 45-50 minutes.

and as always, if you bake one, photograph it and send it to me, i will post it here!  

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

vegetarian moussaka pie, #36 of 52

a trip to the farmers market yielded these beauties.  i love tiny eggplants-they are so tender and mild in flavor compared to the big ones.  we grilled some and the rest became the inspiration for this pie.
traditionally, moussaka is made with ground meat but in my attempt to cook more vegetarian meals, i chose to substitute some wheat bulgur.  to increase the flavor of the filling, i cooked the bulgur in vegetable stock.
i roasted slices of the eggplant in the oven and this both softened them and eliminated some of the juices that may have made the filling soggy.

the bulgur was sauteed with onions, garlic and herbs from the garden to make a flavorful substitution to meat.
i layered it all in a 4 cup casserole dish which was lined with some homemade pie dough that was mixed up using an expeller pressed non-hydrogenated vegetable fat-great for my low cholesterol diet.
a thin custard of ricotta cheese and egg whites (a lighter version of the traditional bechamel sauce) was poured over the filling.
a sprinkle of traditional spices over the custard was topped off by the casual folds of the excess dough
fresh from the oven, it was a filling meal that we didn't feel guilty for eating-chock full of whole grain and veggies and a lowfat custard made it a good choice for my low cholesterol diet.

vegetarian moussaka pie
serves 4 as an entree

1/4 cup wheat bulgur
4-6 finger sized eggplants (4-5 inches in length, 1 1/4" in diameter)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup diced onions
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
3/4 cup diced tomatoes-fresh or canned
salt and pepper
1/3 cup part skim ricotta cheese
2 egg whites
1/2 cup milk
a pinch each of cinnamon and allspice
enough pie dough to line a 9" pie shell

preheat the oven to 350.  cook the bulgur according to the directions on the package using vegetable broth or water.  slice the eggplants into 1/4" slabs and lay them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.  bake the slices until they soften and dry a bit-10-15 minutes.  remove them from the oven and set aside.  in a saute pan, heat the olive oil and saute the onions until soft, add the garlic and oregano and continue to saute for another minute.  add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper then set this aside as well.  in a mixing bowl, mix the ricotta with the egg whites and whisk until smooth.  add the milk, cinnamon and allspice and whisk to combine.  line a 4 cup casserole with the pie dough allowing the excess to hang over the outside.  lay half of the eggplant slices over the bottom of the dish.  top this with the bulgur mix and cover the filling with the remaining eggplant slices.  whisk the custard and pour it over the filling in the dish.  carefully lay the excess crust over the filling so that most of the filling is covered.  bake until golden brown and the custard is set, about 50 minutes.  let it rest on the counter for 15 minutes or so before serving.  a green salad completes the meal!

need a recipe for pie dough?  try this one from pie #18.  and as always, bake one and send me a photo-i will post it here!

Monday, August 22, 2011

lavender-vanilla panna cotta tart, pie # 35 of 52

my life has been such a blur lately.  days pass by in what feels like minutes.  we watched both of our daughters cross the stage this summer, one from high school and the other from college.  we hosted celebrations with family members.  the carport never looked so festive.  there was a trash can turkey at one party and a barbecue at the other.  the girls beat a pinata to death and we all ate way too much!  somewhere in there, i went off to new york city and phili for media training and suddenly, my book has landed in nashville.  so, knowing very well that i am going to only get busier, i am even more determined to finish this 52 week challenge.  to prove the point, the 4 pies that needed to be made, are all done and have been for some time, all i need to do is get them posted here.  damn, blinked and lost another hour...

panna cotta has never been something that i just had to try.  but in an effort to keep this challenge interesting and varied, i decided to try it in a tart.  then i needed to make it different from every recipe i saw out there-that was the challenge.  a walk through my garden fixed that-with a hand full of lavender blooms and a fig tree full of ripe fruit, i had my inspiration; infuse the panna cotta with lavender and vanilla bean and serve it with fresh figs...
i decided to use buttermilk in the filling as well.  since it isn't a good idea to heat buttermilk for long periods of time, i infused some heavy cream with lavender blossoms and vanilla beans.

 to make the crust, i toasted some almonds and chopped them finely and added them to a buttery crust dough.

 my absolute favorite trick for prebaking crusts-use large coffee filters.  if you can get them from a coffee shop or restaurant, you will not have to buy a huge quantity of them.  however, you can used several smaller ones to do the same job.  the filters are so strong that you can actually lift them out with your weights in them and not have to worry about it tearing.  but if you use marbles like i do, spoon them out just to be safe.

lavender-vanilla panna cotta tart
1 (6") tart serving 4-6

tart dough
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
2 tablespoons almonds, sliced or slivered
2 tablespoons water
preheat the oven to 350.  toast the almonds until lightly golden, about 5 minutes, cool them completely before proceeding with the recipe.  place all the ingredients except the water into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine and cut in the butter.  when it resembles a coarse meal with bits of almonds in it, add the water and pulse it until it comes together.  press the dough into a greased 6" cake pan so that it is 3/4 of the way up the sides.  make sure the dough is distributed evenly around the pan.  line with a coffee filter, add pie weights and bake it until it is completely baked and lightly golden, about 30 minutes.  cool completely before making the filling.

panna cotta filling
1/4 of a vanilla bean
1 tablespoon lavender blooms-dried
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoon gelatin
1 tablespoon water
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup sugar
fresh fruit for garnish
place the vanilla bean, lavender and cream in a very small sauce pan and heat until it almost simmers.  remove from heat and allow to steep for at least 5 minutes (can also be done in the microwave but be careful since it is quick to boil).  soften the gelatin in the water while the cream steeps.  strain the cream into a bowl and add the gelatin, stir to melt it-if needed, gently heat the mixture in the microwave to melt it.  with a whisk, gently whisk in the buttermilk and the sugar and then pour the filling into the prepared crust.  refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours.  serve with your favorite fresh fruit, berries work best with the flavors in this recipe but you can also use figs or peaches.  if a sauce is desired, sweeten an extra cup of fruit and puree in a blender for a quick coulis.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

a trip to times square with undercover steve

after i was finished with all the media training, i had a chance to hang with my dopey brother-he likes to be called that; he says it's a term of endearment...i like to indulge him in this fantasy and willingly comply with his request.  we were undecided of what we would do for the day and basically chose not to do anything but just hang out together, walking, talking and taking in the scenery.  first on the agenda, lunch.  after wandering around and passing up the shake shack-wow what a line...we settled in to a table for two indoors at the 5 napkin burger in lovely and scenic hell's kitchen.

my dopey brother who was preparing to part ways with the stache.  it was a last meal of sorts and a 5 napkin burger and all of its 10oz of glory was a perfect send off.

 my dopey brother doing his best jason lee impersonation

 i really liked the way the restaurant was decorated.  the meat hooks were the perfect touch...

 loved the scales too

 ultimately, the thought of trying to eat a 10oz burger was too much for me, i ordered the veggie burger.  it appeared to be a home made pattie with beets which gave it a nice pink hue.  it was tasty but also quite large and i ended up eating just the patty and the fries.

 undercover steve enjoyed his burger too-his was beef and it looked tasty.  i should have asked about a kids menu

 the stashe loved the burger-here he is feeding it

after eating way more than was needed, we headed back out to wander the streets aimlessly
 loved this view-i could see all the way up to the chrysler building

 and of course, no trip to nyc is complete with out a wander through times square

 i really love the new lane closures to accommodate pedestrians and provide seating.  we parked ourselves on a bench and talked.  i thought that we might run out of things to say but we never did.  we talked about my book and his radio show, family, friends and so much more.

and no trip to times square is complete with out a sighting of the naked cowboy.  really???  get over yourself and put on some pants.  and on that note, we headed to penn station so i could catch my train to phili for the last leg of my trip-qvc training.

sorry to say but that is all i've got-no time for sight seeing.  now, i'm home and back to work and that means there is pie-stay tuned for that.

Monday, August 1, 2011

my trip to the big city

last monday, i grabbed my overstuffed carry-on bag and headed to the airport with jesse for a few days of media training in new york city and philadelphia.  first on the agenda was to check in to the flatotel for our stay in manhattan.  with that out of the way, we quickly headed out in search of lunch-trickier than it sounds but only because there were simply too many choices!
bricklane curry house
we chose the brick lane curry house and were quickly seated.  as we perused the menu, i took a few photos.

 the place isn't much bigger than the photo suggests-maybe 8-10 tables and at the time, we were the only two people in the place.

 love the use of colanders as a light fixture!

 we ordered prawns tikka masala for me and prawns goan for jesse.  it was all accompanied by curried vegetables, dal, rice and naan.  all of it was incredibly tasty.

 nothing says i enjoyed lunch more than an empty plate

at this point, we headed out into the rain and began our first adventure-the acquisition of an umbrella for jesse...this was followed by a stop in the moma shop and a stop at the hotel for rain jackets which we both thought to bring.  after a stop in a bead shop and for a drink (well we were off the clock so why not...) we headed to our final destination-eataly and it was only 30 blocks away...

the first thing i will say about eataly-overwhelming.  too much going on in one place to take it in in an hour.  too many people trying to do the same thing as you and also finding themselves overwhelmed-lots of stopped traffic in other words.  the second thing, with all of the potential this place has to wow you, it's a bit disappointing that you aren't.  most of what i saw was familiar to me and nothing seemed truly unique.  as jesse stated, i can eat proscuitto anywhere-proscuitto is proscuitto.  nothing reached out and grabbed me and yelled at me to try it.  we did indulge in gelato and i can only ask that they give a little more for the price.  even so, i really enjoyed the coconut gelato and the fig sorbetto that jesse had was equally wonderful.  with that said, here are some photos from our trip into eataly.
the first thing you encounter upon entering eataly is a beautiful display of fresh produce

 mushrooms-they always catch my attention

 jesse and his $17 glass of red wine-the moral of the photo, never ask the person selling the wine to pour you a glass of their favorite wine...

after departing eataly, we headed uptown where we made stops in magnolia bakery and hill country  chicken.  both stops were to feed our eyes!  we watched the baker in the window of magnolia bakery assemble an icebox cake and we drooled over the pies at hill country chicken.   we headed back to our hotel and got ready to head out for dinner.
maison on broadway
we sat outside and indulged ourselves in mussels and salads and then called it a night, at least i did.  it was off to bed for me and i slept like a rock!  but wait, there's more to the story!  look for it tomorrow-my adventures with undercover steve...