The kitchen is overrun…and Father’s Day!

Each year at about this time I have one of my favorite “problems.”  Remember this? Well this year we have the bounty of our CSA share, a generous co-worker and my in-laws’ incredible garden (they have tomato plants growing “wild” in their compost pile that are producing more tomatoes than any plants in my garden ever have – true story.) I feel kind of fortunate, actually, that my garden is full of weeds at the moment – we never made the time to get anything in it before it got too hot…you know, back in February – because I don’t know what I’d do with any more vegetables!

Tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, basil , squash, and more tomatoes. I’ve made zucchini cakes and zucchini bread…two kinds of pickles…squash casserole and even pickled some peppers. But we’re not talking about any of that today. Tomatoes are what we are talking about today. I’m not a huge fan of canning, though I wish I were. But I do like to make big batches of things and freeze them. Like tomato sauce.

I read a bunch of different recipes for tomato sauce and settled on a combination of two, with some adjustments for my own laziness. I’m not going to peel tomatoes. I’m just not going to do it. And I sort of seeded them…if you count cutting them in half and quickly squeezing them over the sink as “seeding.” What can I say? I like to cook, but come on, I also have a million other things I must get to before midnight.

So with those exceptions, I generally followed the recipes and wound up with a tomato sauce that my husband said was one of the best he’s ever tasted – and that included all those trips to Italy…I was sure to clarify that.  He made sure I kept my notes. And also wanted to know how much of a stash was going in the freezer. Oh, and could he please have this for Father’s Day over gnocchi followed by blueberry pie?

This sauce is not unlike the Bolognese sauce…but without the meat. And I only reduced twice instead of three times.  Oh, another thing the recipe does not call for is the blender. I added that part to make up for the fact that I did not peel them.  And also because I think it looks prettier when it’s all smooth like that.

I think it clings to the pasta and meatballs better when it’s smooth like this… divine!

And so went Father’s Day dinner…and the boys liked it as much as he did, so that’s a bonus.  (I didn’t tell them about all the other vegetables that were in there!)

Followed up by blueberry pie with “yuck” cream (as we call it in our house thanks to my younger brother’s honesty at a semi-fancy restaurant one time when we were little. The chef asked him how he liked it just as my brother skimmed a big spoonful of real whipped cream, sans sugar, off the top of his dessert…disappointed and confused that it didn’t taste like CoolWhip as he’d expected, he looked up and said, “It’s YUCK.” Cue: my mother’s mortification. My brother has never lived it down. However, that chef would be pleased to know that CoolWhip has rarely, if ever, been in my house, I just can’t eat the stuff, and I happily whip fresh cream when we need it…with a little bit of sugar and vanilla, just in case my brother shows up.)

A perfect pie for the Fourth of July, if you are so inclined.  The recipe can be found here.

And finally, tomato sauce…

Tomato Sauce

6-8 pounds of fresh tomatoes

2 TB olive oil

2 TB butter

8-10 cloves of garlic, minced

1 large onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

4-6 carrots, chopped

2 cups vegetable stock

2 bay leaves

2 cups red wine

1/4 – 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped (depending on taste)

Cut tomatoes in halves or quarters and squeeze out as many seeds as you can. Coarsely chop tomatoes and set aside.

In a large stock pot over medium heat, melt butter and add olive oil. Add garlic, onions, bell pepper and carrots and cook until they start to soften, 5-8 minutes. Add tomatoes, vegetable stock and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer and let reduce for at least 90 minutes. (Watch for the lines on the inside of the pot to tell how much liquid has cooked off – it should be at least an inch, two is better.)  Repeat with the wine and reduce for 2 hours. Add chopped basil for the last 10 minutes and remove bay leaves. Allow to cool enough to go into a blender (or use an immersion blender in the pot) and process until smooth.

If freezing, be sure to cool completely before placing in bags for freezer.  Also, I made this the following week with the next batch of tomatoes and I omitted the peppers and carrots…simpler flavor, but just as yummy.

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Turkey Pie and Turkey Cakes

Tonight we had turkey for dinner AND dessert.

Aren’t those cute? In an ugly-turkey-kind-of-way?

My son helped make them…and by “helped” I mean that he stood in the kitchen next to me while I made them and asked every thirty seconds if he could have a candy corn, or a sprinkle, or a mini chocolate chip and also “when will my turkey cupcake be ready so I can eat it?!”

That’s not entirely true. He did put on the little chocolate eyes and some of the sprinkles and tried to help with the fruit leather feathers, which were sort of sticky-tricky.  But mostly he was scavenging for stray candy pieces and waiting for his bird.

We found these cute little cakes here (along with a bunch of other clever ideas) and promptly went out and got the goods to copy them…and also the ingredients to make a Turkey Pot Pie, which was much more yummy than the cupcakes, in my book.

It’s been awhile since we had pie for dinner, and I was glad to have it back. What an easy and versatile comfort food…and timely for any leftover turkey you might have in your near future.

I used a store-bought crust, pre-roasted turkey and pre-chopped veggies. I can hardly even call this cooking, right?! And it got the stamp of approval from the four-year-old, which is always nice. Although he might have just been saying that to hurry me along to the turkey cupcakes. Whatever the case, it was a fun way to kick-off the last week before Thanksgiving…turkey all around!

To make the turkey cupcakes you need:

cupcakes, frosted and covered with sprinkles

Nutter Butter cookies – turkey body

White icing or decorating gel – “glue” for eyes and beak and wattle

Mini chocolate chips – eyes

Candy corn – beak

Multi-colored fruit leathers – wattle and feathers

Toothpicks – to secure feathers

And if you want yours to look just like mine, you should also throw a pair of four-year-old hands in the mix to insure the turkeys all look cross-eyed!

Turkey Pot Pie

Adapted from allrecipes.com

1 10-inch double crust pie

4 tablespoons butter, divided

1 small onion, minced

3 stalks celery, chopped

3 carrots, diced

2 tablespoons dried parsley

1 teaspoon dried oregano

salt and pepper to taste

2 cubes chicken bouillon

2 cups water

4 potatoes, peeled and cubed

2-3 cups cubed cooked turkey

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 425. Roll out bottom pie crust, press into a 10-inch pie pan, and set aside.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add the onion, celery, carrots, parsley, oregano, and salt and pepper. Cook and stir until the vegetables are soft. Stir in the bouillon and water. Bring mixture to a boil. Stir in the potatoes, and cook until tender but still firm.

In a medium saucepan, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in the turkey and flour. Add the milk, and heat through. Stir the turkey mixture into the vegetable mixture, and cook until thickened. Cool slightly, then pour mixture into the unbaked pie shell. Roll out the top crust, and place on top of filling. Flute edges, and make 4 slits in the top crust to let out steam.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 and continue baking for 20 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. Let sit 5-10 minutes before slicing and serving.

 

Birthday Pie…of the blueberry variety

I’ve been on a quest. For years.

My husband’s dream pie is blueberry. For ages he’s been asking me for blueberry pie. And I’ve found it particularly difficult to get just right. Too runny. Too gelatinous. Not enough berries. Soggy crust. Frustrating.

So I’ve tweaked and I’ve tweaked some more and, finally…I think I got it.

My dilemma with berry pies is the liquid. There’s so much of it. Usually, by the time I slice more than one piece of it, it might as well be cobbler for all the berries running all over the place. And yes, even after it is completely cooled. There are lots of suggestions out there for how to get a berry pie to firm up. I think I’ve tried most of them. And I found some that worked, well, they worked a little too well. The pie would nearly be stiff in the center…all wiggly and weird.

To create a filling that could stand up to slicing, but just barely, without the berries being embedded in a shiny, jello-like substance – that has been the blueberry pie grail.

An actual SLICE of blueberry pie - I was so excited!

I’ve used tapioca in the past. I’ve used flour. I’ve used corn starch. I’ve used pectin. I’ve cooked the berries first. I’ve not cooked them at all. I’ve used fresh and I’ve used frozen.

Here’s what I have settled on for now: corn starch (more of it than you might think), frozen berries, mostly wild (because they are smaller/less juicy) and some regular/larger berries (which are cooked down first), and a pie crust that is actually a pâte brisée (because it can handle being a little thicker and makes a lovely lattice for the top.) Throw in some butter, nutmeg and lemon zest and there you have it. After his first slice the birthday boy announced, “This is MY pie. This is the one. I want this for my birthday from here on, like, until the end. Every one.” Which is when I said, “Gee, I sure hope I can remember how I made it. I didn’t exactly write anything down.”  (I mean, really, doesn’t he know about my red velvet cake tradition??)

Ron’s Blueberry Pie (aka “The One”)

2 pints (4 cups) frozen wild blueberries + 1 cup large juicy (regular) blueberries (fresh or frozen)

¾ cup sugar (5 oz)

scant ¼ cup corn starch (1.5 oz)

1 oz cold water – for dissolving cornstarch

2 oz butter

1 teas lemon zest

1 teas nutmeg

1 recipe for pate brisee/ pie crust (double)*

Mash the 1 cup of regular berries with the sugar over medium heat and bring to a boil. Thicken with the corn starch dissolved in water. Simmer and add butter, zest, nutmeg. Stir into 2 pints of frozen berries and set aside.

*You can certainly use refrigerated pie crust here, I won’t tell!  But if you want to up the “scratch factor” of this pie, I recommend a Pâte Brisée: place 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add 1 cup chilled, unsalted butter (2 sticks) cut into small pieces, one piece at a time until the mixture resembles coarse meal. With machine running, add anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 cup ICE water a few tablespoons at a time – just until the dough holds together – no more than 30 seconds. Divide the dough in half, flatten into disks and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least an hour or overnight. Makes a double crust for 9-inch pie.

Have bottom crust prepared and in pie pan – cool in refrigerator. When berry mixture has cooled slightly, add to crust. Use top crust for lattice. Refrigerate completed pie for at least 20 minutes. Egg wash top crust. (I actually forgot this part which is why the crust isn’t as golden as it should be.) Bake in preheated 425° oven for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350° and continue baking for 30-35 minutes, until crust is golden brown and filling seems to have set a little. COOL COMPLETELY before slicing. Serve with vanilla ice cream, of course.

Mixed Berry Pie

Few things say “summer” like berry pies. My husband is a little obsessed with them. And I have yet to conquer them. I’ve made several attempts at different kinds of berry pies – his true pie fantasy involves blueberries and a double crust and vanilla bean ice cream…but I digress.

Flavor is no problem. Every attempt I’ve made has had fabulous flavor. It’s all about the texture. Berries are juicy and my challenge seems to be getting the filling to firm up without turning into that gelatinous-out-of-a-can kind of thing. I’ve tried cooking the berries down first. I’ve added tapioca. Cornstarch. Flour. Some worked better than others, but I’m still seeking the perfect ratio.

Here’s my latest attempt:

Pie filling in progress

Blueberries and raspberries with tapioca and lemon zest.

It was delicious, but still runnier than I would like.  (Even after it is completely cooled…I baked it a full day before it was served at a family reunion, so it was well-cooled. Still just a tad too runny.)

The top crust was a new design, too. I thought it was a pretty way to vent the top and a little different. Any guesses as to how to get those neat little holes in there? (make guesses in the comments below…)

With Father’s Day approaching, I see a blueberry pie attempt in my future. And I have a new recipe to try. One the author claims is “fool-proof.” Ha. We’ll just see about that! There are more berry pies to come…for now, here’s this one:

Blueberry and Raspberry Pie

adapted from Martha Stewart

Two layer crust*

all-purpose flour for dusting

1 large egg

1 TB milk

2 cups fresh raspberries

2 pints fresh blueberries

1/4 cup instant tapioca (I will increase this next time.)

Grated zest and juice from 1 lemon

1 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sanding

*You can certainly use refrigerated pie crust here, I won’t tell!  But if you want to up the “scratch factor” of this pie, I recommend a Pâte Brisée: place 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add 1 cup chilled, unsalted butter (2 sticks) cut into small pieces, one piece at a time until the mixture resembles coarse meal. With machine running, add anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 cup ICE water a few tablespoons at a time – just until the dough holds together – no more than 30 seconds. Divide the dough in half, flatten into disks and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least an hour or overnight. Makes a double crust for 9-inch pie.

Roll out one disk of dough into an 1/8-inch round and drape over your pie plate. Chill for about 30 minutes.

Whisk together egg and milk in a small bowl and set egg wash aside. In a medium bowl toss together raspberries, blueberries, tapioca, lemon zest and juice and sugar. Mix/toss gently and transfer to chilled pie dough.

Preheat oven to 425°. Roll out remaining disk of dough. (insert decorative accent here, if desired.) Brush rim of chilled dough with egg wash, place other round on top and trim to 1/2 overhang. Crimp edges as desired and chill until firm (about 20 minutes in freezer or 40 in refrigerator.)

Cut a few slits in the top of dough (if no decorative holes were made). Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350° and continue baking until crust is golden brown and juices are bubbling (about 40 minutes.) Let cool completely before cutting and serving.

Two Pies

There are a handful of recipes I consider my “default” recipes.  When I don’t have time to cook or, on the rare occasion I don’t feel like cooking, I turn to a few super easy standby recipes…things like tacos and spaghetti and grilled chicken.  Last week I reached for the spaghetti ingredients on just such an evening and thought, “I don’t really feel like eating spaghetti.”  So I turned it into pie…just like my mom used to make when I was little.

The cooked pasta gets mixed with butter and grated parmesan cheese and molded into a pie plate

Spaghetti crust
Spaghetti crust

Then you spread a layer of ricotta cheese and top it with your sauce.  This sauce is one of those quick envelope kind mixed with tomato paste and then I add sauted mushrooms and ground turkey.  (I have a wonderful Bolognese sauce that is triple-reduced which would be delicious here, but that would totally defeat the handy-I-don’t-feel-like-cooking-recipe idea, wouldn’t it?  I’ll save it for another time!)

Filling the pie with ricotta and sauce
Filling the pie with ricotta and sauce

Then the whole things gets topped with mozzarella and baked until the top is golden and bubbly.

Spaghetti Pie

While it was resting I threw together a green salad with easy homemade dressing (I love that thing!) and let some garlic bread warm in the oven.  The resting part is important…just like lasagna…if you don’t let it cool a little, the slices fall apart when you serve them.

Slice of pie, spaghetti style
Slice of pie, spaghetti style

Easy as pie.

Speaking of pie…since we had it for dinner, we had to have it for dessert, too.

This just might be my very favorite pie.  Really.  Like the number one pie.  It’s an old-timey recipe called Buttermilk Pie and I serve it with a triple-berry sauce that is so versatile.  It would be delicious on ice cream or in yogurt…in fact, in the days following the pie I had the sauce on pancakes and in oatmeal.  It also would have been delicious on those little French puffs I did a few weeks ago.

Dreamy creamy buttermilk pie with triple berry sauce
Dreamy creamy buttermilk pie with triple berry sauce

If you are afraid of pies, like some people are, this is a great one to have in your repertoire.  You can cheat on the crust and no one will ever notice and you can garnish it with just about any kind of fruit or chocolate you happen to have around.  Make this pie.  You won’t be sorry.

All around it was a night I would have rather picked up take-out to eat while in front of the TV…but, thanks to on-hand ingredients for a jazzed-up standby and some leftover pie, we had dinner at the table and my three-year-old laughed at pie for dinner and pie for dessert with a salad in between.

Buttermilk Pie with Triple Berry Sauce

from Martha Stewart’s Annual Recipes

Graham-Cracker Coated Crust

(You can totally skip this part and use a prepared graham cracker crust instead – I won’t tell, I promise.)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/4 cup ice water

4 graham crackers, finely ground (1/2 cup)

Pie Filling

3 cups buttermilk

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled

8 large egg yolks

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon lemon zest, grated

Directions

For crust: Use a 10-inch pie plate.

Pulse flour and salt in food processor.  Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  With machine running, add ice water a little at a time until dough just holds together.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface and flatten into a disk.

Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Spread graham crumbs on clean work surface.  Roll out dough on top of crumbs, coating both sides, into a 14 inch round about 1/8 inch thick.  Fit into pie plate, crimp edges and refrigerate shell at least 30 minutes.

For Pie: Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Prick bottom of shell with a fork, line shell with foil, fill with dried beans and bake until edges are lightly browned- about 25 minutes.

Remove foil and bake another 10 minutes to lightly brown bottom of crust.

Cool completely.

IF YOU USE A PREPARED PIE CRUST, START HERE.

Reduce oven to 350.

In a bowl, whisk together buttermilk, butter, egg yolks and vanilla.

In another bowl combine sugar, flour and salt.

Whisk liquid ingredients into dry ingredients.

Pass through a fine strainer into a clean bowl.

Stir in lemon zest.

Pour mixture into pie shell and bake until center is just set, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Cool and refrigerate at least 4 hours.

Serve with berry sauce.

Triple Berry Sauce

adapted from Martha Stewart

1/2 cup sugar

1 TB freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 pints fresh blueberries, picked over and rinsed

6 oz (1 container) fresh blackberries

6 oz (1 container) fresh raspberries

1 teaspoon cornstarch

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir together sugar, lemon juice, and half of each kind of berry.  Bring just barely to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer until the berries burst and release their juice, about 3 minutes.

In a small bowl dissolve the cornstarch in about 1 teaspoon of cold water and then stir into sauce.  Simmer, stirring, until it thickens slightly, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and stir in remaining berries.  Refrigerate until chilled.  Stir again before serving.