July 30, 2015

Almond Crumble Blueberry Pie

Yesterday, I shared my no-fail pie crust recipe.  Today, I’ll share what to put into that crust.  The short answer is: anything!  The crust works equally well for no-bake cream pies (like the banana cream pie I shared for Pi Day) and baked fruit pies, like the blueberry pie below.  The crust recipe will suit all your various pie baking needs (and yes, sometimes you need to bake a pie).

almond crumble blueberry pie

This blueberry pie, topped with a crumble made from butter, flour, and almond paste, is my favorite pie.  I think I’d go even further to say that this my all-time favorite dessert.  If I was on some sort of magical dessert desert island and had to choose one dessert to have for the rest of my life, it would be this pie (but can I get it with a scoop of my favorite extra-minty mint chocolate chip ice cream, please?).  I can’t believe it has taken me four years to share this recipe on here – I have made it with the intent to share it no less than six times, as evidenced by the six different series of intact pie pictures sitting in my “food to blog” folder.  So why not share it sooner?  I’ve been waiting to get a picture of an individual slice of pie… except every time I make this, it’s devoured before I have a chance!  Sad but true: I have never had one single leftover slice of pie to use for a picture.  I decided enough was enough and it was time to share, even if I don’t have a picture of a lone slice to share.

almond crumble blueberry pie

Why Blueberries are my favorite fruit (sidebar: when asked recently, my husband guessed raspberries – a good guess, since I love all berries, but blueberries are the clear winner… followed closely by cherries and pineapple), so I load the pie up with lots and lots of blueberries, adding more in after boiling down the first several cups, to ensure that the pie has more actual whole blueberries than blueberry goop.  It’s sweet, but not sickeningly so, and the best part: an almond crumble topping.  I don’t love double-crust pies (think traditional apple pie), because if you make the crust well and the bottom doesn’t stay soggy, it’s topped with a flavor you’re already getting.  Lattice pies are by far the most visually appealing, and I generally go that route for cherry or rubarb pies because they look so lovely.  But crumble pies are absolutely the tastiest, a sentiment echoed by everyone else with whom I have shared this pie.  The almond paste introduces a new flavor (and almond is my favorite flavor!) – it’s subtle enough that those who don’t really care for almonds (i.e., my husband) still enjoy the pie, but just adds a little something extra and a slightly-crunchy texture to the soft blueberries.  We’re in peak blueberry season here in the northeast, so don’t delay – baking a homemade pie sounds like a great way to spend your weekend!

almond crumble blueberry pie

(I’d also like to put a little shout-out here to Amoretti Foods.  I typed out this recipe to a friend via tweet and mentioned that it’s worth it to find the almond paste for the crumble topping (our small city grocery stores don’t always carry it).  I just happened to receive a tweet from @AmorettiFoods offering to send each of us some of their almond paste to try out.  At the time, the person behind the twitter account did not know that I even had a food blog; rather, he just offered to share some of the product (and the friend who also received some does not have a blog).  The very next day, I received an overnighted tub of almond paste and the nicest handwritten note about the pleasures of interacting with other people via social media.  There was no expectation whatsoever that I share that I received almond paste from them, or that I create a recipe for them, but it was such a positive interaction that I wanted to give them a digital high-five for awesome customer service.  And because I received so much almond paste, I have plenty left over after baking this pie, so stay tuned for some future almond paste kitchen experiments!)

Almond Crumble Blueberry Pie
Adapted from Bon Appetit

Ingredients:

  • 1 pie crust, unbaked
  • 3/4 cup + 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 40 ounces blueberries (if using frozen, do not thaw)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup + 3 tablespoons all purpose flour, divided
  • 6 ounces almond paste, crumbled into small pieces
  • 1/2 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:

  1. Start by rolling out your pie dough to a 12-inch round.  Transfer to a 9-inch diameter pie plate.  Trim the edges and crimp decoratively.  Transfer the pie dough in the dish to the freezer while preparing the filling.
  2. Whisk together 3/4 cup of the sugar and the 1/4 cup cornstarch in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Stir in 30 ounces (a little under 7 cups) of the blueberries and the lemon juice.  Cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, until the mixture starts to bubble and thicken, stirring frequently.  Remove the filling from heat, gently stir in the remaining 10 ounces of blueberries, and chill the filling until cool.
  3. To prepare the crumble, 2/3 cup of the flour, almond paste, butter, and salt in a food processor and blend until the mixture begins to clump together (alternatively, cut the butter and almond paste into the flour by hand with two forks or a pastry blender).  Transfer this mixture to a bowl and chill for 30 minutes.
  4. Remove the pie dish from the freezer while preheating the oven to 400F.  Allow the pie crust to sit for 10-15 minutes before filling, so that it is still very cold but no longer frozen.
  5. Sprinkle the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar and flour along the crust.  This will help soak up any excess juice and form a little protective barrier to prevent a soggy crust.  Spread the blueberry filling evenly in the crust, and sprinkle the crumble topping over the top.
  6. Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for ~50 minutes, until the crust and topping are golden and the blueberry filling bubbles.  Transfer pie to a cooling rack and cool completely before serving.

almond crumble blueberry pie

July 29, 2015

No-Fail Pie Crust

I was all set to share my absolute favorite dessert – blueberry pie with an almond crumble topping – when I realized I should probably step back and share a pie crust recipe first.  So, let’s talk pie crusts.  I’m going to start out by stating that there is nothing wrong with using a store-bought crust, be it the frozen-in-an-aluminum-pie-plate crust or a rolled refrigerated circle of dough crust.  These are both solid options – no one is going to stop and comment that the crust is especially delicious, but inversely, you also know you’re not going to wind up with some soggy monstrosity full of holes, either.  But rolling out your own pie crust really isn’t difficult; honestly, I find it incredibly relaxing to gently roll out the dough, slowly stretching the sides, feeling the chilled, stiff dough slowly give way.  It’s similar to my love of kneading bread, and why I will never, ever own a bread machine – getting my hands in there is what I love so much about baking. 

no fail pie crust

Now, while I’ve mentioned that rolling out a pie crust isn’t difficult… choosing the right recipe can be.  And this is where I’m going to save you the hassle of trying all the dud recipes, because I’ve already done it for you!  Many years ago, I set on the quest to find the perfect rolled sugar cookie recipe, and low and behold – I found it. Since then, I’ve turned my attention towards a perfect pie crust.  I’ll be honest – this might not be the recipe, but it’s very good and consistently turns out well.  I’ve tried LOTS of recipes, ranging from all butter to all shortening, using vodka instead of water, freezing and grating butter, freezing and thawing the dough, rolling the dough out warm and then chilling, chilling the dough and then rolling it out, freezing the crust before baking, etc., That said, I probably haven’t tried every recipe out there, so if you have one you really love, go ahead and share it in the comments section and I’ll give it a try if I haven’t already!

no fail pie crust

Without further ado, here are my top tips for baking a great pie crust, regardless of which recipe you use:

  1. Keep your fat cold.  Whether you’re dealing with butter or shortening, you want it to be as cold as possible.  When cold butter is put into a hot oven, the water in the butter evaporates, creating that perfectly flaky crust.  If your butter is warm and soft, it melts into the crust, resulting in a soggier crust.  This desire for a flaky crust is why we want…
  2. Pea-sized specks of butter should be visible in the mixture.  When you use a food processor to mix dough, you really run the risk of over-mixing, unlike cutting in butter by hand.  The dough should be a little crumbly, a little shaggy, and little chunks of butter should still be present to create those pockets of steam.
  3. Refrigerate the dough after mixing – but not for too long.  Okay, this isn’t entirely true – you can refrigerate the dough for as long as you want, but then you need to let it come up towards room temperature before rolling the dough out again.  I’ve found 30 minutes to be a great length of time – long enough for the butter to rechill, but not so long that the dough breaks and crumbles when you try to roll it out. 
  4. Roll carefully and slowly. Take your time when it comes to rolling out dough – but not too much time.  Flour your work surface and place your circle of dough in the center.  Roll back and forth over the dough with heavy, firm pressure.  Don’t try to force the rolling in a circle; rather, pick up the dough and rotate it around.  Don’t worry if you can’t get the dough into a circle (you can trim it later), if the dough cracks around the edges (ditto to the earlier one) or if you get a few holes or tears in the dough (you can patch them with the excess dough you cut from the edges).  I usually find I need about 5 minutes to roll out pie dough – much less time and I’m too aggressive and the dough cracks, much more time and the dough starts to warm too much.
  5. Rechill the dough before baking. Pop the pie crust in the pie dish into the freezer for a few minutes before baking.  It’s all about keeping that butter nice and cold.
  6. Build a protective barrier to keep the crust crisp.  This one actually comes after you bake your crust, but I always add something to help prevent the crust from getting soggy.  If you’re bringing a pie to a party and it will be devoured all at once, it’s not a problem, but we often sliver away at a pie for 5 days.  After that much time, the juices from the pie start to seep into the crust, making it pretty mushy.  For no-bake cream pies, I paint a thin layer of melted chocolate along the pie crust (after baking, before filling) as a moisture barrier.  For filled fruit pies, I sprinkle a decent amount of flour and sugar along the bottom – the excess flour helps to soak up any juice, while the sugar starts to caramelize a bit and form that nice crust.  You’ll see that I add this step in to my blueberry pie recipe.
  7. Make plenty and freeze!  The recipe I’m sharing below makes two layers of crust – one for the bottom of the pie and another for the top if you’re doing a double-crust or lattice-topped pie.  If you’re making a crumble top, like my favorite blueberry pie recipe, you can freeze the leftover dough.  The dough can be frozen at any state – either in a ball to be rolled out after thawing, in the rolled out circle but not yet pressed into the pie dish, or in the pie dish.  I usually double the recipe below and freeze the rolled-out crusts, meaning I can make a pie in no time at all when the mood strikes.

No-Fail Pie Crust

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) butter, frozen for at least 2 hours
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable shortening, frozen for at least 2 hours
  • 6 tablespoons very cold water

Directions:

  1. Add the flour, salt, and sugar into the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to mix.
  2. Remove the butter and shortening from the freezer and dice into half-inch size cubes, using a very sharp knife.  Add the butter and shortening to the food processor, and pulse for 10 one-second bursts, until the butter is the size of peas.
  3. Add in the cold water and pulse several times, until the dough begins to form a ball.
  4. Remove the dough from the food processor and roll into two circles.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  5. Roll the dough into a circle as described above, rolling from the center to the edge, turning and flouring the dough as necessary.  Drape the dough over the rolling pin to transfer it to a pie pan.
  6. Once in the pie pan, trim the crust so that there is an approximately 1-inch overhang past the edge of the pie plate.  Using this overhang, crimp the crust by pressing the dough between the pointer finger of one hand and your pointer finger and thumb of the other hand.
  7. Place prepared crust in freezer prior to baking.

no fail pie crust

July 23, 2015

Sweet & Spicy Chicken Skewers

It’s summer, which means several evenings a week you’ll find me standing in front of our grill.  As a northerner who likes to grill in all weather conditions and has a very small urban rowhome-sized back patio, I use a gas grill.  Yes, the southerners are cringing at this, and someday if we have more outdoor space I’d like to add a charcoal grill as well, but a gas grill suits our needs so much better.  If I get home from lab at 7, I can have my grill hot and ready by 7:10 and dinner on the table by 7:20.  There’s no need to spend an hour tending to the charcoal, getting everything just the right temperature.  I’ve grilled in torrential downpours, in snowstorms, in 20 degree weather, you name it – none of that sounds appealing if I have to hang out outside for an extended period, pushing things around from the hot side of the grill to the cooler side.  Charcoal grills are perfect for lazy weekend days when you have all the time in the world to hang out with friends, cold beer, and enjoy life.  Gas grills are for getting dinner on the table at a reasonable hour.

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I’ve been on a big kebob/skewer kick recently, because they’re just so easy.  Protein, veggies, and some kind of sauce, all strung and grilled together – no flipping each individual piece of pepper or multiple chicken parts.  Toss together a marinade the night before and chop the vegetables, and then all you have to do when you get home from work is fire up the grill, thread everything on skewers, and by the time that’s done, the grill is hot enough to start.  10 – 15 minutes of cooking time and you’re done.  Dinner is served!  It really doesn’t get any easier, and especially now that I’m juggling working and parenthood, I’m looking for things that minimize my time in the kitchen and maximize time spent with my baby boy.

IMG_1599wtmk

These skewers bring together the perfect amount of sweetness (honey), spicy (sriracha), and sour (lime) as a marinade for chicken thighs.  You could use chicken breasts as well, but dark meat is much more flavorful and doesn’t dry out when grilled.  Add in some colorful bell peppers for a little extra crunch, sprinkle with some scallions, and a perfect quick, easy, summer dinner is ready. 

IMG_1606wtmk

Sweet & Spicy Chicken Skewers
Adapted from Once Upon A Chef

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • zest and juice of 1 large lime
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 1/2-inch piece of ginger, peeled
  • 3 tablespoons Sriracha
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 3 bell peppers, assorted colors, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 scallion, chopped
Directions:
  1. In a food processor or blender, combine the soy sauce, honey, oil, lime zest, lime juice, garlic, ginger, Sriracha, and salt.  Process until completely smooth.  Pour 1/2 cup of this marinade into a small bowl; cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  2. Combine the chicken and remaining marinade in a bowl and cover tightly with saran wrap.  Refrigerate overnight.
  3. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat and grease the grill with an oiled paper towel.
  4. Remove the chicken from the marinade and thread onto skewers, alternating with pieces of pepper.  Brush some of the marinade remaining from overnight soak over the skewers, coating the peppers.
  5. Grill the skewers, covered, until golden brown and cooked through, turning skewers occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes of total grilling time.  Transfer the skewers to a platter.  Warm the reserved marinade pulled aside in a separate bowl in the microwave, and brush overtop of the skewers.  Scatter the chopped scallions overtop and serve.

sweet and spicy chicken skewers

July 21, 2015

Gorgonzola Fig Cheesebread (Guest Post by @Scicurious)

Back in December, I shared a guest post by Scicurious, nom de plume of Bethany Brookshire, science writer.  Previously, Bethany shared her recipe for pumpkin pie cupcakes, and this time she’s back with an amazing gorgonzola fig cheesebread.  I’m not a big gorgonzola fan, but you better believe I’m going to give this a try, because I haven’t met a fig I don’t love!  You can find Bethany writing about all sorts of science and science education related topics at ScienceNews and the Society for Science Eurkea! Lab (and of course, tweeting away as @Scicurious).

G and fig bread 2

Gorgonzola and fig is a trendy marriage made in heaven. If you use dried figs, the heavy flavor of the gorgonzola gets a run for its money. If you use fresh, the figs softness has just enough to simmer down the roughness of the cheese.

But in all my hunting around for gorgonzola and fig, I kept noticing it was always on flatbread. Gorgonzola and fig flatbread was on everyone's menus, often with some arugula and prosciutto for real overwhelming flavor decadence. But always flatbread flatbread flatbread. I found cheese breads from Parmesan to Cheddar and far beyond. Why not gorgonzola?

So I decided to find out what was so darn weird about gorgonzola and fig cheesebread that no one had done it yet.

And it turns out? Nothing! A couple of weeks of testing cheeses and breads and it was all ready to go. The trick is the balance between the hefty gorgonzola and the fig. The first iteration had FAR too much gorgonzola. The second had too much fig. The third was Goldilocks. I found it using a combination of fig jam and dried figs (and, in one iteration, an amazing freezer jam with figs and thyme that I sadly can't take credit for).

g and fig bread 1

Ingredients (Originally from here, and modified):

  • 794 grams (28 oz) all purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 5 Tbsp. white sugar
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. skim milk
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. instant yeast
  • 1/4 cup melted, unsalted butter
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 cup gorgonzola (per loaf)
  • 1/3 cup fig jam + 1/3 dried figs, chopped (per loaf)

In a large bowl, sift the flour, salt and sugar together.

In a smaller bowl, combine the lukewarm water and milk. Whisk in yeast until dissolved. Add this and the melted butter to the dry ingredients. Mix together until combined, then rest 5 min.

Transfer dough to a floured surface. Knead the dough lightly together until it's a smooth and slightly tacky loaf.

Spray your large bowl with cooking spray. Put the dough ball back in there, and cover with plastic wrap. Let it sit until it doubles in size (about 90 min).

Divide the dough in half. I used one half to make the gorgonzola and fig bread, and the other to do Parmesan and herb, with this recipe. It makes a fabulous garlic style bread that goes beautifully with ratatouille or pasta with a red sauce. (For the lazy, take half a stick of melted butter, spread on the dough, top with thick layers of parmesean, 1/2 tsp of garlic salt, and whatever fresh herbs you have on hand, chopped fine. Then continue as below). If you only want to make one, roll out the other half of the dough to one inch thickness. Place it on a baking sheet and into your freezer til hard, then plastic wrap the dough and it will keep until you need it.

For the gorgonzola and fig, take the half. Place on to a flour surface, knead lightly. Then, with a rolling pin, roll it out into a largish rectangle about 10 x 16 inches.

Spread a thin layer of the fig jam onto the dough. Sprinkle the dried figs and gorgonzola on evenly.

Then, starting at the short side, roll the dough up jelly-roll style. Pinch the end seam into the dough.

With a sharp knife, slice the jelly-roll on the mid-sagittal plane (as a hot dog bun is sliced). Flip each side so the innards are facing up.

These are your two "strings." Pinch them at the end so they stay together. Make sure they both stay facing up. Place the right side over the left, then straighten, then do it again, "twisting" the two strings together until you get to the end. Finish the end by pinching the dough together. If anything falls out, tuck it back in.

Set in a greased 8x4 inch loaf pan. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and wait until it rising to about an inch from the top (don't let it go higher than this, or you'll get fig bits burning up the bottom of your oven).

Bake at 350 degrees F for 45-50 min. I found after 25 my top had browned quite enough for my taste. If that happens for you, slip from aluminum foil over it for the last half of the baking to prevent further browning.

(If you want it sweeter, use more jam. If you want it less sweet, use more dried figs. I recommend going more on the savory side for this one.)

July 18, 2015

CSA 2015: Week 5

Picked up another CSA box last week – this one was pretty fruit heavy.  I think switching CSAs was a good choice for us this year, since I would probably have been totally overwhelmed with the amount of vegetables in our form CSA… but I do find myself buying a lot of produce at the grocery store each week, whereas I didn’t buy a single vegetable between May and October the prior two years with our other CSA.

Two weeks ago, we received the following and this is how we used it:

  • 1 quart sour cherries: ate a handful or two raw and used the rest in a sauce for pork chops (recipe forthcoming)
  • 1 bunch rainbow chard: as per usual, sauteed and eaten with a poached egg
  • 1 bunch candy onions: used in a zucchini rice casserole and spinach chickpea curry
  • 5 green bell peppers: used in a zucchini rice casserole and spinach chickpea curry
  • 2 zucchini: zucchini rice casserole (recipe forthcoming)
  • 2 large cucumbers: umm… still sitting in my fridge – I don’t really like cucumbers
  • 6 ears of sweet corn: boiled (instead of our usual grilling) and enjoyed for our 4th of July dinner
  • 2 Pequea Valley Farms maple yogurts: delicious as always!

Untitled(photo from Greensgrow)

This week, we received:

  • 8 ounce container of quark cheese
  • 1 quart apricots
  • 1 bunch kale
  • 1 bunch sweet onions
  • 2 eggplants
  • 3/4 pound wax beans
  • 1 cantaloupe
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