Thursday, August 30, 2012

The World Needs More Pie

My friend Beth's Howard's book is an inspiration, and every time I read about Beth's Pitchfork Pie Stand on Facebook at the American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa, I get to feeling like I need to make a pie. 

I'm not an expert, I usually end up with flour everywhere, and although the whole thing tastes delicious, it never looks like the pie perfection that I aspire to.  When Beth and I had lunch a few years ago, I confessed that I wasn't a great pie baker, that my pies never really looked great, and she said, "it doesn't have to be perfect."  Whoo----that's a relief!!
The bakers of the culinary world are the nerds of the culinary world; and rightly so.  They care about the temperature of the ingredients, the precise measurements, because baking is science.  That said, it's the hottest day of the year here and I have the oven on baking a peach pie because Specialty Produce had some amazing organic peaches when I was there yesterday. 
 I used Beth's recipe for pie crust, and the filling is adapted from Kathleen King of Tate's Bake Shop--this was the recipe of the month that she shared this month.

Just Peachy Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie
For the Peaches

8 to 10 large peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 tablespoon vanilla paste
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg and ground ginger
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients, set aside while rolling out the pie crust.  

For the pie crust

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter (cut into small pieces)
1/2 cup cold Crisco
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 to 1/2 cup ice water

In a large bowl toss together the flour, butter, Crisco and salt, massaging the fat with your fingers to make marble-like pieces.  Toss in a few tablespoons of the water, and toss the mixture together until the pie crust begins to come together to form a ball.  Divide mixture in half and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.  Beth says not to refrigerate, but in the hot summer, I'm refrigerating! 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and coat the inside of a 9-inch pie plate with non-stick cooking spray.  Set the pie plate on a baking sheet to catch any drips.
Using some additional flour, roll out the bottom crust, and place in the prepared pie plate.  Roll out the top crust and fill the bottom crust with the peach mixture and top with the second crust.  Pinch the edges of the crust together and bake 50 to 60 minutes, until the pie crust is golden and the filling is bubbling. 
At this point, this pie can be frozen for up to 6 weeks.  Use a 2 gallon zipper-top plastic bag.  

Not beautiful, but........


I urge your to try baking pies; and read Beth's book---you won't be sorry.  Have a great weekend everyone!


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Happy Birthday Ryan!

Our son Ryan is celebrating his birthday today, ironically he's here to spend it with us.  He is spending a few weeks here while waiting for his new apartment in Milwaukee to be available in October.  Moving back home isn't the happiest place to be when you are over 30, but he's making the most of being here, eating at his favorite restaurants, and ordering me not to bake or have unhealthy food in the house.  Not sure who raised this kid, but it may have been wolves!

Every year on his birthday for as long as I can remember the birthday cake has been vanilla with chocolate frosting.  The recipe is the same every year, and when I make this cake, it's so satisfying since it always turns out perfectly every time, and the frosting is really special.  I always marvel at people who have 6 different vanilla cakes that they could make, when if you have one great recipe, you should stick with it.  This one is my go-to vanilla cake recipe and this one is my go-to chocolate cake.

Ryan's Happy Birthday Cake
Makes two 9-inch layers

2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, and cut into 1/2-inch bits
4 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon vanilla paste
1 recipe Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting

Preheat the oven to 375° F. Coat two 9-inch round baking pans with nonstick cooking spray.
In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the sugar, and butter, until creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. 
Add the dry ingredients, and gradually stir in the buttermilk and vanilla paste, beating until the mixture is smooth.   
Divide the batter evenly equally between the 2 prepared pans. Smooth the tops, without pressing down on the batter. Bake until golden and a skewer inserted into in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. 
Transfer the pans to a rack and let cool completely.
Do-Ahead: At this point, you can cover with plastic wrap or put in zipper-top plastic bags and refrigerate for 2 days or freeze for up to 2 months. Defrost before continuing.
When the cake has cooled, lay 2 1/2-inch-wide strips of waxed or parchment paper around the outside of the cake platter (this will to catch the drips of icing (and you can remove it them later, leaving your platter edges clean) 
If the cake layers have domed centers, meaning it’s they’re not quite level, use a serrated knife, to cut level the tops of the layer so it is flat. Place the a layer, upside down (bottom side up,) over the strips and spread 1 cup of the frosting, from the center of the cake out towards the side edge. Place the other layer, bottom side up, over the frosted layer, and spread another cup of frosting out from the center to the edge. With an offset spatula, spread the frosting around the outside of the cake in an even layer. 

Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting

3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup sour cream, plus extra to thin the frosting if needed

Stir together the sugar and cocoa in the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl. With a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or a hand-held mixer with beaters, beat in the vanilla, butter, and sour cream on medium-high speed until the mixture reaches a spreading consistency. Add more sour cream if the frosting is too thick.
Do-Ahead: At this point, you can cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 2 months. If refrigerated or frozen, bring to room temperature, as it will be difficult to spread when it’s taken directly from the refrigerator. Beat to soften; you may need to add a bit of sour cream to it to help.

So happy birthday Ryan, we love you! 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


 After spending 2 weeks in the mid-west eating restaurant food I am so glad to be home; today I headed down to Specialty Produce and picked up fresh vegetables, and decided it was time to make some jam.  Everyone, it seems, is making jam this summer, and I didn't want to be left behind.  I'd planned on making peach, but when I got to SP, I bought an entire flat of blackberries, and a box of peacotums (a hybrid peach/apricot/plum) from Fitzgerald farms.  Fitzgerald farms has some of the most awesome stone fruit I've ever tasted, and I think this jam will be amazing!

I began with the blackberries, and cooked them down with sugar, and Meyer lemon juice from our lemon tree.  I did add pectin, since it does help jam set up and I got the most gorgeous jewel-like jam in the course of 30 minutes.  I did cook them in a water bath to preserve them, and I will probably be giving them away to friends.
Crush the berries with a potato masher, or run in the food processor
Remove the foam that forms on the top of the bubbling jam.

The peacotums need to be peeled, so I started on them next.

 Once peeled, they need to be pitted and chopped; some are so ripe that they literally fall apart.

Bring to a boil, add sugar and the juice of one lemon---I used about 3 cups for 10 cups of fruit
I added about 2 tablespoons of vanilla paste as an experiment

Once the jam has reached 220 degrees on a candy thermometer it is set
Once put into sterilized jars, add to a boiling water bath--this is my pressure cooker with the steamer basket inserted--you need 2 inches of water above the rim of the jars

If you are canning the jam, you want the lids to be flat, not rounded when they are removed from the water bath.  They may actually make a  pop when the jar is taken out of the boiling water.  Cool to room temperature and store in a cool dark place, like a pantry. If you are at the farmer's market this weekend, or at Specialty Produce, think about making your own jam; there are lots of great websites with recipes and techniques, this is very satisfying work and the end result is great gifts from your kitchen. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

My Julia Moment

On August 15th, Julia Child would have turned 100 years old.  I often think of her when I'm in the kitchen, grateful for the things she taught, and for her ability to demystify cooking for so many home cooks.  I like to think of her digging into a huge chocolate cake, maybe drinking a glass of Burgundy with it!

In the 80's Julia came to San Diego to a benefit for the UCSD Medical Center auxiliary and I was privileged to be able to attend the sessions.  The sessions were held in a cavernous auditorium, and she would wander around the stage, dissing the butter that was given to her (too much water for the puff pastry she was making) and say how much she loved California.  I was star was Julia, my Julia from WGBH in my home town of Boston in my adopted hometown of San didn't get much better than that...or so I thought.
As Julia was making puff pastry dish after puff pastry dish, they sold raffle tickets for people to take the finished dishes home with them.  I bought a few tickets, at this point, I'd blown my money on the tickets to this shindig, and wasn't thinking that I could afford to invest too heavily in the raffle tickets, but my friend and I decided we would each buy one....what could it hurt?
Julia pulled this beautiful pithiviers out of the oven to the ooh's and aah's of the crowd....two layers of puff pastry, sandwiched with almond paste and cream.  The raffle ticket was pulled, and it was mine!  I got to meet JC and take home her creation.....and the pie plate it was made in. 
This very humble 10-inch Pyrex pie plate, is still in my cupboard.  I'm not sure anyone in my family knows its significance except me, but Julia Child cooked in it, and that's why I've kept it all these years.  I did eventually share a few meals at conventions with Julia, and found her to be just what you would expect; honest, forthright, and a lot of fun. 
I'm sorry she's gone for many reasons, but the most important reason is that she taught people about food; no one on television is her equal when it comes to teaching you about cooking and ingredients, and that's a shame. 
Happy 100th birthday Julia, you are missed. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Condo Chronicles

I am currently in Bloomington, Indiana helping our son move out of his condo which will close a week from today.  When I arrived on Saturday we began to see the laminate kitchen floor buckling....on Monday a series of contractors were in and out, and finally tore up the floor, found a reason for the water under the floor and we are continuing towards the closing date, with the floor being replaced this weekend.

As with most things that have a deadline, it is never simple; but I have to say that I am so grateful for a realtor who is right there when you need her, and the tradesmen who were here Monday and Tuesday.  Boxes are piling up here, and we are carrying loads over to Goodwill and Salvation Army, as well as trash to the dumpster.

I'm amazed at what people toss; and the people that come by the condo complex and pick up the nearly new trash that owners can't take with them.  Every night when Ryan and I have gone out to dinner there are pick up trucks lined up at the dumpster---our contractor told us they will be at the flea market each weekend selling to the IU students coming to town. 
This is the living room---in progress.
Hallway to the kitchen---boxes everywhere!
Ugly old linoleum---bad dream---not much cooking going on in here!
Although there is a lot of work to do, Ryan and I are both feeling a little bittersweet about leaving here---although I won't miss the 100+ degree summer weather!