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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Something Lighthearted

Lilli and Giragge

It’s been a rough week here in Boston. We’re safe. Everyone we know is safe. We live far from the finish line, but a mile from Watertown. I don’t have anything profound or original to say about the situation, except that last week’s events have put my ongoing series of pressure cooker recipes on hiatus for the time being.

Instead, I’m going to share a story from this summer that always make us chuckle. It happened in August, during my second trimester.

Scene: Preggers Molly, sitting at the dining room table, on the phone. Rich enters, stage kitchen, and overhears Molly’s conversation

MOLLY: “It clearly said on the container “peanut butter explosion,” and I’m telling you, there was no explosion.”

RICH: “Oh my God! Get off the phone! Right now!”

MOLLY (waving him off): “Shh…”

RICH: “You’re a crazy pregnant lady. Please get off the phone.”

MOLLY: “Honey, the ice cream container specifically said that if I had a problem with their product to call the 800 number. I bought this container of ice cream because it promised me a chocolate-peanut-butter explosion, and there was no explosion. There was not enough peanut butter in this ice cream.”

A few weeks later, a coupon arrived in the mail from the ice cream company for a free product of theirs with up to a $7.99 value.

cookies!

Still, this incident led me to take stock of the outsized role that the chocolate-peanut-butter flavor combination plays in my life. There were other clues: there was the fact that I didn’t hesitate to eat the squished Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup I found in my spring jacket pocket last week. (It was not delicious; we think it was from Halloween.) Another was, when I was sent a cookbook of “homemade versions of your favorite brand-name treats,” I zeroed in on the homemade Nutter Butters’ recipe, but with an important amendment: I would bake them, and then dip each end in ganache. And that’s just what I did. Chocolate Peanut Butter Explosion accomplished. At this rate, I’m never going to shed the rest of this pregnancy weight, but honestly, after this week, it really doesn’t matter.

Seder Shluff

The cookbook is Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats, written by Casey Barber, editor of the online magazine Good.Food.Stories. (www.goodfoodstories.com). It’s full of really great-sounding recipes for things like Nutter Butters, Mint Milanos, Twinkies, Goldfish Crackers, Funyuns, and Klondike Bars. A lot of its stuff was forbidden fruit growing up, first because my parents were more into actual fruit rather than giving us packaged treats, and, second, because a lot of it isn’t kosher.

peanut butter frosting

I’m happy to report that the Nutter Butters were spot-on, and really not a big deal to make. I made these this afternoon. I was able to feed Lilli, change Lilli, dunk a diaper, put Lilli down for a rest, and also have her hanging out with me in the kitchen, in between steps. They weren’t a big deal to make, really, and I’m saying that with a 12-week-old napping nearby.

Ocean State Job Lot Chocolate

The ganache is just a basic recipe, although I want to make note that the Ghirardelli chocolate I used was purchased at Ocean State Job Lot for $2 a bar. (I bought four. They’re in the freezer.) I rarely (and by rarely, I mean, never) use Crisco, but was pleased to discover that it is sold in bars, like butter, making measurements very simple.

One Note: If you’d like to join me in donating to help the victims and families of the attack, you can do so at The One Fund.

Nutter Butters

Makes about 2 dozen sandwich cookies.

Special Equipment: Stand mixer.

*Spritz your measuring cups with baking spray to help extract all the peanut butter you’ll be using for this recipe.

Ingredients

Cookies

2 cups (8 ½ oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 pinch kosher salt

8 Tablespoons (4 oz.) chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes

1 cup (7 oz.) granulated sugar

1 large egg

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup (4 ¾ oz.) creamy peanut butter

Filling

1 cup (4 oz.) powdered sugar

¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons (3 ½ oz.) creamy peanut butter

¼ cup (1 5/8 oz.) vegetable shortening

Ganache (my recipe)

1 cup heavy cream

4 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate. (I’m not going to be picky and tell you to use the good stuff. If you only have chips in the house, they’ll work just fine.)

Directions

Make the Cookies:

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and stir in the egg and vanilla on low speed. Add the peanut butter and stir on medium speed for 2 minutes more.

On low speed, stir in the dry ingredients a half cup at a time until just incorporated.

Spread 2 large sheets of plastic wrap on clean surface and divide the dough into 2 equal parts on the sheets. Wrap each piece tightly to form a rough cylinder about 8 inches long and 1 ½ inches in diameter. Place the dough logo in the freezer for 30 minutes.

(Please note: Lilli woke up from her nap at this point, so the peanut butter dough logs were a little more frozen than they should have been. All I needed to do was have the logs rest on the counter for a minute or two until they were a little less freezing.)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat liners.

Cut the chilled dough into thin (no more than ¼ inch) slices and place on the prepared baking sheets. Put the sheets in the oven for 30 seconds, then remove and form each cookie into a rough peanut shape by squeezing the sides gently in the middle to form grooves.

Return the sheets to the oven and bake for 13 to 16 minutes, until the cookies are dry and no longer shiny on top but not yet browning on the edges. They will seem slightly underbaked, but remove them anyway. Cool the cookies completely on wire racks.

Fill the Cookies:

While the cookies cool, make the filling. Cream the powdered sugar, peanut butter, and shortening together until fluffy, using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or an electric hand mixer – first on low speed until the sugar is incorporated, then on high speed to fluff it up.

Spread the filling evenly on the flat (bottom) side of the half cooled cookies. Top with remaining cookies.

Make the Ganache:

Place chocolate pieces in a heat-proof bowl.

In a small saucepan, gently heat the heavy cream to a boil on a medium-low burner. Remove the heated cream from the stovetop and pour over the bowl of chocolate. Let stand 10 minutes. Whisk the cream and the chocolate, which will be very melted at this point.

Dip one end of each cookie into ganache and lay the cookie on a baking pan or plate. To chill the ganache, place the tray in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes.

Store the cookies at room temperature in an airtight container, with pieces of parchment paper in between the layers of chocolate-covered cookies, for up to a week.

Iron Chef: CSA

A few summers ago, I had the privilege of judging a local Iron Chef competition. The secret ingredient was not some creature off the ocean’s floor or an exotic fruit flown in from a far off island. Instead, it was the contents of the contestants’ Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes, to highlight New England’s incredible summer bounties.

The teams used different farms and were assured that they didn’t need to use their entire boxes. To make sure the competition was fair, a list of standard vegetarian ingredients was issued, to be used in moderate quantities to enhance the vegetables: eggs, butter, up to 24 oz of soy products, 1 can beans/chickpeas or up to 2 lbs dried legumes, vegetable broth, garlic, onion,  nuts, flour, rice, quinoa or couscous, cornstarch, cocoa, sugar, up to 6 oz of cheese,  salt, pepper, milk, extra-virgin olive oil, vegetable oil, mustard, vinegar, soy sauce, lemon/lime juice. Contestants were allowed to use any spices but got extra points for fresh herbs.

Some teams really stepped up for the competition and produced terrific dishes, including a refreshing tomato granita served in a hollowed-out cucumber and fresh, homemade pasta. Others, I am sad to report, did not. “A quiche?” I asked one team. “You bring me quiche? Do you want to win?”

(Side note: Before I get a dozen comments from people defending quiche, I just want to say, I get it. In fact, I keep a package of frozen Orinoco pie shells in my freezer, just in case I need to show up at a potluck at an hour’s notice: some eggs, some milk, a softened onion, a jar of roasted red peppers kept in the pantry for this specific food emergency, a fluffy pile of grated cheese. Yes, I get it. But there’s a contest going on, people!)

“Hey,” they responded, “We were at the Springsteen concert last night. It got out late. We didn’t have enough time. The crust is homemade, if that helps.” It helped, a little. Duly noted.

After the parade of dishes, we, the judges huddled upstairs comparing notes, where, a la Twelve Angry Men, I may have provoked a “spirited” conversation about which team should win. My favorite was the first team, which kicked off the competition with fresh summer rolls stuffed with ripe mango, served with a side of peanut dipping sauce. “But Molly,” my judges pointed out, “they broke the rules. There’s no such thing as a mango in a CSA box. There’s no such thing as a local mango, period. It’s New England! And rice papers? Peanut butter? Those things just aren’t allowed.” “But they were my favorite!” I argued. “I loved the mango in the summer rolls; so refreshing in this heat.”

I was outvoted ultimately, and realistically we couldn’t award the CSA Iron Chef competition to fresh mango summer rolls. I relented and begrudgingly shaved points from their score. The winner, I guess I should just mention at this point, was the tomato granita team, which was captained by my sister. Hey, I’m nothing if not impartial.

The fresh mango was such a treat for me. I never buy them, exactly for the reason why my fellow judges felt they had no place in the competition. But here’s the thing: It’s mango season, really and truly. As Melissa Clark wrote last month, springtime is mango season in India and all the hot steamy places mangoes grow. My Facebook feed is now full of photos of friends’ mango trees in Miami, brimming with the orange gems. Considering that we seem to have skipped from winter right into summer (complete with thunderstorms and tornadoes) the time is right for fresh mango summer rolls.

I bought my rice papers at H-Mart in Burlington, but I’ve also picked them up at Super 88 (now Hong Kong Market) at Packard’s Corner. The Thai basil and fresh mint are what makes it taste like a summer roll. I picked up my bunches at Russo’s this time around, but I know H-Mart and Hong Kong Market sells them as well.

If you’ve never made a summer roll before, don’t fret, it’s very simple. Think burrito. Some of the rice papers will rip, but just keep going. And please don’t worry if they don’t all look gorgeous; they’ll still taste delicious. Make sure you have all your ingredients laid out on the counter assembly-line style, starting with a pan of warm water for soaking the rice paper.

To prepare the mango: I peel mine with a peeler, then I stand it up and, with a sharp knife, cut the flesh right up off its pit. For this dish, I slice everything very, very thin, the length and width of two matchsticks.

Most recipes I’ve read for summer rolls call for Napa cabbage, although I’ve never actually been served them that way in a restaurant. After ranch dressing, this is the best use of iceberg lettuce.  I thought that some crisp, sweet red pepper would be nice with the mango, and it was. I also used some fresh tofu, and I’ve seen some restaurants use grilled meat in theirs. I say go for it, if that’s your thing. Otherwise, hello, vegan yumminess!

Fresh Summer Rolls

8 rice papers, but keep more around because some will rip

One head iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced. Use a plastic knife if you’ve got one handy; steel knives will cause the lettuce to brown.

¼ cup Thai basil, julienned

¼ cup fresh mint leaves, julienned

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl.

Half a red pepper, cleaned and sliced the width and length of two matchsticks

One mango, sliced the width and length of two matchsticks

One block tofu, sliced the width and length of two matchsticks

Directions:

Fill a large pan with warm water and set on counter. Next to that, place a large plate. If you have room on your counter, place the herbed lettuce directly in back of the plate. If not, place it right next to the plate. Next to that, set your plate of mango, tofu and red peppers.

Take one sheath of rice paper, gently lay it into the water, swish it between your fingers for about 15 seconds, until it softens.

Remove it from the pan and lay it on the plate.

Place about ¼ cup of lettuce near the bottom of the paper. Add a slice of mango (or two), red pepper and tofu.

Fold up the bottom, then the sides, and roll up to the top.

Repeat.

And please don’t get frustrated if the first two or three, or even the seventh, rips. It will happen.

Peanut Butter Sauce

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup coconut milk

2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 cloves chopped garlic

1 tablespoon grated ginger

Juice of half a lime

Mix all ingredients in bowl and give it a taste. Maybe you’ll realize it needs more sugar. Maybe you’ll think it needs more ginger. Definitely fine tune it to your own tastes. Also, this makes a ton of sauce. It will keep in the fridge for a few days. My suggestion is to find yourself some steamed broccoli and some noodles. Maybe brown rice. I promise you at no time will you throw your hands up in the air and shriek that you have too much peanut sauce on hand.