Easy As Pie

We live in walking distance of the Florence Pie Bar, which is so quaint and hip and perfect that NPR featured it in their story last month about how hip and full of Hygge pie has become. As adorable as the shop is, with its orange door and seating area the size of a postage stamp, the $5-a-slice price tag keeps our visits infrequent. Lots of people do go; some people hang out there. Just not us.

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Still, I follow them on Instagram and last February, when they posted a peanut butter pie topped with a crown of fudgy chocolate, I picked up Lilli (who is perfectly capable of walking) snapped her into her car seat, and zoomed over. You know how I am about the holy marriage of chocolate and peanut butter. The slice was amazing, but that’s the one and only time I’ve been.

But with their slices in my feed, I get a challesh, a hankering, for pie pretty regularly. So when I was flipping through What Can I Bring? Southern Food for Any Occasion Life Serves Up, by Today Show regular Elizabeth Heiskell, I was stopped in my tracks by the Peanut Butter-and-Banana Pudding recipe. Inspiration struck: What if I took just the peanut butter mousse part of the recipe, made myself a pie crust with all the leftover Graham crackers I had in the house from Sukkot art projects, and topped it with ganache? I mean, that’s what cooking and baking is all about, right? Inventing, and reinventing and borrowing, and building off a great idea.

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So that’s exactly what I did. After consulting with Sylvie and my mother who both agreed there needed to be a layer of ganache in between the crust and mousse, to prevent the pie from getting soggy. And it was glorious! Just glorious! Sylvie has been given explicit instructions to serve this at my shiva if I go first (hopefully a very long time from now.) It’s a very rich pie, so a thin slice is all I need to get my fix.

This is a dead simple recipe which takes minutes to put together. You honestly don’t need fancy chocolate for the ganache; I just used the chocolate chips I keep in my freezer. The ratio of heavy cream to chips was 1:1 so it made for a very thick layer – key for me because I do love that combination of chocolate and peanut butter. I have no allegiance to peanut butter brands, but for this recipe don’t use the natural stuff.

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We still have tons of Graham crackers leftover, and I’m still creating new pies. I made this lemon pie that I’ll share with you soon. That was even easier to make, if you don’t think you’ll get sick of eating pie. I don’t think I will!

Buckeye Pie

First, make your Graham cracker crust:

Ingredients

1 sleeve Graham crackers, broken

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

¼ cup light brown sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a food processor, pulse the graham cracker into crumbs. Add the melted butter and light brown sugar until crumbs are moistened. Press the crumbs evenly into a 9-inch glass or metal pie plate. Bake the crust for about 10 minutes, just until lightly browned. Let cool.

Make the Peanut Butter Mousse

Ingredients

3 cups creamy peanut butter

8 ounces (1 cup) butter, softened

1 cup (about 4 ounces) powdered sugar

Directions

Beat the peanut butter and butter with an electric mixer on medium high heat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low, and slowly add powdered sugar, beating until smooth.

Make the Ganache

Ingredients

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup chopped chocolate (chocolate chips are fine by me)

Directions

Bring heavy cream to simmer on stove top, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Turn off heat

Add chocolate chips to the cream. Let them sit, undisturbed, for 5 minutes.

Stir. It will turn velvety. Let cool slightly.

Assemble the Pie

Once your pie crust has cooled down, pour on a thin layer of ganache. Let cool. You should still have ¾ of the ganache left.

Once the ganache has cooled, spread all the peanut butter mousse on top of the chocolate layer, and spread evenly with a spatula.

Pour the remaining ganache on top of the peanut butter mousse.

Place in fridge to firm, about 2 hours.

 

 

 

 

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Blueberries for gals

It was only after we’d returned from our annual trip to Maine for the Fourth of July that the berries out back really started to ripen. Now, every day after work and camp, the girls and I head out back. Bea is still a little too young to only pick the ripe berries, but Lilli gets it. In bowls, Tupperware, and sometimes in the folds of our dresses, we collect the day’s berries.

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There’s another Maine connection to this post, in that I’d been waiting for ripe blueberries to make this recipe from The Lost Kitchen cookbook. The Lost Kitchen is this restaurant in Freedom, Maine, that opens up its doors to reservations only a few months a year. The chef is Erin French, and she forages her ingredients, and sources things directly from the farmers and fishermen. She’s considered a true visionary when it comes to farm to table, or, in some cases, ocean to table.

And this cookbook, oh my, this cookbook. We started the book in the spring with the macerated shallot vinaigrette (shallot, rice wine vinegar, olive oil and a couple twists of pepper) drizzled over asparagus from the front yard. I made the rest of my colleague’s yard rhubarb into compote, which I then baked into a rhubarb spoon cake. And the parsnip needhams were a smash hit at Bea’s birthday party.

But really I was just working my way up to this recipe: Fresh Blueberries with Basil Custard Cream. And yes, this recipe truly is seasonal: The basil started coming in the farm share last week, right on time to be paired with the ripe blueberries out back. And yes, the recipe is as astoundingly delicious and delightful as it sounds.

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First you steep the basil in warmed heavy cream, milk and sugar for 20 minutes. Then you make a custard with four egg yolks and chill it. If you’re anything like us, while that’s all steeping and chilling, you use the leftover egg whites to make meringues. I’m including a bonus recipe after the main one so you’ll have something to do with your four egg whites. Rich broke up his meringues into the custard and had himself an Eton Mess. I personally preferred the recipe as written, but still thought it was a great idea.

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Eton Mess or not, this recipe is a stunner. In the next day or two I’m going to take some more of our berries and make Summer Berries with Ginger-Cream Shortcakes. It is worth noting that because this book is set on the coastal shores of Maine there’s a ton of shellfish in the book. Not my thing, but if it is yours, you’ll love the book even more than I do, and that’s saying a lot.

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Fresh Blueberries with Basil Custard Cream from The Lost Kitchen by Erin French

Ingredients

1 cup whole milk

3 cups heavy cream

¼ cup sugar

1 cup basil leaves, plus more for garnish

4 large egg yolks

1 pint blueberries

Directions

In a small saucepan, combine the milk, 1 cup of the cream, and the sugar. Bring to a slow boil over low heat, just to let the sugar dissolve. Remove from the heat.

Tear the basil leaves and add them to the hot mixture. Let steep for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl. Slowly pour the cream mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly until well incorporated. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens slightly but does not boil. Strain it through a fine-mesh sieve and discard the basil and any curdled egg bits. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill completely.

Whip the remaining 2 cups to stiff peaks. Fold in the custard and serve in bowls with the blueberries, garnishing with basil leaves.

Meringue Clouds from flour by Joanne Chang

We skipped the almonds and halved this recipe with perfect results. I prefer a chewy meringue, so ours were done at the 3 hour mark. I have read about some meringue bakers who set their cookies in the oven at night and open the oven door the next morning. It’s entirely your preference.

Ingredients

8 egg whites

1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar

1 cup (140 grams) confectioners’ sugar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup (100 grams) sliced almonds, toasted

Directions

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 175 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment (or a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until soft peaks form. (This step will take 6 to 8 minutes if using a handheld mixer.) The whites will start to froth and disappear. Keep whipping until you can see the tines of the whip leaving a sight trail in the whites. To test for the soft-peak stage, stop the mixer and lift the whip out of the whites, the whites should peak and then droop.

On medium speed, add the granulated sugar in three equal additions, mixing for 1 minute after each addition. When all of the granulated sugar has been incorporated into the egg whites, increase the speed to medium-high and beat for about 30 seconds longer.

In a small bowl, sift together the confectioners’ sugar and salt. Using a rubber spatula, fold the confectioners’ sugar mixture into the beaten egg whites. Then, fold in the almonds, reserving 2 tablespoons for garnish.

Use large spoon to make baseball-size billowing mounds of meringue on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them 2 to 3 inches apart. You should have 8 mounds. Sprinkle the reserved almonds evenly on top of the meringues.

Bake for about 3 hours, or until the meringues are firm to the touch and you can remove them easily from the baking sheet without them falling apart. For meringues with a soft, chewy center, remove them from the oven at this point and let them cool. For fully crisped meringues, turn off the oven and leave the meringues in the closed oven for at least 6 hours or up to 12 hours.

The meringues can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

 

 

Going Rogue

I’ve gone rogue this month. Honesty, nothing really grows in March, and eating seasonally is a bit of a downer, especially with the six foot high snow drifts lining our street. So for the past few weeks I’ve filled my grocery cart with green, out-of-season things, and haven’t looked back. We’ve had fresh zucchini stuffed with rice and beans, crowned with melted cheese. We’ve had eggplant rollatini, and fresh avocado for snacks. We’ve eaten strawberries nearly every morning, and tonight we enjoyed some mango. And then there were these Brussels sprouts.

Purim Monkey

I guess the sprouts are most “in season” around Thanksgiving, when I posted that Ottolenghi salsa. It looks like last year I posted these Brussels sprouts with shaved parmesan at the end of February. But I know I’m really pushing the envelope with these, but I don’t care. This was a fantastic dish, warm and comforting and great for the end of winter. I sopped the remains of my plate with leftover challah.

Cream-Braised Brussels Sprouts
Adapted from All About Braising by Molly Stevens

Ingredients

1 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
3 Tbs unsalted butter
1 pinch kosher salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Directions

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-heat. Add the Brussels sprouts and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sprouts are nicely browned in spots, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the cream, then cover the pot. Reduce the heat to low. You want to keep the pan at a slow simmer. Braise until the sprouts are tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a paring knife, about 30-35 minutes.

Remove the lid, and stir in the lemon juice. Taste for seasoning, and adjust as necessary.

Serve immediately.

(Cake) Batter Up

I know it’s only November, but I think it’s safe to say the potato salad I made for Rich’s birthday/first Father’s Day combo barbeque was the worst dish I made this year. I tried to make my mom’s famous potato salad, but I destroyed the tubers in a million different ways, from waterlogging the spuds, to peeling them before the boil. All around, a huge disaster.

Lilli Cyrus

And even though it was Rich’s super special day, I was actually more apologetic to our host, my sister-in-law, Cara. She was well into her second trimester at the time, and she is a known potato salad fiend. Is there anything worse than bringing a pregnant lady a favorite food and it to be the failure on the table?

Luckily, I had a redemption dish. When I was sent Copykat.com’s Dining Out Home Cookbook 2 by Stephanie Manley, it became obvious pretty quickly that these weren’t dishes I was ever going to order. Nearly all were meat-based, but there were two recipes that hit the Molly jackpot. The first was a recipe for Taco Bell’s bean burrito – quite possibly my favorite food when I was 17 – and the second was cake batter ice cream from Stone Cold Creamery. And, unlike many homemade ice creams out there, this one is egg free, making it safe for the pregnant ladies. Although Cara is a devotee of J.P. Licks cake batter ice cream, I took my chances and made this recipe when she and my nephew Jack visited later this summer. (You’ll recall we had the mango and eggplant noodles that you need to make right now, and this great tomato tart.)

To make sure there would be no recipe failures this time, I made two versions of the ice cream: the first with the cake batter mix the cookbook recommended, and a second using a Trader Joe’s cake batter mix. Now that I have done the dirty work for you, I can say whole-heartedly that the Duncan Hines Butter Golden Cake Mix is, in fact, the closest approximation to the cake batter ice cream you’d get at the ice cream shop. And even though I had made both ice creams for my sister-in-law to taste test and enjoy, the real victor of the day was Rich, as he came home to two almost-full containers of homemade ice cream that needed eating. I guess I kind of made up for his birthday mishap.

This past weekend we were back at my sister-in-law’s, this time to celebrate her and her husband’s birthdays. (They’re a day apart, and at this point I honestly don’t know which day is whose, just when I need to get the cards in the mail). She’s 35 weeks along now, and very much appreciated the cake batter ice cream I brought for the party.

The recipe suggests you make the mixture and refrigerate it for at least four hours, but better if it’s overnight. That works out perfectly for you, because when you put the mixture in the fridge, you can put the ice cream making unit that needs an overnight in the freezer in at the same time.

Cake Batter Ice Cream from CopyKat.com’s Dining Out at Home Cookbook 2 by Stephanie Manley

Ingredients

3 cups heavy cream, divided

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup sugar

½ cup dry Duncan Hines Butter Recipe Cake Mix

1 cup milk

Directions

In a heavy stockpot, mix 1 cup of the cream with the salt and sugar. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When the sugar is completely dissolved, turn off the burner and whisk in the dry cake mix. Add the remaining 2 cups cream and milk and mix well. Transfer the mixture to a container, cover, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

When you are ready to make the ice cream, remove the mixture from the refrigerator and whisk the chilled ice cream mixture well – it will be a little lumpy. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. I tend to transfer my ice cream to a container to freeze it for a few hours before serving.

It Rises to the Top

In September, right around the time that my friend Gayle wrote to tell me about a hand-me-down cookie contest in Edible Boston, Nana Parr had a mild stroke. She’s OK, really she is, but she had to move into an assisted living center, which meant giving up her oven, and, with that, her cookies.

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I’m really thankful I baked with her last fall, and I guess Edible Boston was too, because Nana’s cookie recipe was one of the winners of the contest. I haven’t been able to get my hands on a physical copy that I can bring up to Nana, but we were able to track it down online for you all to see.

As delicious as those sugar cookies are — and I promise you, they really are something — they are a bit involved. There’s the pastry cloth and all the rolling, but they’re totally worth it, a crowd favorite since my husband brought them to kindergarten nearly 30 years ago.

But when I’m squeezed for time and still want to bring a pastry somewhere, I’ve been turning to these scones. I’m embarrassed to admit how simple they are. Let me put it this way: By the time I clean up the food processor and wipe down my counter, they are ready to come out of the oven. It’s a 20 minute recipe, from start to finish. You can keep it proper and use currants, like I did in the photo. I’ve also used chopped candied ginger and some lemon zest, and baked one batch with chopped dried cherries.

making scones

They were a hit at a baby shower I went to a few weeks ago. (Hi Lucas Lee Gideon! Can’t wait to meet you!) You don’t need a pastry cloth to make these, although a food processor does make this recipe a cinch. (And no, I still haven’t found the missing piece.) It’s an ancient recipe from Smitten Kitchen, who found it in The America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook. It’s become a go-to recipe of mine, and now it’s time to share it with you.

A couple notes: Because the recipe calls for chilled butter, I always cube mine and toss it in the freezer as I assemble all my other ingredients and preheat the oven. Also, if I know I’m bringing these for a crowd, I cut each scone in half an additional time so that I end up with 16 cute mini-scones.

Cream Scones

2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 Tablespoon baking powder
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 Tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup currants
1 cup heavy cream

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425°F.

Place flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in large bowl or work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade. Whisk together or pulse six times.

If making by hand, use two knives, a pastry blender or your fingertips and quickly cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few slightly larger butter lumps. Stir in currants. If using food processor, remove cover and distribute butter evenly over dry ingredients. Cover and pulse 12 times, each pulse lasting 1 second. Add currants and pulse one more time. Transfer dough to large bowl.

Stir in heavy cream with a rubber spatula or fork until dough begins to form, about 30 seconds.

Transfer dough and all dry, floury bits to countertop and knead dough by hand just until it comes together into a rough, sticky ball, 5 to 10 seconds. Form scones by either a) pressing the dough into an 8-inch cake pan, then turning the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, cutting the dough into 8 wedges with either a knife or bench scraper (the book’s suggestion) or b) patting the dough onto a lightly floured work surface into a 3/4-inch thick circle, cutting pieces with a biscuit cutter, and pressing remaining scraps back into another piece, and cutting until dough has been used up.

Place rounds or wedges on ungreased baking sheet and bake until scone tops are light brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Twists of Fate

It feels like I moved to Boston a million years ago, but it was actually the fall of 2004. Gas was $2 a gallon, the Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series since before women had the right to vote, and not many people knew what a levee was.

I had moved to town to write for a small Jewish newspaper. Which one makes no difference, really, but like so many things in life, I credit fate, some sort of divine plan that brought me here: My mom’s best friend sat next to a distant cousin at a family bar mitzvah. The long-last relative, Richard, was the editor of said Jewish newspaper, and he was on the search for a new writer. Less than two months later, Richard had hired me. I signed a lease, bought a T-pass and was on my way.

We were a small staff, but managed to create a 40-page paper every week. I averaged nine stories an issue. Richard quickly recognized our strengths and weaknesses, and knowing passion always creates a better product, I was lucky enough to interview such famous Jews as Joan Nathan, Susie Fishbein and… Joe Lieberman. (One of these things is not like the others…)

My fellow writers had their own passions: Shira focused on religion and politics, and Penny focused on education and parenting. We were a team. Richard was our coach, creating the roster and calling plays. “Frame a story,” he would tell me as he created a box with his arms at 90 degree angles.

A million years later – or, this past weekend – Richard gathered his team for a reunion potluck. We drove down to Rhode Island listening to the end of another lackluster Patriots’ game. The Pats failed to blow out their opponent, our car managed to blow out a tire on Route 95. Undeterred, we finally made it to our destination, albeit an hour late.

Richard had made big pot of winter borscht, with large chunks of root vegetables and cabbage that floated in a ruby broth. There was a salad full of fruits – pomegranate, kiwi, apple and citrus – thick bread and a bean salad. I brought this sweet potato gratin as a side and a cranberry molasses pudding (think Charles Dickens-type pudding) with a hard sauce for dessert.

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My gratin was a mere twist of fate – our friends Will and Gabi bequeathed their CSA last week to us, and I dug the recipe from that accidental Ottolenghi cookbook that’s turned into a tidy box full of tricks. Even trickier math was involved than last time, as I had one third less sweet potatoes the recipe, written in grams, called for. I had the heavy cream in the house because it was on sale a few weeks ago and thought that the need for heavy cream would reveal itself soon, what with all the holiday parties we were scheduled to attend.

The recipe calls for a medium-sized pan for the gratin, and I found that my medium-sized lasagna pan was perfect for the tightly-packed orange coins. I used both sage and thyme because I had both on hand; I wouldn’t worry too much about it if you only have one of the herbs. I would strongly advocate using a mandolin for this project.

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The pudding was even more unexpected: I was trying to come up with something for the remaining two cups of cranberries that hadn’t been strung on our tree, and I’d dug up a jar of molasses in the pantry during my clean-up a few weeks prior. I’d never steamed a cake before, and I did have to ask myself several times if I was doing it correctly. It turns out I did, although my bundt pan was a little tilted and the cake looked like it had a club foot. Don’t skip the cholesterol-laden hard sauce. It really makes the dish. I had hoped to use some more of the on-sale heavy cream for the sauce, but I opened Richard’s fridge and he magically had the half-and-half the recipe called for. Richard took out his family china for our fancy dessert. Couldn’t have planned that one better if I’d tried.

gone.

Danielle Postma’s Sweet Potato Gratin from Ottolenghi The Cookbook

This dish is simple but effective, due to the way the potatoes are arranged in the baking dish. You can prepare everything a day in advance and have it ready in the fridge to just pop in the oven. The sage can be replaced with thyme, or you could use both. Make sure you choose orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (as opposed to the paler variety).

Serves 4 – 6

Ingredients

6 medium sweet potatoes (about 1.5kg in total, about 3 lbs.)

5 Tablespoons roughly chopped sage, plus extra to garnish

6 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tsp. coarse sea salt

½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

250 ml whipping cream (About 8 oz. or 1 cup)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6 (400 F). Wash the sweet potatoes (do not peel them) and cut them into discs 5mm thick. A mandolin is best for this job but you could use a sharp knife.
  2. In a bowl, mix together the sweet potatoes, sage, garlic, salt and pepper. Arrange the slices of sweet potato in a deep, medium-sized ovenproof dish by taking tight packs of them and standing them up next to each other. They should fit together quite tightly so you get parallel lines of sweet potato slices (skins showing) along the length or width of the dish. Throw any remaining bits of garlic or sage from the bowl over the potatoes. Cover the dish with foil, place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and pour the cream evenly over the potatoes. Roast, uncovered, for a further 25 minutes. The cream should have thickened by now. Stick a sharp knife in different places in the dish to make sure the potatoes are cooked. They should be totally soft.
  3. Serve immediately, garnished with sage, or leave to cool down. In any case, bringing the potatoes to the table in the baking dish, after scraping the outside clean, will make a strong impact.

Cranberry-Molasses Pudding with Vanilla Hard Sauce from “CottageGourmet” on Food52

Ingredients

1egg, lightly beaten

1 Tablespoon sugar (a heaping Tablespoon)

1/2 cup molasses

1/3 cup hot water

1 1/2 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups fresh cranberries, picked over, washed and drained

1 cup half and half

1 stick unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Gently fold together all of the ingredients through the cranberries in the order listed. Pour into a greased mold (I used a Bundt pan), and tightly wrap with several layers of foil so no water sneaks into the pudding.
  2. Put a steamer basket in a large pot and fill the pot with an inch or so of water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the water is barely simmering. Rest the pudding on top of the steamer basket and cover the pot snugly with a lid. Steam without uncovering the pot for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, until the pudding is cooked through but not totally dry. (A cake tester should come out sticky, but not wet.)
  3. To make the sauce: combine the half-and-half, butter, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar and butter are melted and the sauce is smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Serve the sauce warm over the warm pudding.