Tag Archives: desserts

Traditions

Christmas is all about traditions. Like footie pajamas from Santa and popsicle stick ornaments handmade with love by little hands. Traditions are what make the holidays special. Tattered recipe cards smudged with chocolate. A blizzard of colored sugar over spritz cookies. An old tune that makes you smile. Tradition must be what keeps us coming back to this crazy, stressful thing called Christmas year after year. Without all those tiny nostalgic moments, the story that goes along with that ornament, the first taste of that signature holiday dish, this time of year just wouldn’t be the same.

When I was much younger, one of my favorite holiday traditions was going “downtown.” Chicago, that is. The Saturday before Christmas, we’d bundle up in mittens and scarves and head in to the Windy City. I loved the way the skyline appeared, familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Buildings blocked the already weakened winter sun, throwing cold shadows across miles of city sidewalks as we walked with a certain quickness in our step, trying to outrun the Jack Frost nipping at our noses.

After pausing for a photo op in front of the tree in Daley Plaza…

We’d walk another couple blocks to my favorite part of the trip – Marshall Fields and their fabulous holiday window displays. Tiny mechanized figures wove an intricate story behind glass that stretched an entire city block. When you’re 6, 7, 8…it was like pure magic.

When our noses where sniffly and our fingers and toes cold as ice, we’d push through the revolving glass doors under that famous clock and step inside to get warmed up. I loved going up to the higher floors and looking down on the Walnut Room with it’s beautiful towering tree, crisp white tablecloths and elegant place settings. It always made me want to trade my blue jeans and gym shoes for a red velvet dress, cream colored tights, and shiny black patent Mary Janes. And if you inhaled real deep, mingling among the sweet, powdery scent of perfume and the deep, earthy smell of leather there was a hint of something delicious in the air….

CHOCOLATE.

Boxes of Field’s famous Frango chocolates (handmade in the State Street store until well into the 90s) were always staple at holiday time. Just lifting the lid on that little green box smells like Christmas and memories. We all know what happened to Field’s (sad face) but luckily these little minty chocolate gems are still available at….that other store. I tend to snatch a box when they’re on sale. For nostalgia.

Another thing I tend to snatch up on sale is cookbooks. When I spotted this Marshall Field’s Cookbook in a used bookstore, I just couldn’t resist it. The best part? There’s an entire chapter devoted to treats featuring those tiny, tasty mints.

These Frango Mint Pots de Creme are like chocolate pudding all grown up. While I was a fan of simply stuffing chocolates in my mouth until I was ready to explode when I was younger, now I find it’s fun to take familiar flavors and turn them into something a bit more sophisticated. These creamy individual desserts are just the ticket.

What we have here is basically an ice cream base that’s baked instead of frozen. Milk. Yes. Cream. Of course. Egg yolks for extra richness and yumminess. Hells yes. Sometimes I find custards to be a bit too eggy for my tastes, but this….this is just creamy, minty, chocolatey, melt-in-your mouth perfection. With a generous dollop of fresh whipped cream and a few chocolate shavings, make these and you could have a new holiday tradition on your hands. You’ve been warned. πŸ™‚

FRANGO MINT POTS DE CRÈME (Recipe Source: The Marshall Field’s Cookbook)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 16 Frango mint chocolates, chopped, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • Fresh whipped cream, for serving

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees and place the rack in the center position. Bring milk to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped chocolates and stir until melted. Remove from heat and stir in the cream. Set aside to cool slightly.
  2. Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until well combined but not foamy. Slowly pour the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture, stirring constantly. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Let the mixture rest for ten minutes at room temperature.
  3. Divide the mixture among six 3/4-cup ramekins. Set the ramekins in a baking dish and place the dish in the oven. Pour hot water into the baking dish to reach about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until just set at the edges but still soft in the center. Do not overbake.
  4. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled. The custards can be made up to two days in advance and covered and refrigerated until ready to serve. Serve with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Serves 6.

ENJOY! πŸ™‚

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Kitchen Therapy

Somewhere in the middle of a nearly deserted interstate highway in rural southern Indiana, I thought I lost my driver’s license. It was intense, purse-clawing panic. You know, the kind where you empty every pocket, unzip every zipper again and again, pick your way through all the old receipts, even the ones with wads of used gum in them. Nowhere to be found.

Curse words. You better believe they were flying. Everywhere.

I could almost see the scene play out in my head – stepping up to the beer cart at a minor league baseball game in Lexington, Kentucky, tossing my out-of-place, out-of-state ID down onto the counter wet with foam poured off plastic cups, fiddling with money, fussing with change, and walking away hands full of frosty beverages but NOT important things like that silly little plastic card.

I *needed* that card. Two reasons.

1. I was on my way from Lexington to Chicago (with no stop at home) where I was to attend a bachelorette party for one of my best gals the next evening. If there’s one thing you need to party at Rush and Division, besides excellent defense against handsy drunks and a fistful of cash, it’s ID to prove you’re old enough to be there. If I didn’t have my license, I was going to miss all the fun!

2. It was my old license, from my old state, with my old address on it. Do you realize it would be dang near impossible to get a new license, in my new state, with my new address on it without that old one?

Hi, I’m Screwed!

I demanded my husband pull over on the side of the road so I could trade my purse-clawing (that was getting me nowhere, *obviously*) for luggage-clawing. It had to be in my suitcase. And I would stand there and litter the side of that highway with my dirty underwear until I found it.

Imagine my relief when I reached into the back pocket of the jeans I’d been wearing the previous night and pulled out what I was looking for. I almost dropped to my knees. Thank everything that is holy and more. I had the damn thing all along, it was just wasn’t where it belonged.

After that – oh, and the vacation, the rich and decadent food, the beds that weren’t my own, the staying up too late, the partying with my friends, the drinking too much, the trying to maneuver a cooler down the aisle of a Metra train which is much tougher and more exhausting than one might think – I needed a little bit of kitchen therapy. A little R&R for this road weary traveler.

So I gathered my mixing bowls and ingredients, stood with silent purpose alone in my sanctuary, the quiet interrupted only by tiny bursts of sound. The click of the oven while it preheats, the crack of an egg on the counter top, the swish of a knife through a ripe summer berry.

Ahhh. Perfect peace. Recovery. Me time.

Until that got boring. Then I turned up the tunes and belted out a few choice numbers while I used my whisk as a microphone, which is way better than a hairbrush, thankyouverymuch. Only then did I know I’m officially back in my element. Home.

Eric and I have had a very busy couple weeks here as of late. Traveling and celebrating and sightseeing and eating and drinking and what not. When we finally arrived home, I was craving something fresh and homemade but I didn’t want to spend *too* much time making it. A little time was okay. I just really wanted to get to the catching up my DVR and eating it part. Enter this Strawberry Summer Cake.

This is one of those simple, in the oven in 10 kind of recipes. My favorite kind! An entire pound of fresh, summer strawberries are nestled on top of a golden, buttery yellow cake and the entire thing is topped with a generous sprinkling sugar. The berries melt into the batter while the cake bakes, creating juicy, pudding-like pockets of goodness, all while the sugar caramelizes and forms an irresistible crunchy crust on top. Served with a generous dollop of fresh whipped cream, the contrasting textures in this cake make for a extraordinary dessert with almost no effort. It’s the perfect end to a big neighborhood cookout, a day at the lake, or just an ordinary weeknight dinner. If you’re a strawberry lover, you’ll love this.

Deb mentions she thought the original recipe for the cake may have been a tad on the sweet side. Since I’m one who believes there is such as thing as too sweet (gasp!), I went ahead and knocked back the sugar. I measured out the full 1 cup for the cake portion as directed but then took 2 tablespoons out of that 1 cup to set aside for the topping. So in the end, I had 1 cup of sugar total for the entire recipe, not 1 cup plus two tablespoons. Make sense? Great! Okay, time for dessert!

STRAWBERRY SUMMER CAKE (Recipe Source: Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, originally from Martha Stewart)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing pie plate
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350Β°F. Butter a 10-inch pie plate, a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate, or a 9- or 10-in springform pan.Β 
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. Measure 1 cup sugar and then remove 2 tablespoons of sugar from the measured cup to set aside for topping. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and 1 cup (minus the 2 tablespoons) sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined. Lower the mixer speed and gradually add dry ingredients, mixing until just smooth and fully combined.
  3. Pour batter into prepared pie plate. Arrange strawberries, cut side down, on top of batter, as close together and in as close to a single layer as possible (there will be some overlap). Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.
  4. Bake cake for 10 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 325Β°F and bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 50 minutes to 60 minutes. Let cool in pan on a rack. Cut into wedges. Serve with whipped cream. Store cake, loosely covered at room temperature, for up to 2 days. Serves 8 to 10.

ENJOY! πŸ™‚

One Year Ago: Honey Teriyaki Chicken Skewers with Scallion Brown Rice
Two Years Ago: Raspberry Peach Mini-Loaves
Three Years Ago: Peach Ice Cream

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In defense of November

Um, hey, Christmas? Yeah, I know your busy and all but…November called. He kinda wants his month back. You know, if it’s not too much trouble. K? Thanks.

Does anyone else feel a little sad for our old friend November? I mean, he’s kinda had his identity stolen. Somewhere along the long and winding road of recent history, November got all swallowed up by December and it’s big noise-maker Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the holiday season. The shopping, giving, tree-trimming, baking, wrapping, and caroling is all and well and good. But I like those things…in DECEMBER! I don’t know who decided it was okay for Christmas to steal the thunder from November but I really think he deserves a second chance to stand on his own two feet.

Anybody remember Thanksgiving? Yeah, you know that holiday that’s supposed to come BEFORE Christmas. That’s only been happening in November since, well…forever and we’ve all but forgot about it in favor of Christmas. Think about all the great things Thanksgiving has to offer. Family. Food!! A time for remembrance, reflection and gratefulness. Your first full day off work since Labor Day and there’s TWO of them?! Hello. Awesome.

Here’s a recipe that’s pure November. Forget about December’s candy canes, sugar cookies and eggnog for a second and remember our good pal Pumpkin. Sure, sure pumpkin pie is the star of the Thanksgiving dessert table but this here’s a recipe for another November day. Like say the Saturday after Thanksgiving. You’ve probably already inhaled the last of the pie at 5:00 a.m. the morning before on your way out to hit up the Black Friday sales. These Pumpkin Cheesecake Crumble Squares are the perfect accompaniment to an after Thanksgiving gathering of friends or a family game night. They’re a snap to make and even easier to eat. With they’re creamy, dreamy, spicy pumpkin filling, tangy sour cream topping and crunchy oat crumble, you’ll be begging November to stick around.

As noted in the reviews of the original recipe, the crust/crumble portion of the recipe seems a bit off proportion-wise for a 9×9 inch pan. I made all of it and did end up with some leftover even after topping my squares. If you are a super math whiz, you may want to reduce the crust recipe by a fourth or so. I’m mentally incapable of doing that sort of thing (true story) so I’ll just go ahead and leave that up to you. πŸ˜‰ Full recipe appears below.

PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE CRUMBLE SQUARES (Recipe adapted from: Bon Appetit, October 2006 via Epicurious.com)

For the crust:

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 cup pecan halves (about 4 ounces)
  • 3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
For the filling:

  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup canned pure pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
For the topping:

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
DIRECTIONS:
Prepare the crust:
  1. Preheat oven to 350Β°F. Spray a 9x9x2-inch metal baking pan with cooking spray. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Set aside.
  2. Pulse first 4 ingredients in processor until coarse meal forms. Add pecans; pulse until nuts are chopped. Add oats; pulse until mixture is moistened but not clumping. Press about 3/4 of crumb mixture onto bottom of prepared square pan (do not clean processor). Transfer remaining crumbs to lined baking sheet. Bake crumbs on sheet until golden, stirring once, about 10 minutes. Cool crumbs. Bake crust until golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven while preparing filling. Maintain oven temperature.
Prepare the filling:
  1. Blend all the filling ingredients in same processor until smooth. Spread filling over warm crust; bake until set, dry in center, and beginning to rise at edges, about 20 minutes. Maintain oven temperature.
Prepare topping:
  1. Mix all ingredients in small bowl. Spread evenly over hot filling. Bake until topping sets and bubbles at edges, about 5 minutes. Cool completely in pan on rack. Sprinkle reserved crumbs over topping; gently press into topping. Cover; chill until cold and set, about 2 hours. Can be made up to 2 days before serving. Keep chilled. Cut into squares. Makes 16 servings.
ENJOY!
One Year Ago: Pumpkin-Apple Streusel Cake. Uh, want. In my face. Now.
Two Years Ago: I got nothin’. NaNo was consuming me.

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Hail to the Orange…

My dad says you can’t “quit” your team. Whatever team you cheer for, if you are true fan, it doesn’t matter how bad they do, how much they frustrate you, how much you want to hurl more than just a few choice words at the television set, you will love them always and forever. No matter what. They are in your blood. No. Matter. What.

This is a man who has spent his entire life devoted to a certain Chicago baseball team that shall remain nameless. Let me give you a hint…the last time this team won a World Series was in 1908. Yeah… I think he knows his stuff.

My dad has another team in his blood and it’s one we share. Easy to do, considering we are both very proud alumni of the same school – the University of Illinois! And we BLEED orange and blue!

Okay. I know, I know…so maybe there were a couple seasons here recently where they didn’t win a single conference game. Maybe they’re never ranked. Maybe there’s no national championships in the near future. There may not even be a cut rate bowl game in the immediate future….we haven’t opened Big Ten play yet this year.

Doesn’t matter. Still love them. Still tune in every Saturday without fail. Still wear my orange and blue loud and proud. No matter what!Β  I just can’t help it!

When I saw that Amy from Sing for Your Supper picked FOOTBALL as the theme for this month’s You Want Pies with That? I just knew I’d have to create a Fighting Illini themed pie. How fun!

When I was in school in Champaign, we always, ALWAYS, saw the game on Dad’s Day. Two Illini side by side (and Mom too! An Illini by association.) in the Horseshoe cheering on our boys in orange and blue. Dad and I always ended up hoarse from cheering.

I-L-L….I-N-I!

So maybe we haven’t played the best ball in the last ten years (save for that AMAZING victory over Ohio State three years ago) but I think that is the BEST cheer in college sports. Not that I’m biased or anything. πŸ˜‰

Anyway, I put on my UIUC-issued thinking cap and got to brainstorming my football themed pie. Did I want it to be inspired by the school, the teams colors or a football experience I had there? Could I turn the night the fans turned on the Michigan marching band after a terrible call, grabbed a tuba and tried to drag it into the stands into a pie? Hmmm. That sounds like something… Or did I want it to be tailgate friendly, crowd friendly, or college kid friendly?

We don’t live in Illinois anymore and haven’t been back to campus is over two years (BOO!) so it’s not like we’re tailgating every weekend. And since I feel like a tiny, homesick Orange and Blue fish in a giant Black and Gold sea and was once booed at while wearing my Illini hoodie in the Wal-Mart by a guy in Hawkeyes cap, it’s not like we have throngs of fellow fans coming over to watch the game. 😦

Man, it’s getting whiny and sad in here. I know what will help…PIE!

I decided to go with a pie inspired by the colors that always make me smile and remember good times…ORANGE AND BLUE. Nowhere are the colors orange and blue more prominent on t-shirts, in wigs and in crazy body paint than in Block I – the student cheering section at Illini home football games.

Here’s a couple collegiate fun facts for you – did you know, started in 1910, Block I is one of the oldest student cheering sections in the US? Did you know the practice of holding up colored cards to make words or pictures in the stands was done for the first time in 1926 by…you guessed it, Block I! Block I is all about camaraderie and tradition and so is the University. That’s why, my daddy and me (and my husband too), we are pretty darn proud to be able to say we’re a part of it.

So without further ado, I present my Block I Pie! A graham cracker crust filled with a creamy, no-bake ORANGE filling and topped with sweet BLUEberries. And orange and blue treat fit for any Illini fan. πŸ™‚ It’s easy to make and tastes amazing. I like the addition of a bit of cinnamon to my graham cracker crusts for an additional level of flavor, but feel free to leave it out if you’re not a fan. The filling tastes like a dreamsicle and the blueberries are the perfect accompaniment. A real WINNING combo!

A note on the recipe below. I found a no-bake cheesecake filling that sounded promising and could easily adapt into an orange flavor. Then I tried to halve it. Considering I have a degree from such a fine institution and everything, you would think I’d be handle that.

Well. Apparently not. Perhaps I skipped one too many math lectures in my time because I screwed up the proportions and ended up with filling that was a tad soft. I think I added too much juice. It firmed up just fine after a trip the freezer (and was subsequently fine stored in the fridge), but I’m going to share the full recipe below so that you don’t end up with mushy filling too. I’ll let you halve it on your own. πŸ˜‰ Put those degrees to work, people!

Note that the full recipe will yield TWO 10-inch tarts or ONE 9-inch springform pan.

GO ILLINI!

BLOCK I PIE (Recipe inspired by: Martha Stewart)

For the crust:

  • 2 sleeves honey graham crackers (about 18 full crackers), crushed into fine crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted (more if needed)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine cracker crumbs, cinnamon, sugar in a small bowl. Add butter and stir until crumbs are moistened. Pour crumbs into your pan of choice and firmly press into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Bake in preheated oven until golden brown and set, about 10 minutes. Remove and let cool completely.

For the orange cheesecake filling:

  • 2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 14-ounce can (1 1/4 cups) sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 teaspoons fresh orange zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Using an electric mixer set at medium-high speed, beat the cream cheese in a large bowl until smooth. Beat in the condensed milk a little at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the zest, orange juice and vanilla.
Pour the filling into prepared crust and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 2 hours.
For the blueberry topping:
*Note: if making the full recipe in two tart pans, I would double this if you want to spread it on top of each one. If you’re just spooning it over the top of each slice, this is probably enough. This will also be enough topping to spread on 1 9-inch pie. Adjust to meet your needs! πŸ™‚
  • 1 pint fresh blueberries
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar (or more to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally until the berries reduce and thicken, about 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely before serving or spreading on top of chilled pie. Garnish finished pie with whipped cream, orange zest and orange slices.

ENJOY! πŸ™‚

One Year Ago: Spicy Sesame Peanut Noodles with Grilled Eggplant
Two Years Ago: Spaghetti with Salami and Peppers

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Awkward.

Cooking in someone else’s kitchen is a lot like…wearing someone else’s bathing suit.

The whole situation is the definition of awkward. Something just doesn’t feel right about it. You’re uncomfortable. Squeamish and fidgety. You just can’t stop thinking about how it’s not YOURS.Β  Oh, and of course you’re concerned about cleanliness – both before and after. πŸ˜‰

I made this delicious key lime pie at my parent’s house so I guess it wasn’t THAT awkward…and cleanliness obviously wasn’t a problem. They don’t live in the house I grew up in anymore and I just can’t find a thing in there! So maybe I’m not super uncomfortable, but I am super inefficient. Imagine opening every drawer in the kitchen looking for a spatula. Like six times. Even the one with the oven mitts in it!! Every five seconds…OVEN MITTS! DANG IT!

So it may have taken me just a smidge longer than usual to make this pie. And squeezing dozens of tiny limes made it take even longer. And maybe the whole oven mitt thing made it slightly awkward. Once you get passed all that fun stuff, the rest is pretty easy and well worth the effort.

It’s parts are pretty simple and unassuming. Graham cracker crust, creamy custard filling and freshly whipped cream. Together? It’s almost magical. Tropical. Warm ocean breezes. Sand between your toes. Lying on the beach in your (own) bathing suit. Please wear your own. Borrowed bathing suits? That’s just wrong. Anyway, the key limes add such a great tartness to the sweetness and creaminess of the filling. It’s cheek-puckeringly delicious. Give it try this summer!

KEY LIME PIE (Recipe Source: Gourmet, May 2003 via Epicurious.com)

INGREDIENTS:

For the crust:

  • 1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs from 9 (2 1/4-inch by 4 3/4-inch) crackers
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (I used fat free with great results)
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh or bottled Key lime juice (about 2 dozen)

DIRECTIONS:

Make the crust:
Preheat oven to 350Β°F.

Stir together graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a bowl with a fork until combined well, then press mixture evenly onto bottom and up side of a 9-inch (4-cup) glass pie plate.

Bake crust in middle of oven 10 minutes and cool in pie plate on a rack. Leave oven on.

Make the filling and bake:
Whisk together condensed milk and yolks in a bowl until combined well. Add juice and whisk until combined well (mixture will thicken slightly).

Pour filling into crust and bake in middle of oven 15 minutes. Cool pie completely on rack (filling will set as it cools), then chill, covered, at least 8 hours. Top with fresh whipped cream before serving. Serves 8.

ENJOY! πŸ™‚

One Year Ago: Blueberry Chipotle Chutney
Two Years Ago: Raspberry Pineapple Sorbet

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Anatomy of Summer

Let’s dissect summer. Let’s cut it open and probe its insides with supplies from your high school biology classroom. Sans Smelly Lab Partner, of course. That kinda sounds like work, huh? And it may get messy, so be ready for that. The goal of this experiment? To figure out what makes summer.

A couple of rules before we get started. I know. I can just suck all the fun out of everything, it seems. Listen up. These rules could save your summer.

Proper attire is required in the lab. Closed toed shoes are not allowed – flip flops only. Put on your safety (sun)glasses on before you begin. Once you get started, a lot of glorious, bright sunshine will pour out. πŸ™‚

Ready? Let’s do this. *fist pump.*

Okay. Here we go. Make a big slit down the center and clear away all the snow, cold and wind to get straight to the good stuff.

Let’s get out our trusty microscopes here and have a look see.

Hm. What do we have here…

Ah…cold, frosty beverages. Of the Not Very Fancy variety for Not Very Fancy people. Enjoyed outside on the deck surrounded by wide open spaces and fresh country air. Yes. An essential part of summer.

Hot grills. Featuring lots of sizzling meats and veggies. (Like red onions to top yummy burgers) Keep that frosty beverage near by! It’s hot out there! πŸ™‚ Also Gotta Have It for summer.

Note the abundance of COLORS! Gorgeous greens. Vibrant pink flowers. Pretty yellow butterflies. Summer is downright stunning, don’t you think? Are you taking accurate notes? This will be on the exam.

Hey! No gum chewing! πŸ˜‰

Moving on!

For the next part of this assignment, we’re going to see what the inside of summer tastes like. Now, don’t be scared. While winter is bitter and leaves a bad taste in your mouth, summer is oh-so sweet. And full of fresh flavor.

Summer is plump, juicy blueberries that burst like 4th of July fireworks on your tongue.

Summer is succulent strawberries, so candy sweet you’d think they were spun from pure sugar.

Summer is dark, ripe cherries, full of rich juice that stain your lips and fingers.

Perfection.

Now, if we get out our beakers and test tubes and things and mix up all these summer flavors with a few other essentials, we can take all these goodies and turn them into…

PIE! Summer-kissed Cherry Berry Pie.

Wait.

Abort! Abort!

Something went wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong.

Well, the pie kind of failed but it still tasted great and no one needed to use that creepy eye rinse station thing in the corner of science classrooms, so that’s a plus.

Grade: B-

This pie. Kind of a failure. Why? Because it was way way too runny. Why was it runny? Because I tried to change the original recipe too much. Oops.

The original recipe calls for fresh tart cherries and I subbed sweet cherries. Unless you’re growing tart cherries yourself or have an exceptional farmer’s market near by, good luck finding these. The season is exceptionally short. I have a feeling the dark, sweet cherries we’re all used to are a LOT juicier than their tart brothers. Add berries into the mix, which are super juicy too, and you’ve got a recipe for runny pie filling. And failure.

So. The flavor combo in the filling is all kinds of amazing. I knocked back the sugar a bit to keep it from being too sweet and the flavor was spot on amazing. I loved the crunchy crumb topping too. But, like I said, awfully juicy. So juicy in fact, that I couldn’t actually get a clean slice. Blarg! The ultimate pie failure!

I think the runniness factor can be remedied and I reflected that in the recipe below. I would toss the fruit in the sugar and let some of the juice drain away for an hour or so before putting it in the pie shell. That may help.

If you try this pie and it’s runny, I apologize. At least I’m being honest about my experience! All you baking geniuses out there can make it work, I think! A couple of tweaks and I think this could be a really perfect summer pie. Good luck!

I’m submitting this pie for the July You Want Pies with That? blogging event. I was honored and humbled to choose this month’s Summer Fruit theme! Thanks again ladies!! Can’t see what next month brings.

Class dismissed!

CHERRY-BERRY CRUMBLE PIE (Recipe adapted from: Taste of Home)

INGREDIENTS:

For the pie:

  • 2 cups fresh cherries, pitted and halved
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup chopped fresh strawberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch (or your favorite thickening agent)
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • Dash salt
  • 1 9-in pie crust

For the topping:

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup rolled oats
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces.
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Combine fruit and sugar in a large bowl and let sit at room temperature for about 45 minutes to an hour. Drain off as much juice as you can. (Save the juice…add it to lemon or limeade!) Add cornstarch, lemon juice and almond extract.
  2. Roll out pie pastry and place in a 9-inch pie plate. Trim off excess (and use it to make a pretty border, if desired.) Sprinkle the bottom with a little flour. Add fruit mixture.
  3. Make the topping: Combine first 6 ingredients in a small bowl. Add butter and cut into mixture with a pastry blender until pea-sized crumbs form. Stir in almonds. Sprinkle topping over fruit mixture.
  4. Bake on a cookie sheet at 400 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes, until filling is bubbly and topping is browned. Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing. Serves 8.

ENJOY! πŸ™‚

One Year Ago: Strawberry Blueberry Buckle
Two Years Ago: Oven Fried Chicken

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Easy as Pie

I never understood that expression.

Pie, in it’s entirety, is not all that easy. Everything from the crust to the filling to lifting that very first piece out of the pan without mangling it beyond recognition can be temperamental, tedious and terrifying. Think about all the things that can go wrong with a pie. Tough crust, chewy crust, burned crust. Filling that’s too runny, too dry, too sweet. Murphy’s Law of Pie states: If it can go wrong, it will.

To the non-baker, saying something is easy as pie is like saying easy as climbing Mt. Everest or easy as performing open heart surgery on a squirrel with special tiny instruments.

Unless, of course, you are an actual squirrel surgeon, in which case, I’m impressed. πŸ˜‰

I like to bake and I consider myself to be pretty good at it…but I don’t think pies are easy. Not by a long shot. I petition that we formally change the expression from “easy as pie” to “easy as tart.” Because tarts are SO much easier than pie. Especially one with no pastry involved.

For this month’s You Want Pies with That? challenge, Suz of You Can’t Eat What? and Sara of Cupcake Muffin chose pretty much the best theme EVER!

Wait for it…

Summer drinks! I’ll take my pie with a cocktail umbrella by the pool, please and thank you! I was so excited about this month and couldn’t wait to reach into the liquor cabinet and start baking!

Now, if I had to choose my favorite cocktail, I think it would be a margarita. On the rocks, straight up, with lots of salt. None of that frozen, blended strawberry, peach, raspberry, kiwi stuff. The classic lime flavor of a really good margarita is the most refreshing thing ever. Booze, citrus and salt…those are the only flavors I’m looking for when I order a margarita.

I’ve had this tart from Guy Fieri for…oh, ever. πŸ™‚ It’s the simplicity of the dessert along with it’s close resemblance to my favorite cocktail that drew me in. I really and truly loved this tart. The filling is smooth, creamy and tart. There is a definite bite of tequila in the background. If you’re sensitive to the taste alcohol, you may want to knock back the amount of booze in the recipe. The best part? It comes together faster than you can say “Another round for my friends!”

The crust is a mixture of vanilla wafer cookies, nuts and melted butter, crushed into crumbs in the food processor and then pressed into a tart pan with a removable bottom and par-baked. The original recipe calls for pine nuts, but those can be expensive and I had some whole almonds leftover from a recent ice cream making adventure, so I subbed those. The filling is a simple mixture made with freshly squeezed lime juice, tequila, eggs and a can of sweetened condensed milk. I used fat-free with great results. Beating the egg whites into peeks is the most time consuming part of the recipe! It all comes together wonderfully. This tart is proof that sometimes, it’s the simple stuff that’s the most satisfying.

Finally, a confession: Since it’s just us eating this bad boy, the decoration piped on is in fact Cool Whip and not freshly whipped cream. Hey, I was busy this weekend…gimme a break.Β  And actually, I like Cool Whip. LOL. If I was entertaining with dessert (which it is totally worthy of, by the way) I would absolutely use the real stuff. I hope you’ll give this a try soon!

CHEERS! πŸ™‚

TEQUILA LIME TART (Recipe adapted from: Guy Fieri via Foodnetwork.com)

INGREDIENTS:

For the crust:

  • 10 ounces vanilla wafers
  • 1/3 cup whole toasted almonds
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted

For the filling:

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup tequila
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • Fresh whipped cream, for serving

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  2. Add wafers and pine nuts to food processor, pulse until well ground up. Pour into bowl and add melted butter. Mix by hand, with a wooden spoon, and press into 10-inch tart pan.
  3. Place tart pan in the oven and bake for 8 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare filing. In a mixing bowl add egg whites and sugar, beat until there are soft peaks.
    In another mixing bowl, add remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  5. Gently fold in the egg whites. Pour into tart shell and bake for 25 minutes. Let cool before cutting and serve with fresh whipped cream. Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator.

ENJOY! πŸ™‚

One Year Ago: Chicken with Mustard Mascarpone Sauce
Two Years Ago: Pineapple Strawberry Bars

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Filed under desserts, fruit