Thursday, May 31, 2012

It's All About the Pie

My friend Beth Howard has written this book, and it's terrific.  I first met Beth through her blog theworldneedsmorepie.  A friend had "liked" it on Facebook, and I started reading; her story is captivating, but even though there is sadness in this book there is never that "neediness" tone that I find in so many of these memoir type books (I'm talking to you Eat, Pray, Love lady)  I wrote to Beth when she posted that she'd finished her manuscript and it was at the editors and told her I couldn't wait to read the book, and  serendipitously,  she was in San Diego that weekend, and we met for lunch.  Seated next to San Diego Bay on a Chamber of Commerce day here, we talked, and talked, and a friendship began.
Her "baby" was birthed in March, and for the past few months she has been on a non-stop book tour in an RV.

 I will not give Beth's whole story away, but the book is about how she dealt with the unspeakable grief that followed the sudden death of her husband Marcus; she turned to making pie, and ended up at the American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa, (going back to the state she was born in!) opened the Pitchfork Pie Stand and sells pies on the weekends to tourists and visitors to Eldon.  Now that the book is out, I have a feeling the population in Eldon quadruples on the weekends!

 Here's Beth with one of her creations---doesn't she look great? I think this photo was taken when it was 30 degrees that day---she's still smiling!!  Beth's signature pie is apple, but she makes an assortment of pies at the pie stand, depending on the availability of fruit.  My biggest take away from our lunch was that pie doesn't have to be perfect---that's for the frozen wonders you buy at the supermarket.  Your own pie should be messy--life is messy, and so is pie!
Since I finished the book, I've been wanting to make a pie; first I thought I'd make an apple pie, then key lime was calling my name, but today I had some leftover strawberries, and I was reminded of the crostata that my cousins make in Italy.  Crostata is a jam tart, usually apricot, but it can be any jam, or thickened fruit.  There is usually a lattice top (eyes glazing over) and the tart is cooked in a tart pan with a removable bottom.  This recipe is from my mother's cousin Vera who gave me the recipe in Italian, with the metric measurements; I found a way through trial and error to make it work, and the crust itself is pushed into the tart pan, and then the lattice is rolled out and transferred to top of the fruit filling.  The crust is very forgiving, and even if the lattice falls apart, it will cook itself together in the oven---not to worry, and it doesn't need to be woven, another plus.

Serves 10

2 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 1/4 cup (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
3 large egg yolks
2 cups sliced strawberries
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 apricot jam
confectioners' sugar
Vanilla ice cream or gelato to serve

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and coat the inside of a 10-inch tart pan with non-stick cooking spray.  
In a food processor fitted with the steel blade combine the flour and sugar, and pulse on and off to distribute.  
Place the butter on top of the flour mixture, and pulse on and off until the mixture resembles meal.  

 With the machine running, add the eggs, and process just until the mixture begins to come together.
Transfer 1/2 of the mixture to the prepared tart pan, and press into the pan using a small rolling pan and plastic wrap.
Wrap the remaining dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate while making the filling.
In a small saucepan, heat the berries, sugar and lemon juice, until the sugar is dissolved.  Remove from the heat and add the apricot jam.  Spoon the mixture into the prepared crust.

Dust a board lightly with confectioner's sugar, and roll out the second piece of dough.
I use a huge silicone mat for rolling pie dough----easy to clean, and goes into the dishwasher. 
Cut the dough into strips about 3/4-inch wide.  Lift the strips with a long off-set spatula onto the pie, beginning in the middle and working your way out.  Then lattice the remaining pieces setting them over the other pieces on the pie.  Cut off any excess dough.  Sift a bit of confectioner's sugar over the pie, and
It's not perfect, but it's a pie!

bake for 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 375 degrees and bake an additional 20 to 25 minutes until the pie is golden brown on top and bubbling.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool.  Remove from the tart pan, and transfer to a serving dish.  Cut into wedges and serve with vanilla ice cream. 

 I hope you'll pick up a copy of Making Piece, it's a terrific book, and there are recipes for some darn good pies at the end. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Celebrating and Remembering

This weekend from coast to coast, the grill will be fired up, potato salad will be prepared, along with layered salads, baked beans, deviled eggs and picnic fare will be served far and wide to celebrate the official beginning of summer, and to remember those in the Armed Forces who have served and died.

Decorating the graves in the 1800's
Decorating the graves at Arlington National Cemetery

I grew up in the military; my dad was in the Navy and we moved almost every 2 years.  One year we moved three times in 9 months; I changed schools three times that year.  The happiest times I remember were when we lived in the DC area; so much history, and my dad not being gone on a ship, and my cousins just across the river in Chevy Chase, it felt like home.
Going to Arlington Cemetery to watch the President or the Vice President lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier and to see all the flags on the graves was part of our Memorial Days when we lived there.

Afterwards it was a barbecue in the back yard with my dad squirting lighter fluid into the lit the grill and having a huge fire ball erupt; many times he lost an eyebrow doing this, but it was great fun to watch!

 We also had championship croquet matches which somehow got very rowdy with the neighbors drinking Manhattans and martinis.  The foods were always a  potpourri of the neighborhood; southern, All-American, a bit of Italian, and cold libations, with sweet iced tea and lemonade for the children.
So, what's on your grill this weekend?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

These Shoes are Made for Flying

Dr. C. and I flew this week, and I was fascinated by the footwear on display as we were waiting in the Red Carpet Cub in Chicago.

With the advent of the TSA and shoe removal at security checkpoints, the choice of shoes to wear when flying is interesting to say the least. 

These are a few of the shoes that I was able to capture on my Blackberry without looking like a voyeur!

Red is always a good choice, and comfy works, too.

Boots were a popular choice; these were worn by an interesting woman.....

And these burgundy beauties were worn by a guy

More boots; is it me, or isn't it too late to be wearing boots???

Boat shoes were a popular choice, too, for women and men.

Your run of the mill swoosh Nike's were also a popular choice

And this woman was all set to conquer the Roman forum.

And of course, there is always one in the crowd! 

I hope you had a great weekend; still recovering from jet lag, I'll be back later in the week with some thoughts on food, until then, enjoy your day!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Soup's ON!

Yesterday I cooked a roast beef, and today I'm making a beef and farro minestrone to put into the freezer for when Dr. C. and I need something curative.  Farro is an ancient Roman grain that is all the rage now, but it's nutritional qualities are what I'm excited about.  It has lots of vitamins and minerals, along with fiber, and it is delicious; like barley it will thicken soups and stews, but it still has a chewy bite, more like wheat berries, or wild rice, so it gives you a bit of texture as well.  The soup I am making is in the slow cooker, and I am cleaning out the veggie drawer since we are going out of town in a few days.  You can add your favorite veggies, beans, or what's leftover from another dinner to this one, too.  I'm using the haricot verte from last nights' dinner. The rinds from Parmigiano Reggiano add salt, and sweetness to the soup, balancing the beefy flavor. 

Beef and Farro Minestrone
Serves 8
This will make more than enough to freeze into zip-loc bags and save for a rainy day.  Serve with crusty bread, and a salad.  

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion finely chopped
2 medium carrots, coarsely chopped
3 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon dried herbs of your choice (sage, thyme, rosemary and marjoram all work well here)
2 cups leftover roast beef, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1/4 cup crushed tomatoes (this is why I love the ones in the jar, or box)
1 cup farro, washed
10 cups beef broth or a combination of beef and chicken broth if you find beef broth too strong
Rind from Parmigiano Reggiano cheese cut into pieces

In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium high heat and add the onion, carrots, celery and herbs, sauteing for 3 to 4 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften; 


 add the beef, and toss to coat with the oil and spices. 

Add the tomatoes and farro and transfer to the insert of a 5 to7-quart slow cooker.  
Pour the broth over the ingredients, add the rind from the cheese, if using, and stir to distribute.
Cover and cook for 4 hours on high, or 8 hours on low.  
    Check the soup (if you are around) about 1/2 way through the cooking time and add more broth if the farro has absorbed too much.  There are several different kinds of farro, and the semi-pearled will not soak up all the broth, but some others will. 

    Remember that old Campbell's Soup commercial, "soup is good food"?  Well, this soup is not only good for you, it's a great weeknight dinner when you can round it out with salad and bread.  Buon appetito!

    Sunday, May 6, 2012

    Sunday Suppers: The Savvy Cook's Strategy

    Back in the day, Sunday was a day when families would gather around the table for a large meal, usually after church, or in the mid-afternoon.  Whether it was Mom's glistening roast chicken with crackly skin, that almost shattered when touched with a knife, a roast beef, or Mom's Sunday Sauce,  Sunday suppers were a smart cooks' way of planning the meals for the rest of the week, or at least a few of them.
    Today I'm roasting a sirloin roast in the oven, my house smells amazing, and I'll serve this roast with traditional accompaniments:  mashed potatoes and a mushroom sauce, and tiny haricot verte beans.

    Tomorrow night I'll either make beef fajitas, or I'll make Philly cheese steaks.

    Depending on how many leftovers I have, and with just Dr. C. and I here, I think there will be a lot, I'll probably make a slow cooker beef and farro soup,

    and possibly a bit of stroganoff with leftover gravy and the beef. 

     or even a Thai beef salad

     All this from one Sunday Supper.  A bit of planning, and you can have some great leftovers to make into great dinners later in the week.  Try this technique using roast chicken, whole fish, or as I mentioned before, Mom's Sunday Sauce, that bubbling cauldron of meats, sausages, meatballs, and tomato sauce that simmers all day.

    To make the Roast Beef
     Serves 6 to 8

    3 garlic cloves, minced
    1 1/2 teaspoons salt
    1 teaspoon ground black pepper
    2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    One 4 pound sirloin roast, tied

    Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Heat an ovenproof pan over medium high heat.  
    In a small bowl, combine the garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil.  Rub the mixture into the beef. 

    Brown the meat on all sides, and transfer to the oven. 

    Roast the meat until an instant read meat thermometer registers 135 degrees. 

    Remove the meat from the oven, and allow to rest for 15 minutes before carving.    

    It's in the Bag

    Friday's Specialty Produce Farmer's Market Bag class at Great News featured all these gorgeous vegetables!  From bottom left, pencil asparagus, Blood oranges, snap peas, freckled romaine, baby rainbow carrots, red radishes, baby hydroponic bok choy, baby red scallions, and Oro Blanco grapefruit.  All this fresh produce in one bag for the week.  We added some Rimrocker cheese from Venissimo which is an addition you can choose to add to the bag if you like.
     I have to admit that I had a bit of "writers'/recipe block" when I got the contents of the bag on Monday; but plowed through and I think our class was one of the best ever.  We did a frittata with the asparagus, and some rimrocker, then a pasta with the snap peas and carrots and scallions, and stir fried the bok choy and served it under some stir fried shrimp.  Dessert was awesome, a blood orange  mascarpone tart with whipped cream.

    For any of you who got the bag this week, I've got a few other recipes that you can use the veggies in, and I hope you will come on down in June for our next Farmer's Market Class.

    Although this salad was made with butter lettuce, the freckled lettuce, which is a bit softer than your typical romaine would work well here.

    Freckled Lettuce Salad with Blood Oranges and Green Goddess Dressing
    Serves 4 to 6

    For the Avocado Dressing
    Makes about 2 1/4 cups

    This dressing is awesome on chicken salad, pasta salad, potato salad, mashed into eggs for green egg salad, and great in baked potatoes as a topper. 

    1 cup mayonnaise
    1 cup chopped scallions
    1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
    2 tablespoons lemon juice
    2 cloves garlic
    grated zest of 1/2 lemon
    One large avocado, cut into chunks
    2 teaspoons anchovy paste
    4 drops Tabasco (to taste) 
    1 cup Greek Style yogurt
    Place all the ingredients into the food processor and process until smooth.  Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt, pepper or Tabasco. 

    Salad Assembly

    One head butter lettuce, cleaned and separated into leaves
    2 blood oranges, peel and pith removed, and segmented or sliced into 1/4 inch slices
    1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds
    Avocado Dressing (see preceding recipe)

    Separate the lettuce, and place about 4 leaves on each plate.  Arrange 3 slices of orange on the lettuce, and drizzle the dressing over the salad.  Garnish with almonds and serve. 
    This salad can be made a whole meal with the addition of cooked shrimp, leftover chicken, or fish. 

     This is a great citrus salsa that we made with Cara Cara oranges last month, but it's great with Oro Blanco grapefruit and blood oranges.  Serve this will grilled seafood or chicken.  
    Roasted Halibut with Citrus Salsa

    For the Salsa

    Makes about 2 1/2 to 3 cups
    depending on the size of the oranges
    3/4 cup blood orange juice (or naval orange juice)
    3 blood oranges, peel and pith removed, cut into segments, and chopped (you can change this up and do one grapefruit and 2 oranges, or all grapefruit, adjusting for sweetness with honey)
    2 Tbs. minced red onion
    2 tablespoons finely chopped basil
    2 Tbs. chopped fresh Italian parsley
    1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    6 drops Tabasco
    Salt to taste

    1. Combine all the ingredients in a glass (or non-reactive bowl), and toss to blend.
    2. Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary. 
    3. Allow the salsa to mellow at room temperature for 2 hours, or refrigerate for up to 3 days. 

    For the Halibut
    Serves 6

    1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
    1/4 cup unsalted butter
    4 garlic cloves, minced
    2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
    2 tablespoons lemon juice
    2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
    Grated zest of one lemon
    Grated zest of one orange
    2 1/2 pounds halibut filets

    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  In a sauté pan, heat the oil and butter over medium high heat.  Add the garlic and Old Bay and sauté for 1 minute. Cool the mixture, add the juices, and zest. 
    Coat the interior of a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.  Pour a bit of the butter sauce into the bottom of the pan, arrange the halibut in the pan, and pour the remaining sauce over the halibut.  Bake the halibut 10 minutes per inch of thickness, until it reaches 165 degrees on an instant read meat thermometer.  Allow to rest for 5 minutes, then serve with a bit of the pan juices, and top with the salsa. 

    For this halibut dish, we used local halibut from Catalina Offshore.
    They are a local purveyor of high quality fresh fish and their fish is available weekly in the Farmer's Market Bag for an additional cost. 

    I hope you all are enjoying your weekend, I'll be back with an ode to Sunday Suppers.