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the perfect pie

By on Jul 9, 2015 in baking, dessert, fruit, vegetarian | 0 comments

So you know that phrase “as American as apple pie”? A great phrase, sure. And apples were important in the history of our nation, what with Johnny Appleseed and all that whatnot. But our nation’s big day is July 4th. Notably, not apple season. But in most parts of the country, it is fruit season. Glorious fresh fruit season, where you bite into a berry that hasn’t spent weeks on a truck, the juices gush forth, and your eyes widen in a big “OH!” moment. And around July 4th, at least in my beloved Midwest, we are at the tail end of strawberry season. And if the farmers did it just right… the tail end of rhubarb season. Which means it is time for the ultimate of pies… strawberry rhubarb. Now I know, I know, I can hear you objecting already. Everyone has their own favorite pie, and in the very personal world of food choice, pie seems to get people whipped into a frenzy. So feel free to disagree with me. But… hear me out. Strawberries are these beautiful plump denizens of summer, all juicy and floral. They range from tart to sweet, and at the tail end of the season, you get these ruby orbs that are bursting with sweet early summer flavor. Rhubarb is the wonderful plant I grew up with in the garden, with the warning of “never eat the leaves, they are poison!” (Which is so intriguing and thrilling to a child!) Somehow those long bitter stalks turned into sweet gooshy crisps. And did not poison you. In my first house I remember as a kid, the neighbor would take swaths of the giant rhubarb plants we had (they may not have been giant, I was a kid, so all things being relative…) and made them into pies, always sharing. She also let me pick raspberries straight off the vine, but that is another story. Fast forward to many, many years later, where now I am a grownup and can make a mean pie crust. But now… I want the perfect filling. I love strawberries, but the idea of a straight up strawberry pie… not appealing. I have visions of it being a syrupy overly sweet mass, and for as much as I love baking desserts, I really do not like to be punched in the face with sugar. I loved those rhubarb pies of old, but they were also on the crazy sweet end from the dump truck of sugar traditionally stirred in. And I get it, rhubarb is tart, but it has a crazy tannic flavor all of its own, so why can’t we just enjoy it? Enter the strawberry rhubarb pie. This is not a new idea by any stretch. It is a classic many love, and absolutely associate with summer, particularly these early parts where the days roll out long and lazy. But when I started researching recipes, I almost heard the beeping of the imaginary dump truck that was doing to back up and overwhelm the filling. It started to take on an eerie echo, and in my mind’s eye I started to see a filling of total goo, quivering and threatening to send every diabetic in the tri-state area into insulin shock. Which, in retrospect, was a little melodramatic. It’s really not THAT bad. But of course, I didn’t want to put in all the sugar I’ve seen. I knew a lesser amount would still get me macerated fruit and a nice set on the filling, and I wanted the strawberries and rhubarb to shine through with their own flavors. I started with the crust, throwing in a little cornmeal for crunch, and as a tribute, since it is a purely American grain. While the crust chilled, crisp green rhubarb was tossed with strawberries so ripe they were red all the way through. I added in a mere third of the sugar normally called for, some flour to help the juices coalesce into a proper filling, and a splash of balsamic to deepen the strawberry. As I poured the fruit into the waiting pie crust, I kept thinking I needed more. Some part of my memory perked up in the background, reminding me of the various pies that have overflowed, and the wondrous fun of cleaning that up. I decided that filling it just to the top of the pie pan was fine. A little over an hour later, and it was done. I burned a fingertip or two snatching a taste of the filling through the holes in the lattice crust, but I had found it. A pie filling that was sweet and tart, all at once. A filling where I could taste that sweetness of the berry, while a hint of bitter of the rhubarb rolled in the back, without my face puckering up as if I had eaten a lemon. Later I enjoyed a full on slice, the flaky crust lovingly cradling the succulent, velvety ruby filling. As I told you in the beginning, strawberry rhubarb is, in fact, the ultimate pie. I have proof. Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Crust (using the Ruhlman 3-2-1 ratio method, so it is by weight)   2 oz. medium grind cornmeal 5 oz. whole wheat pastry flour 5 oz. unbleached all-purpose white flour 1 tsp. salt 1 Tbsp. sugar 2 sticks (8 oz.) butter, cut into large chunks, kept COLD...

ruby Fragarian lust…

By on Jun 4, 2015 in fruit, love | 0 comments

This is a love letter to strawberries. Particularly, the ones that suddenly appeared on the farmer’s market table. Bright, juicy beacons of summer, blithely tumbled together in quaint little wood boxes, so different from their overgrown brethren, trapped in stifling plastic containers and shipped from California. Strawberries. Plump, juicy, tart and sweet strawberries. If asparagus is one of the first colorful foods we see here in the Midwest, those slender stalks of green leaping from the ground, the crimson glow of strawberries are a true herald of summer. Or, to be more fair, given the lust that ensues once these summery gems appear on market tables, they are basically their own Fragarian red light district, beckoning you to the delights of summer. (Yes, I had to look that up. They are of the Fragaria genus.) In case I hadn’t mentioned it before, strawberries are my favorite food of all time. When this time of year hits, I snap up quantities bordering on obscene. I fantasize about one day having a yard, which would just be a carpet of strawberry plants. Jam always must be made, jars filled with glowing red sunshine lining my shelves, every year tweaking and pushing just a bit farther as I discover more about my beloved crimson berry. This year is no different, but I decided to take it slow. I bought one pint. Just one, though it pained me. I rushed them home, plunked them down on the counter and gazed at them all moony-eyed. They do get their own Strawberry Moon , so I found it only appropriate. Even with imperfections here and there, a mild squish and bruise slightly marring the taught, luminous surface, they are still perfection. They cried out for a photo shoot, and so I obliged. No fanciness, no toppings, no seasonings, nothing but a pile and a carefully selected slice, carved with my finest paring knife. Nothing less would do. And then, they were eaten. There is no recipe here. I grew up with the grand treat of slicing them, sprinkling them with sugar and pouring milk over them, which is still wonderful. I have been learning more about things that pair beautifully with the sumptuous strawberry, such as red wine, basil, and the magic of a splash of balsamic vinegar that somehow deepens and intensifies the flavor of this sumptuous fruit. But for this first grand basket, this first dive into the magic pool of summery fruit, I went commando. With the fruit, of course. In the end, these are really early and they haven’t hit their full potential, which dampened my spirits ever so briefly. But they are hope. Hope of sunshine and fresh flavors and fruits and vegetables that actually have scent. Have you ever really smelled a strawberry? Find one at a local farmer’s market or farm stand. Stick it right up to your nose and breathe deeply, letting that sweet floral scent work all the way through your nasal passages. You will never get that from a cramped plastic box shipped from thousands of miles away. There will be more coming about strawberries. I have a few nefarious ideas. But for now, do yourself a favor. Hunt down a box of local, fresh strawberries. Don’t stick them in the fridge and wait to enjoy them, just rinse, pour into a bowl, and sit. Breathe deeply. And dive in. Sharing is...

gingery peachy creamy good

By on Sep 15, 2013 in dessert, experimenting, fruit, vegetarian | 2 comments

Somewhere in my travels I have heard a person’s rump be compared to a ripe peach; so pert and juicy you want to take a bite out of it. I think I would rather be literal and take a bite out of an actual peach. All winter long I stare balefully at the stacks of hard peaches as they sit in pallid orange pyramids at the grocery store. Much like a tomato, I find it hard to buy them, knowing what is coming. Summer. July. August. September in my luckiest times. Farmer’s market peaches so juicy you have to stand over a sink due to the river of juice that bursts forth as you sink your teeth into the sunny sweet flesh. I’m sure there are several lovely derrieres out there in the world. I would still prefer to take a bite out of an actual peach.   I will eat peaches straight up, I adore making a succulent pie with a splash of dark rum, and who can deny the beauty of a jewel-toned peach preserve? But summer (even though we are technically just past it) brings out another deep and abiding love. Ice cream. Don’t get me wrong, I salivate over the thought of a certain dark chocolate ice cream from my favorite ice cream place in my neighborhood, but of course I had to explore making my own ice cream, and of course this had to involved fruit so fresh it almost seemed a shame to freeze it. Almost.   But of course, just straight peach? Peaches in vanilla? Seemed a little, well, vanilla. The peaches needed a home with a bit of zing to balance out their velvet sweet. Enter the ginger. Steeped in cream. I’ll just let you sit on that a while. Have you thought about it? Dense, creamy ice cream with this tantalizing streak of spicy ginger floating up out of the luscious icy creaminess as it dances across your tongue. Bright, smoothly sweet peaches swirled in, dancing a tango with the ginger. Do you want to make it? Good. This is not a quick ice cream. No homemade ice cream is. But once you have made it, you realize you have to do it again. Flavors start whirling through your mind, every spice and item of produce in the house becomes a likely candidate. No plain vanilla will ever do again. Unless you do it with a nice fat fresh vanilla bean, scraping out all the seeds. That’ll do. That’ll do. Ginger Peach Ice Cream   (this almost overflowed my 1 1/ 2 quart ice cream maker, especially once the peaches were added. I had to ultimately mix in the peaches after the churning.)   2 c. heavy cream (there is no such thing as good low fat ice cream. You can keep telling yourself that, but no.) 1 c. whole milk ¾ c. sugar, divided 1 tsp. good vanilla extract 2 ½” ginger root, peeled and finely chopped 1 ½ – 2 lbs. peaches (err lower, trust me) peeled and finely chopped 1 Tbsp. lemon juice 6 egg yolks   Combine peaches, ½ c. sugar, and lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours, preferably overnight.   In a heavy saucepan, gently heat 1 c. cream, the whole milk, sugar, vanilla extract, and ginger. Do not let boil. Heat just until tiny bubbles start to appear around the edge. Remove from heat and let steep for one hour.   After one hour, grab another bowl and whisk the egg yolks until light and frothy. Strain and gently reheat cream mixture (remember, no boiling), and scoop ½ c. of the mixture out and add to the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Add the egg mix slowly back into the pan, whisking constantly. Keep stirring over gentle heat until mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon. (Conventional wisdom says to heat to 170-175 degrees. The back of the spoon thing works too.) Pour into a container with the remaining 1 c. cream and stir to combine. Cover and chill for at least three hours.   Now for the final fun! Remove the peaches and the cream mixture from the fridge, and strain the peach juice into the cream mixture, stirring to combine. Pour into ice cream maker and process according to maker’s instructions. In the last five minutes or so, add in the peaches. If your ice cream maker is almost overflowing like mine was, once the ice cream has reached the desired consistency, transfer to a freezer container and gently fold them in. Freeze the ice cream for at least two hours before eating. And then eat it. Merrily....

tarty tart (joy)

By on Jul 30, 2013 in baking, fruit, quickie | 2 comments

There they sit. Small, nubbly red denizens of juicy tartness. In gazing upon them, I can not help but have a moment… were this a human, the nubbly surface would be declared somehow unattractive, but here on this salacious little red-fruited Rubus idaeus, I am reduced to salivating. The high season of summer produce is upon us here in the Midwest, and my joy knows now bounds. In frittering about the internet looking at raspberry recipes, there were all manners of ingredients and solutions, various ways to bathe your berry in this liqueur, reduce it with this herb, breathe on it with air captured from the Western Slope of Mt. Everest… OK, that might be exaggerating. But everything was twiddling about with additions to the raspberry, which might be fine in winter when the berries come from little plastic clamshells, shipped in from miles away, but these are summer berries. Delicious, exuberantly plump summer berries, still half-glowing with the sun (or maybe triumph after the picker was scratched to pieces on the spiky little vines they grow on, being members of the rose family.) They need no fancy adornment. Maybe just a nice pedestal. After plowing through many a fresh raspberry, I decided the time had come to make a little baked good out of them. I could macerate them, then reduce the juice into an even more intense round of flavor and drizzle it back over, and perhaps I shall on the next time, but I wanted simplicity here. The magnificent nubbly berries demanded the least amount of mucking about, and I was going to give it to them. I slapped together a quick pastry dough, sneaking in a touch of cornmeal and almond extract to build a better pedestal for these ruby beauties. I rolled it out into a plain circle, dropped the fresh raspberries in the center, and then baptized them in a small touch of sugar, just enough to coax out their juices whilst they baked. A quick fold of the edges, and a galette was made. Quick, simple, and deceptively fancy. As it baked in the oven, I had to grip the edge of the chair I sat in so I would not be tempted to dive headfirst into the oven so I could just marinate in the divine scent coming forth. And there it was. Glistening crimson with a bubbling mass of tart magma in the center, faint scents of almond gently breezing through. I wanted it. Now. And yet, had I sliced in, the merry filling would have oozed forth, ruining the simple perfection. I had to wait. And then I could wait no more. Simple Raspberry Tart serves 4 if you are being stingy, 2 if you love the one you are with, 1 if you feel you deserve it, and I think you do   The pastry   1/3 c. flour 2 Tbsp. fine cornmeal 2 tsp. sugar 1/2 tsp. salt 3 Tbsp. cold, unsalted butter (reduce your salt to 1/4 tsp. if you only have salted) 1/8 tsp. almond extract 1-3 Tbsp. cold water, or enough to bind   Combine the dry ingredients, then using a pastry blender or knives, cut in the cold butter until you have big coarse crumbs. If you have a food processor, you can do this in there with only a few pulses (so damned easy). Add in the almond extract, and just enough water to form a dough. This can differ wildly based on the humidity that day, the mood of the flour, anything. So do it slowly. If you are doing this in a food processor, pulse gently a couple of times, and with it off, reach in and test your dough, because it will still look like crumbs, albeit slightly bigger crumbs. If you can grasp a generous pinch of it and it holds together, you are good to go. Gently gather together the dough until you have one cohesive ball. I like to do a bit of fraissage here, which is to say… put the ball of dough on a lightly floured surface, then using the heel of your hand, mash down and spread it outwards, sort of like you are smearing it. Gather it back in, turn it, do it again. Do it a few times, then gently form it into a disc, wrap it in plastic wrap, and let it rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.   The filling   1/2 pint fresh raspberries scant tablespoon of sugar Wash the berries, gently tossing to shake off water. Let them sit until your dough has rested. If you are making this for other people who are present in your home, remain in the kitchen and make vigorous noises, as if this is a trial. Splash some flour on yourself to amp up the illusion, and wearily poke your head out and say it will be done soon. Retreat to the kitchen and eat some raspberries. You really didn’t just buy one half-pint, did you?   The assembly   Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Take dough out of fridge. If it feels too stiff, let it rest for 10 minutes. It will warm up and be easier to roll. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough until you have a roughly 10″ diameter circle. Arrange the raspberries in...

cherries are more patriotic

By on Jul 7, 2013 in baking, dessert, fruit | 1 comment

I needed to make a pie. The farmer’s market was in full swing.  The 4th of July was upon us. If I followed the saying “as American as apple pie,” well… I would be out of luck. You see, this is the Midwest. Apples are still tiny little hard things dangling from craggy branches. Cherries. Cherries are in season. And yes, I could go to the grocery store and find some sad apples that were trucked in from thousands of miles away, but I would rather support my local farmer, and notably cherries are red, and the word “red” is even in our national anthem. Need I say more? Why yes, yes I do. There once was a time in our history where the government actually encouraged people to grow their own food for the greater good of the whole country. Victory Gardens from WWI and WWII. Yes, of course, agribusiness was made very nervous by these, and reportedly they did actually produce as much as the commercial farms when they were in full swing, so they were nervous with good reason. But not so much today. Today agribusiness is definitely at the fore, and it’s not all bad, but I am always disturbed by the lack of variety that is presented to us. Nature is far more a cacophony of choice than the local produce section would have us believe. How many of you knew there are multiple types of strawberries? The only place I have ever seen a differentiation in strawberries is at the farmer’s market, where they are more than happy to tell me about the different varieties and flavor differences. In the produce section? Not so much. Which brings me back to cherries. American cherries, in season, from local farms. Sweet, delicious cherries, which have come into season. They sit, glistening in the sunlight, tempting you in with the promise of their succulent juices. Pale yellow Rainiers, with faint blushes hugging their curves. Deep succulent Bings, winking from their piles, coyly suggesting that you to come and spend a little time on the dark side. And then… the sour cherries. There they sit, radiant and unapologetic, the harlots of the cherry table (if their color is any indication.) If you try one, your eyes will open wide as it grabs your tongue and smacks the inside of your mouth with it. A flavor as aggressive as the stereotypical American tourist, marching loudly into a foreign country, bedecked in socks and sandals, asking in a loud, slow voice “Where are the bathrooms?” Sour cherries are something generally only found at farmer’s markets. You might be able to find them frozen in some supermarkets, or you could always find a can of those gloopy sad things labeled “cherry pie filling.” But you would be doing a disservice to the sour cherry. This definitely takes work, hard work and determination. Having made many an apple pie, I can tell you that prepping for a cherry pie definitely takes more work. But that is what makes it great. And how many of those phrases have you heard when hearing about the American spirit? So go find those sour cherries. Spend the time pitting them (although if you can, I would suggest finding multiple cherry pitters and luring a few people in to help. It should be easy, just tell them there will be pie.) Take the few extra minutes to make your own dough, which is always more delicious, and free of bizarre chemicals and preservatives, and never as terrifying as people seem to think. Add some cornmeal to it, a very American food. Assemble this glorious pie, being thankful we live in a country where there is access to such a thing as these sour cherries, and raise a fork to all the pies that have come before.   Cherries Are More Patriotic Than Apples Pie   The crust (based on the Michael Ruhlman ratio idea, so it is weight-based. If you do not have a kitchen scale, the cup measurements are approximated.)   10 oz. (a scant 2 1/2 c.) Unbleached all-purpose flour 2 oz. (a scant 1/2 c.) medium grind cornmeal 1 tsp. salt 1 Tbsp. sugar 8 oz. (2 sticks, you know you love it) of cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks 4 oz. ice water   Combine flour, cornmeal, salt and sugar in a bowl. Add in the butter. Using two knives or a pastry blender (or your hands, but remember you need to keep this as cold as possible), cut in the butter until it is in about pea-sized chunks. I usually like to stick the bowl in the freezer for ten minutes after this to make sure the butter stays super cold. That is the key to a flaky crust. Add in almost all of the ice water, tossing with a fork. Dough can be somewhat temperamental in how much water goes in, and it’s usually based on the humidity of that particular day. When the dough holds together when you squish it in your hands, you are pretty much good to go. Form it into one mass, adding a hair more water if it’s too dry, or flour if it’s too wet, until you have a cohesive ball of dough. Do this as quickly as possible. Next comes the fun part, because you get to sound all fancy and French, because...

blackberries and basil

By on Jul 29, 2012 in baking, dessert, dinner, experimenting, fruit | 0 comments

I am deeply suspicious of anyone who claims to know exactly what they want. Is it what they want right then? What they think they are supposed to want? What they wanted ten years ago but never got and are still telling themselves they want it? Does it take into account the myriad situations life throws at you that might make you reconsider everything you know? And if you achieve exactly what you want… what next? And what do you do if you can’t get what you want? Do you listen to the Rolling Stones, who sing that you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need? In the fluidity of our everyday existence, there is always uncertainty. And uncertainty is an excellent pairing for food. Yesterday morning I found myself finally with the time and means to go to the farmer’s market proper (a big one with multiple vendors, not the single farmer that shows up on Sunday mornings a few blocks away who is always appreciated but somewhat lacking). This is my candy store, and I have sorely missed it this summer. I wandered slowly through the aisles, drinking in the sight of piles of fruits and vegetables, hunks of cheese, the giant paint buckets filled with brilliant flowers. I made a lap, even being so lucky as to encounter a dear friend I had not seen in a while, and we made another lap, chatting and soaking in the rarely beautiful summer morning. I had come in search of peaches, one of my favorite summertime finds. I craved the soft orange fruit, the fresh ones off the tree so juicy you have to eat them leaning over a sink. And then my eyes lit upon the darkly glistening rows of blackberries, softly sleeping in their little boxes. At the urging of the farmer, I tried one. You know those moments where something dramatic happens in a movie and there is a quick cut or zoom in to the eye where you see the pupil contract in this act of awe and wonder? It was like that. One bite through the subtly sweet and tart pillow of juiciness that was that blackberry, and I was done. I close my eyes briefly to enjoy and raised up two fingers. “I’ll take two boxes of those, please.” I had recently read this article on NPR and was intrigued. The idea of a foccacia with these coquettish berries was appealing. But of course I couldn’t follow the recipe exactly. So I wandered around the market until I found a few flavors I thought would work with it, and excitedly went home. Sadly, after a triumphant return from the market, laden with summer-warm fruit, that day was still filled with more work, frustration with technology surrounding work, and the nagging sensation of nauseating uncertainty that has been a part of my daily existence as of late. I sat down and perused the NPR recipe again. The dough had to be made the day before. I almost called it off. It almost never happened. But good things can arise from patience, and the part of my brain that is made giddy by the sight of rising dough kicked through the rubble of angst and demanded that I give it a try. And so at 11 o’clock at night, I made the simple slack dough, exactly as prescribed, and shut it away to slowly rise and ferment in the refrigerator. Then the morning came. There were other distractions to be had, like a glorious french press of coffee, and the making of a large quantity of dill pickles (another consequence of wild abandon at the market and a markedly good stress reliever), but eventually it returned to the foccacia. It was made during a time of day that doesn’t know if it should be early or late afternoon, it was uncertain of whether or not it was lunch or a substantial afternoon snack. And then there were the ingredients in question. The article had called for blackberries and rosemary, creating a dish that was neither sweet nor savory. I wanted more. I wanted something that couldn’t decide if it was sweet or savory, and demanded that you listen to its conundrum. Out went the rosemary. In went the basil and goat cheese. It made no sense. Fruit and herbs are not a foreign combination, and that article even had a gin drink using blackberries and basil, but goat cheese? I will eat it on anything, but blackberries? Really? I shut my eyes, breathed in the imagined flavors, and there was a flicker of “well maybe…” and so I tried it. Foccacia born of uncertainty. If worse came to worse, I could pick the toppings off and devour the airy dough. And there it was, a savory golden pillow of foccacia dough pocked with air pockets, gently laiden with fruity olive oil, the sweet yet tart blackberries, heady basil, and gently salty goat cheese. Salt and sugar topped the whole bit off. It was delightful. I sat quietly, enjoying the quiet sourness of a dough risen long and slow, the complex fruity song of the blackberry, the hit of basil that always seems to sneak up into my sinuses, and the welcome creamy salt of the goat cheese. I tried to listen to it, but I...