Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pumpkin Buttermilk Pie

Has it really been almost 2 weeks since Thanksgiving!? Where did last week go? Oh yeah, it was swallowed up by the ugly bug that’s been lazily kicking the crap out of my immune system and other bodily functions. Let’s just say...I wouldn’t recommend drinking the pink eye tears of a toddler. That’s a story for another time. 

Did you think the long hiatus between posts was because I was compiling a mass of Thanksgiving pictures? A collage of every dish and paragraphs upon paragraphs of wordy description? Sorry to disappoint, but I have a confession to make - I didn’t take any pictures during Thanksgiving. None. My camera battery is still sitting on the charger, currently residing under my feet. I don’t know who I am anymore! But that’s just what happens when you spend 2 days in the kitchen and 5 days entertaining family.

Ah family. My family. And our ridiculously stubborn adherence to superfluous traditions. I love that about us. A movie on Christmas day, preferably on a sci-fi or fantasy theme. It’s tradition! Mom reading the Polar Express in front of the fireplace on Christmas Eve. It’s tradition! Me squeezing behind the driver’s seat on any family outing, even though the passenger side has more legroom. It’s tradition! And of course, Thanksgiving comes with its own set of traditions. Starting, naturally, with the menu. Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie are the musts. I remember the year my mom tried to get away with not serving mashed potatoes. My sister called a family holiday party foul and made them herself. I might have helped, but I was a lazy, moody teenager, so I probably didn’t. Sorry sis!

Sure, every family has dishes they love and want year after year. In my family, we actually have dishes a lot of us don’t like, but we make anyway. Like the cranberry sauce. My sister always takes a no-thank-you helping, so I knew she wasn’t a fan. But it wasn’t until this year that I realized my parents also aren’t cranberry sauce eaters. Yet it’s always on the table! Well, minus the year my mom had it in the nice serving bowl, sitting in the fridge, and forgot to take it out. Guess now I know why she didn’t miss it. Heh. I probably could have gotten away with not having any, but I figured it’d be way more fun to try and make a cranberry sauce everyone would actually enjoy. Not to mention...it’s tradition! I made a cranberry applesauce, hoping the natural sweetness from the apples would be a nice contrast to the tartness from the cranberries without the cloying sweetness of regular sugar. Along with a little fresh ginger to make it more savory and a healthy glug of Grand Marnier (ok, maybe two healthy glugs, after encouragement from my mom), it was a success. My sister had seconds!

I’m sure I’m blowing the minds of my family as they read this post. Can you believe I used to be a picky eater? There were several foods I didn’t like, and even more foods I probably would have liked fine, but still wouldn’t eat. For years I thought I didn’t like guacamole. Really my sister didn’t like it, and I had just taken her word for it. And now I’m talking about changing people’s minds about foods they don’t like! I’m blowing my own mind here.

The pumpkin pie at my Thanksgiving table has a bit of a history. My grandma, on my dad’s side, always brought the pumpkin pie. She wasn’t a baker (not that there’s anything wrong with that), so she would dump a can of Libby’s pumpkin pie filling into a store-bought crust, bake it, and bring it over with a can of reddi-wip. To me, that was pumpkin pie. It was good and all, but I didn’t exactly grow up with the impression that pumpkin was the be-all and end-all of pie flavorings. Turns out my mom doesn’t even like pumpkin pie. How did I never know these things before?!

This year I wanted to make a pumpkin pie from scratch. A good one. My first attempt was a bust. I don’t want to talk about it...except to say that I took issue with the massive amounts of heavy cream and sugar the recipe called for. Then I saw a recipe for a sweet potato buttermilk pie that used lowfat buttermilk instead of heavy cream, and folded in whipped up egg whites for a light and fluffy texture. I was intrigued! After my mom mentioned what she didn’t like about pumpkin pie was the puddingy texture, I thought this might be just the thing. So I swapped out the sweet potato for pumpkin, but kept just a little sweet potato in there for a flavor boost. Pumpkin can be a little on the bland side, ya know. I adjusted the seasonings, upped the sugar (sweet potatoes are sweeter than pumpkin, after all), and of course, I added booze! It’s not pumpkin [insert delicious baked good here] without bourbon, right? Another thing that turned me onto this recipe was blind-baking the crust first. No worries about a soupy pie or a soggy crust.

The resulting pie was a light, fluffy, spiced pumpkin cloud.  And still so silky smooth without the heaviness. The trick was definitely folding in the egg whites. It really kept the pie light. I was concerned the lightness of the texture and lack of fat would lose the pumpkin pie flavor, but the spices still came through beautifully. And the hint of sweet potato added a nice layer of sweetness. It seemed to be a success. It didn't last long, and as my mom put it, “Julie, I enjoyed my slice...and I don’t even like pumpkin pie.” Good enough for me! Into the archives this recipe goes.

But wait! I haven’t even mentioned the whipped cream! It was an afterthought. Spur of the moment. I bought heavy whipping cream, thinking I would just whip it up with a little sugar right before dessert. Nothing special, but better than the canned stuff. Well 4 glasses of wine and a big turkey dinner later I had the bright idea to whip that cream with maple syrup and a splash of bourbon instead...

Oh my word. 

That is all that can be said about this whipped cream. Nevermind the two pies and vanilla ice cream I had on the table for dessert. I wanted to just eat gobs and gobs of this whipped cream. Yeah. It was that good. It went great on the pie. I highly recommend you don’t skip it.

PS: If you're wondering why I have pictures of the pie when I said I didn't take any, it's because this was my test run.  It was a new recipe after all.  Better safe and full of pie than sorry, right?

Pumpkin Buttermilk Pie
adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Sweet Potato Buttermilk Pie

½ cup mashed sweet potato (1 small potato, poked with fork and microwaved for 7 mins)
1 14oz can pumpkin puree
4 TB unsalted butter, melted
2 TB fresh lemon juice
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp kosher salt
3 large eggs, separated
½ cup sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
2 TB AP flour
3 TB bourbon
¾ cup buttermilk
1 pre-baked pie crust (recipe below)
maple bourbon whipped cream (recipe below)

  1. In a medium bowl, mix together the sweet potato and pumpkin puree. Add the butter, lemon juice, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom, and salt and mix thoroughly after each addition. 
  2. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks lightly with a whisk for about 30 seconds. Add the sugar and beat until they’re a creamy light yellow color, about 2 minutes. Add the egg mixture to the pumpkin mixture and stir until the eggs are fully incorporated. Add the flour a little at a time, stirring after each addition until thoroughly incorporated. Add the buttermilk and bourbon and stir until incorporated. 
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites to soft peaks in a clean, dry bowl. With a spatula, gently fold the egg whites, one-third at a time, into the sweet potato-buttermilk mixture until thoroughly combined. Pour the mixture into the pre-baked crust and bake on the middle rack of the oven set at 375 degrees until the center is firm and set, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool the pie completely on a rack, then chill for at least 4 hours before serving. 

For the pie crust:
1 ¼ cups flour
1 ½ tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 TB ice cold vodka (or substitute water)
ice cold water

  1. Cut the butter into small pieces (I do quarter tablespoons), and place in the freezer along with the vodka for about 30 minutes, or until it just starts to freeze. 
  2. In a small bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Dump the mixture out onto a large cutting board or clean counter. Using a bench scraper (a rolling pin also works), work in the frozen butter by smooshing the flat side of the bench scraper into the flour, scooping and mixing it often. When the butter pieces are all flattened and well incorporated, use your fingers to break up any large pieces until they are pea-sized. Sprinkle the vodka over the dough and mix, then 1 TB at a time, add enough water until the dough just comes together, and all the flour is incorporated. Knead the dough into a ball and cover tightly in plastic wrap. Smoosh the dough flat into a hockey puck shape and refrigerate for 1 hour. 
  3. After the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 325 degrees and place the dough on a well-floured cutting board or clean counter. Turning often, and using as much flour as you need to keep it from sticking, roll the dough into an even layer about ¼” thick, or until it is large enough to fit into your 9” pie plate with ½” overhanging. Move the dough to the pie plate and trim any excess dough, leaving that ½” overhang. Fold and pinch the edges of the dough around the pie plate so it’s nice and pretty. 
  4. Lay a sheet of aluminum foil over the dough and carefully on scatter pie weights (I use dried beans). Bake on the middle rack of your oven for 12 minutes. Remove the pie weights and the foil, prick the bottom of the crust with a fork, and bake for another 10 minutes. 

For the maple bourbon whipped cream:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 TB maple syrup
1 TB bourbon

  1. In a stand mixer, add the cream, maple syrup, and bourbon. Start the mixer at a low speed and work up to high to avoid splashing. Whip the mixture until it is thickened. Taste the whipped cream and add more cream, maple syrup, or bourbon according to your preference. If you’re shy, you might want to start with just a tsp or two of the bourbon. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lightened Up Green Bean Casserole

It will come as a surprise to no one when I tell you that I am a big fan of Thanksgiving. Besides being a holiday whose sole purpose is the celebrate food (let’s face it, that whole giving thanks concept is just an excuse to stuff our faces...and I’m okay with that), it’s one of only two holidays where my whole family generally congregates together - the other being our Passover seder, which I consider Thanksgiving for Jews (plus singing!). I love family congregation! Which is why I also never miss a wedding, graduation, or other fun family party.

Due to my current reduced circumstances, Husband and I decided to forgo travel this year and just stay at home. Thankfully our families are awesome - his parents (and their canine companion), my parents, and my sister, her husband and my nephew are all coming to town to celebrate with us. Yay! Also due to my reduced circumstances, I have a lot of alone time on my hands, and I spend a lot of it thinking about food. Okay, most of it.  As a result I’m not just excited for Turkey Day, I am Thanksgivingsessed! I had the menu all planned out a month ago. Actually, more like two. I have since also created an Excel spreadsheet that details ingredient totals, my shopping list, a to-do list for the week, and a full schedule for the day before and the day of. I may be crazy, but the first step is admitting you have a problem right? Anyway, I’m also playing it smart. I’m planning to tackle most of the cooking myself, so I have to make sure I have my game plan all worked out. How else would I have realized that while I'm baking two pies, I only have one pie plate?  No worries, the problem is already solved.  I do get flustered cooking on a schedule, but with everything planned to a T, how could anything go wrong? Yes, I know I just ensured that everything will go wrong. But between all the guests, there will be more than enough cooks in the kitchen to sort things out. I’m breezy!

Besides being in need of a fun project, our families have been so awesome and supportive this year, we’d really like to treat them a nice dinner. It’s the least we could do. So we’re going all out! A 16lb heritage turkey, free-range and organic of course, brined and roasted, and with all the fixins around the table: gravy, cranberry applesauce, grilled mashed potatoes, sourdough apple pecan stuffing (technically dressing since Husband is squeamish about bird germs), beets with a balsamic reduction, hashed Brussels sprouts, sweet potato rolls, and - as I mentioned - two kinds of pie for dessert. Apple and buttermilk pumpkin pie, with vanilla ice cream on the side. I’m sure I’ll be posting all about it after next week. Of course, a lot of those recipes aren’t mine (some are!), so I’ll post links at the bottom of this post in case someone is in need of ideas.  I can vouch for them all except the stuffing, though I'm sure it'll be delicious. And if those don't entice, I may have developed my own Thanksgiving side last weekend. Read on!

This isn't my first time hosting my family for Thanksgiving, but it is the first time since my big transformation. I wanted to keep all the familiar flavors, but put the Julie spin on them, so last weekend I tried out some recipes - roasted one of those cheap $5 turkeys from Vons and made gravy from pan drippings for the first time (killed it!). I also used it as an excuse to make some dishes that didn’t quite fit into my Thanksgiving menu.

See, I had been toying with the idea of green bean casserole. Thanksgiving + Food Network = lots of mention of green bean casserole. I was thinking of the one traditionally made with condensed cream of mushroom soup and crispy fried onions on top. That dish doesn’t so much scream yummy deliciousness to me, more like heavy, preservative-induced stomachache. But the flavors of the casserole still appeal. Plump green beans in a creamy sauce with earthy mushrooms and fragrant herbs, topped with sweet onions and just a little crispy crunch for texture. Sounds good, right? Well I set about seeing if I could lighten the dish up and make it into something presentable. I don’t know if I accomplished presentable, but it sure was tasty. 

I started with frozen green beans - haricot verts from Trader Joe’s, actually. Then I created the mushroom cream sauce using evaporated milk. I hadn’t used evaporated milk before, and the stuff is just great. It’s just milk with some of the water evaporated out, so it’s already nice and thickened, but much lighter than using cream. I caramelized onions, since that’s my favorite way to eat them. But caramelized onions are soft and buttery, not crispy crunchy. No problem. After the onions caramelized, I added a little butter to the pan with some bread crumbs, and tossed everything together. I topped the green beans coated in the mushroom cream sauce with the onions and bread crumbs, and after it baked up, it came together juuuuust right. Plump green beans, creamy mushroom sauce, and sweet onions with a crunch. Mission accomplished!  Panko bread crumbs would probably  be even crunchier and better (I buy whole wheat panko), but I had some whole wheat bread to use up, so use whatever is easier for you.  Next time I might experiment with throwing some walnuts in as well, though I would probably catch flack from Husband, since he's really not a walnut fan.  It's terrible, I know.

I'm always fascinated by other families and their own traditions.  What are you doing for Thanksgiving?  Pot luck or solo hosting?  What's in the menu?  And finally, how delicious is Thanksgiving food?  Right?!

Green Bean Casserole

Makes about 18 servings

2 16oz bags of frozen green beans, thawed (or fresh and blanched)
16oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 12oz can evaporated milk
1 medium shallot, minced
5-6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 TB dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp celery seeds (optional)
1 cup white wine
2 TB flour
4 TB unsalted butter, divided
2 medium onions, quartered and sliced
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1/2 to 3/4 cup whole wheat bread crumbs (~3 slices of bread) or panko bread crumbs
2TB olive oil
kosher salt to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. You’ll also need a 9x13” baking dish. 
  2. In a medium skillet, heat 1TB olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt. Sweat the onions until their water is released, stirring often to prevent browning. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions turn golden brown and caramelize, about 45 minutes. 
  3. Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, heat 1TB olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of kosher salt, and cook until the mushrooms have given up their water and softened, about 7 minutes. Add the paprika, pepper, cayenne, thyme, sage, and celery seeds, mix everything together and cook for 1 minute. 
  4. Clear a space in the pan and add 2TB of butter. Once it melts, mix in the flour, and let the mixture cook for a minute or two to remove any raw flour flavor. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up all the browned bits. Simmer the mixture until about half the wine has cooked out. Add the evaporated milk and stir to combine everything. Let the mixture simmer for about 3 minutes, until it has thickened a bit. 
  5. Turn off the heat and stir in the green beans, tossing until they are well coated in the mushroom mixture. Pour the green beans into your baking dish and set aside. 
  6. Once the onions have caramelized, add the white wine vinegar and toss to coat. Melt the remaining 2TB of butter, and when it has melted, add the bread crumbs and toss until the bread crumbs are well-coated with butter and evenly mixed with the onions. Spoon the bread crumb and onion mixture over the green beans in an even layer. Bake the casserole for about 45 minutes, or until the topping is a crunchy golden brown. 

Links for Thanksgiving dishes:
Cranberry applesauce
Sourdough apple pecan stuffing
Sweet potato rolls
Hashed Brussels sprouts

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Butterscotch Swiss Meringue Buttercream

One week before Halloween my adorable little nephew turned one year old. It was kind of a big deal for me. He is my only sister’s only child (thus far), and I absolutely love him to death. My sister threw a fun family party to celebrate, with a full compliment of party fixin’s - balloons, streamers, deviled eggs, and, of course, cake!

After we all met up in Reno a few months ago my sister gave me an assignment: come up with a recipe for my nephew’s first birthday cake. And I took it seriously. I didn’t want to let the little guy down! So I thought about flavors, researched recipes, and practiced a few test-runs to get things juuuuust right. And when I was confident in my creation, I handed the final, approved recipe over to my sis. Here are the results of her deft hand:

Way to decorate, sis!

Since the party was taking place so close to Halloween, my sister was thinking something with pumpkin. Pumpkin just so happens to be one of my favorite Fall flavors! I was looking forward to experimenting with recipes...just a tiny bit. There were just a few conditions. First, no chocolate. I guess the caffeine in cocoa isn’t great for the wee ones. Second, no lemon or banana cake. My sister isn’t a fan of lemon cake, and my mom is in the banana = ick camp. Such a shame on both counts, in my opinion. Finally, and most importantly, no cream cheese frosting. Sis doesn't do cream cheese frosting - it’s the tangy flavor. She hates it. She’s actually foregone eating cupcakes from her favorite local cupcakery because she unknowingly bought one with cream cheese frosting.

With these parameters in mind, I came up with a spiced-up pumpkin cake. Since the more traditional cream cheese frosting was off the table, I took inspiration from my favorite pumpkin cookies, and decided on a butterscotch buttercream. Pumpkin and butterscotch is a fantastic combination. Ever had it? You should. It’s yum. But butterscotch sauce is sweet. Super duper sweet. Husband says I’m just extra sensitive, but I thought my first butterscotch buttercream - a simple butter and powdered sugar mixture - was way too sweet. I didn’t see a way to reduce the sugar, so I just made some adjustments to help balance it. I added some acid. A little lemon juice really brightened up the flavor and gave the sweet somewhere to go. Also, I switched to a Swiss meringue buttercream. The light, fluffy texture did a good job of distributing the sweet on my palette, and was especially delicious paired with the warm spices of the cake.

The third and final test run I made a finished cake and brought it over to share with some lovely ladies I know. This cake here...

...was a big hit! Our host insisted on no leftovers, sent us home with every morsel of food, but when I asked her if she wanted the last slice of cake, she grinned sheepishly and nodded. With such approval I knew the recipe was ready for sisterly publication.

The day before the party my sister put her expert baking skills to action and whipped up my nephew’s birthday cake while I stood wringing my hands in the corner, prepared to die of shame should anything not turn out as expected. Even with a dozen other party provisions to prep, she made an awesome cake with an adorable smash cake of my nephew’s very own to match. She’s a rock star!

Whether for a special Fall occasion or just because cake is delicious, this cake is light and tender, very fragrant from the warm pumpkin spices, and so worth making! Sufficed to say I did not mind making - and subsequently eating - this cake three times.

Nephew's First Birthday Cake
(AKA: Pumpkin Spice Cake with Butterscotch Swiss Meringue Buttercream)

adapted from Martha Stewart

For the cake:
2 cups AP flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1 cup sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 large eggs
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch cake pans with baking spray, line the bottoms with parchment paper, then spray the parchment paper. 
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, brown sugar, butter, eggs, pumpkin puree, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and whisk until just incorporated and smooth. 
  3. Pour the batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through, until a cake tester (i.e. toothpick) inserted in the middle comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and cool completely. 

For the buttercream:
4 large egg whites
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt
1TB lemon juice (or more to taste)
1/2 cup butterscotch sauce (see below)

(makes about 4 cups)

1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped (to garnish the finished cake), optional

  1. In the bowl for your electric mixer (or a medium heatproof bowl if you’re using a hand mixer), combine the egg whites and sugar, and place the bowl over a small pot of gently simmering water. Whisking the mixture constantly until the sugar has fully dissolved, about 2-3 minutes. Rub a little between your fingers, and if there is no hint of a grainy texture, it’s done (or when it reaches 160 degrees in temperature). 
  2. Place the bowl in your mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and set at high speed, beat the egg mixture until stiff peaks form. Continue beating until the eggs are fluffy and the mixture has cooled, about 5-6 minutes. Make sure the stiff peaks don’t become dry, you want them to stay glossy. 
  3. Switch to the paddle attachment and with the mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter 2 TB at a time, waiting until it is fully incorporated into the mixture before adding the next addition. If the buttercream begins in separate, turn the mixer up to medium-high speed and beat for a few minutes, until it is smooth again. Add the vanilla, salt, lemon juice, and butterscotch sauce (make sure it’s cool, you don’t want to melt your buttercream), and beat until incorporated. Again, if the mixture separates or thins out too much, beat on medium-high speed until it is light and fluffy again. Taste the buttercream and add more salt, lemon juice, or butterscotch if you think it’s needed. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat for 2 minutes to eliminate any air bubbles. 
  4. Trim the tops of the cake layers so they are flat. Stack the first layer onto a cake plate and using a spatula, spread about 1/2 cup of buttercream in an even layer over the top. Place the second cake layer on top, making sure the two layers line up. Spread a very thin layer of the buttercream around the cake for a crumb layer. This will glue the crumbs to the cake, so they don't show through the light colored buttercream. Then apply a regular, thick layer of the buttercream, until the cake is evenly covered. Sprinkle the top with the toasted pecans and enjoy! 

For the butterscotch sauce:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 tsp sea salt (or more to taste)
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tsp vanilla

adapted from Martha Stewart
(makes about 1 1/2 cups)

  1. In a medium skillet, melt the butter over low heat. Add the sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt, and increase the heat to medium to bring the mixture to a boil. Let it cook for 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat and stir in the heavy cream and vanilla. Allow it to cool at room temperature. It will seem too thin at first, but don’t worry, it’ll thicken as it cools. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Chipotle Maple Grilled Tempeh Tacos

I have a new love. It’s a bit controversial. I kept it quiet at first because people wouldn’t understand. See, me and tempeh? Yeah, we’re kind of a thing.

All joking aside, I am totally loving tempeh at the moment, and it is controversial...at least in my household. I’ve always counted my blessings that Husband likes everything when it comes to food. Everything. There are preparations he doesn’t prefer, but I’ve never come across an ingredient he just doesn't like. He’ll even do tofu if it’s prepared well. But he doesn’t like tempeh. I’ve done a few different cooking methods, vastly different flavor combos, and he hasn't liked any of them. He just won’t eat it. Tragic, right?!

I have a feeling that’s a common problem with tempeh. You either love it or...not so much. While not the case with Husband, I wonder how much of that not-liking is linked to ignorance of what tempeh is. It is not textured vegetable protein. It is not tofu. It is a soy-based vegetarian protein alternative, but you know what? So is edamame. Tempeh is made from soybeans that are fermented into a cake, and the tempeh I am familiar with also has other whole grains added, I believe for textural and flavor purposes - anything from millet, to brown rice, to barley. Yes, it’s true. This is total crunchy granola hippie food. But hippie food has been in forever now, so let’s give peace a chance, k? Anyway, when was the last time you heard about a tempeh recall due to contaminated soybeans?

Tempeh is also crazy kinds of good for you. It’s really high in protein and fiber, which fill you right up, but with much less calories and fat. Win win. It’s also made from fermented soybeans. There’s a lot of controversy out there right now about soy and whether it is ultimately beneficial or harmful to our health. Every study says something different, depending on which industry is behind the funding, but I recently read an article that was very interesting. It separated fermented soy products from non-fermented soy products, saying they most likely affect the body differently. Fermented soy products like tamari, miso, and tempeh are good for you and have all sorts of lovely health benefits having to do, I believe, with the bacteria used to ferment the products. Non-fermented soy products, like tofu and soy milk are actually the leftovers from fermented soy products - the result of an effort to avoid waste - and are supposedly more questionable upon regular consumption. I have no idea if it’s true, but it’s interesting, no?

And most importantly, tempeh is delicious! It has a lot more flavor and texture than tofu - like if a block of tofu and a veggie burger had a love child.  It has a nutty, meaty flavor, and a firm, chewy texture. Chewy like whole grains, not chewy like octopus, just to be clear. I've noticed that each brand of tempeh is a little different. I prefer the Trader Joe’s brand. It has millet and brown rice, and a nice mild flavor that takes on sauces very well. I’ve also seen other brands at Jimbo’s, Sprouts, and Henry's.  They're probably about the same, but I can't say for sure, since I've never tried them.  When it comes to prep, you can treat tempeh just like extra extra firm tofu.  Cut it into slices or cubes, or cut it in half and treat it like a veggie burger.  Marinate some flavor in before, or dunk it in sauce later.

Not helping its image, tempeh is generally sold with the questionable-looking fake meat products like tofurkey and fakin’ bacon. To make matter worse, I’ve actually seen tempeh that has been pre-seasoned to taste like various meat products. Bleck! Make sure what you’re picking up is just regular unflavored tempeh.

Tempeh is a very versatile food. I’ve seared it, drizzled orange-maple sauce, I’ve sauteed it in spicy peanut sauce, and now I’ve grilled it in chipotle maple sauce. It all works...deliciously! I used one of the famous Stonewall Kitchen sauces to add in flavor this time. Since it was a chipotle maple grille sauce, I figured grilling would be the appropriate cooking method. And, man oh man, is grilled tempeh delicious. That smoky charred flavor was totally addictive. I kept eating pieces off the grill, and these yummy tacos almost didn’t happen!

Speaking of yummy tacos, these tacos were...um...yummy! The fixin’s are, of course, optional and up to you, but I like my tacos with cabbage, guacamole, and some fresh pico de gallo. The sauce was a good compliment and the flavor came through really well.  It was sweet, though not cloying, and I actually did get a bit of heat from the chipotle.  I would definitely use this sauce again, I think it may even have been my fav.  With the fresh vegetables and acid from the lime, it ended up being even more delicious than the bits I ate off the grill.  I'm so glad I restrained myself.  Oh, and those tortillas?  Got them at Sprouts.  They contain 4 ingredients: masa, lime, salt, and water.  No icky preservatives or crazy additives.  I love 'em.

I hope whatever preparation you choose to employ, you will give tempeh a chance. It’s entirely possible you won’t like it, as Husband doesn't.  But on the other hand, you may discover a new food that is not only very tasty, but also seriously good for you and economical to boot! Have you ever tried tempeh? On which side do you fall?

Chipotle Maple Grilled Tempeh Tacos

Makes about 8-10 tacos

2 8oz packages of tempeh, cut into 1/2” strips
1 cup Stonewall Kitchen Maple Chipotle Grille Sauce
5-6 large tomatoes, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1-2 limes
1/2 head green cabbage, finely shredded
2 ripe avocados
salt and pepper to taste
corn tortillas
  1. In a bowl or tupperware, combine the tempeh and grille sauce, making sure the tempeh is well-covered. Cover the container and let it marinate for at least an hour. When you are ready to grill, let the tempeh come to room temperature. 
  2. Preheat your grill to medium-high heat and lube it up with some oil. Add the tempeh in an even layer, and let it cook undisturbed for 3-5 minutes, until it gets some good grill marks. Flip all the pieces over and grill for another 3-5 minutes. Brush some of the leftover marinade sauce on the cooked sides, and flip the pieces over again. Grill for a minute or two to caramelize the sauce a bit. Brush more sauce on the upturned side, and flip one last time to cook for, that’s right, one more minute. Remove the tempeh from the grill and let it cool down while you prepare the rest of your taco components. 
  3. To make the pico de gallo, mix the tomato, onion, and cilantro in a small bowl. Sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and pepper. Squeeze the juice from a lime over the mixture (if it’s a very juicy lime, you might want to start with just half), and stir to combine everything. Taste the salsa, and adjust the seasoning.  To make the guacamole, scoop the avocado flesh into a bowl, and add the juice from half a lime and a pinch of kosher salt and pepper. Mash the mixture and adjust the seasoning to taste. 
  4. To build the tacos, place a big pinch of cabbage on a tortilla. Add about 3 slices of tempeh, and top with guacamole, pico de gallo, and a healthy squeeze of lime juice. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Key Lime Pie Cupcakes

Tuck in, kiddies! I’m going to talk about cupcakes, and there’s just no way to accurately describe these babies and still be brief. So pull up a chair, it’s story time.

It all started with my sister sending me a link to a baking contest. Bravo and product placement company blah, blah, blah (the contest can be found here) - basically the contest is to make a dessert inspired by the flavors of key lime pie, strawberry shortcake, or mint chocolate chip. After voicing my disappointment that limes and strawberries were nowhere near in season anymore, I totally copped out and said I didn’t already have a good recipe to use and I wouldn’t be able to come up with anything decent in time. If I haven’t properly conveyed how completely awesome my sister is before, let me do so now. See, she knows me, so she was having none of my nonsense. She suggested something easy enough - take my strawberry margarita cupcake recipe and modify it to make a key lime cupcake instead. “You could even do a graham cracker crust on the bottom like those Martha Stewart ‘smores cupcakes I made that were awesome.” And it was like a light went off in my head - I was suddenly inspired! A lime-infused vanilla cupcake with a lime curd filling and lime-flavored meringue buttercream would be not only do-able, but delicious, and the graham cracker bottom might just nudge it into awesome territory.

My sister, ladies and gentlemen!

Unfortunately, this means that once again credit for the genius of the recipe must be given entirely elsewhere. And this is why fellow food lovers are integral to the home cook’s creative process. Sometimes they have all the good ideas and let you steal them. Plus, I’ll always have Husband’s birthday cake recipe. That one was all me.

So, per my sister’s most excellent suggestion, I made (and submitted!) these key lime pie cupcakes, or key lime vanilla cupcakes with a graham cracker crust bottom, key lime curd filling, and key lime Swiss meringue buttercream. And sprinklings of other fun touches here and there. These cupcakes were not nudged anywhere. They took a superman leap over awesome and landed somewhere in oh-my-goodness-what-are-these!?. Let’s go into it, shall we? Don’t worry, I’ll take it slow.

So this cupcake starts with the graham cracker crust. I added some key lime zest for good measure. I wanted to make sure the lime flavor really came through, and even though I added it everywhere, I’d say it stayed a subtle background flavor, in a good way. I blind baked the crust, like you do with a real key lime pie, and then added some white chocolate shavings before pouring in the cupcake batter. Martha Stewart’s ‘smores cupcakes recipe used chocolate shavings, and I thought it was probably needed to act as a binder between the crust and the cupcake. And either way, the richness from a little white chocolate would only make it tastier. I sprinkled the extra graham cracker/white chocolate mixture over the tops of the cupcakes before I put them in the oven to bake, so they had a slight crumb on top as well as the crust underneath. The cupcakes themselves were just a simple vanilla cupcake, infused with some key lime zest and juice. But what’s a key lime pie inspired cupcake without key lime curd? I holed out the tops of the cupcakes after they had cooled and poured in a dollop of curd, then topped them with the light as air frosting, reminiscent of the meringue that sometimes comes on key lime pies. And finally, I rubbed some graham cracker crumbs with a little key lime zest and dusted a pinch over each cupcake for garnish. Look at me, I’m fancy.

I have to say, this was my first time making a cupcake with a crust on the bottom, and it is flipping fantastic! Why don’t all cupcakes have one? It’s delicious - like a cupcake and pie had a love child. The sprinkling of the crumb/chocolate mixture on the top of the cupcake definitely united all the flavors. Unless you have a mouth the size of a grapefruit, it’s cumbersome to try and bite both the top and bottom of a cupcake at the same time. Usually you go in at an angle, right? Well having the crust flavor on top of the cupcake meant that each bite had some of that graham cracker flavor, so each bite kept the connection to its inspiration - key lime pie. Husband thinks this detail is key to the success of the cupcake, so don’t skip it!

Also crucial? The key lime curd. Sure, it’s just a small dollop in the middle of the cupcake, but it’s also where you get the burst of key lime flavor. I loved all the subtle hints of lime throughout the cupcake, but it wouldn’t have tasted like a key lime pie without the curd. Plus, it was so tart, and sweet and creamy, that a smidgen is all that was needed to capture the bright flavor without getting hit in the face with it.

The cupcake was so complete without the frosting that anything like a traditional buttercream or cream cheese frosting would have detracted and distracted from it. Thrown it off the balance. So the Swiss meringue buttercream was perfect. It was light as a cloud; just a delicate, sweet touch. And look how glossy it is!  Gorgeous.  A friend of mine gave a cupcake to her son, and his feedback was that at first bite he didn’t like the frosting because he was expecting a traditional buttercream. The texture of it, so light and airy, threw him off. But on the second and subsequent bites, after he knew what to expect, he loved it. Great feedback, huh?

The cupcake itself was very light and tender. I went with a simple vanilla cupcake as the base because there were so many other flavors and elements. The cake itself was not the star, but it was still a delightful, delectable bite that helped highlight the other flavors. All the elements of the cupcake really came together in a great way. I couldn’t believe how much it brought to mind a key lime pie! These may just be the best cupcakes I’ve ever made. Ok, the Irish car bomb cupcakes I made for St. Patrick’s Day this year were pretty great, but they didn’t have a graham cracker crust, so they just don’t measure up anymore.

Delicious as they are, these cupcakes are no picnic to make. They’re not difficult, per se. Far from it. But they are labor intensive; lots of steps. Zesting and juicing one pound of key limes to start was a bit of a pain. Then you make the graham cracker crust mixture, bake it, make the batter, bake that, make the key lime curd and buttercream, and finally wait for everything to cool so you can finish putting it all together. It’s not an all day undertaking by any means, but don’t leave these until an hour before your party starts or you’ll be the unwitting host of a baking demonstration.  Also, the recipe makes a ton of cupcakes.  It was supposed to make 2 dozen, but with the graham cracker bottom and the airy cupcake batter, it made more like 2 and a half.  Thankfully, I have friends willing to eat my baking experiments!

These cupcakes may be a special occasion only treat, but boy are they ever special! Let’s hope the good folks at Bravo agree because I sure could use a $5,000 kitchen makeover.

Key Lime Pie Cupcakes

makes about 28 cupcakes

cupcakes partially adapted from Annie’s Eats and Martha Stewart

[Note: You’ll need 1lb bag of key limes, zested and juiced. Don’t have key limes? Regular limes will work fine too.)

For the graham cracker crust:
2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup sugar
2 TB lime zest
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
7 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped

For the cupcakes:
3 cups cake flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
16 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1¼ cups buttermilk, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 TB key lime juice
1 tsp key lime zest
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 2 muffin tins with cupcake liners and set aside. 
  2. In a small bowl, combine the ingredients for the graham cracker crust, minus the white chocolate. Place 1 TB of the mixture into the bottom of each prepared muffin cup, and use the bottom of a small glass to pack the crumbs, then sprinkle about 1 1/2 tsp of the white chocolate over the graham cracker crust. Add the remaining chocolate to the reserved graham cracker mixture and set aside. 
  3. Bake the graham cracker crusts for about 5 minutes, or until the edges of the graham cracker mixture is golden. 
  4. Add the butter and sugar to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until incorporated. Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition. 
  5. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, combine the buttermilk, vanilla extract, lime juice, and lime zest in a bowl. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the buttermilk mixture, ending with flour, beating until each addition is just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for 15 seconds longer. 
  6. Pour the batter into the cupcake liners, filling each cup to about a quarter inch from the top. Sprinkle the remaining graham cracker/white chocolate mixture over each cup, concentrating around the edges (since you'll be cutting out the center for the filling). Bake the cupcakes, rotating pans halfway through, until the tops are firm and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer the tins to a wire rack and let the cupcakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove them and let cool completely. 
For the lime curd:
3 large egg yolks
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh key lime juice
4 TB unsalted butter, melted
pinch of salt

(makes about 1 1/2 cups)
  1. In a small saucepan whisk together the egg yolks, egg, sugar, lime juice, and butter and cook over moderately low heat. Stir constantly until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 7-10 minutes, making sure not to let it boil or sit long enough to curdle. Strain the curd through a fine mesh strainer and set aside to cool. 
  2. Once cooled, using a pairing knife inserted at an angle, cut out a small cone-shaped chunk, about a 1 inch circle from the top of each cupcake. Fill the hole with the lime curd, about 1 teaspoon worth. You can either replace the chunk you removed, or leave it off. 
For the lime Swiss meringue buttercream:
4 large egg whites
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
2 TB key lime juice

(makes about 4 cups)

For the garnish:
1 tsp key lime zest
1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
  1. In the bowl for your electric mixer (or a medium heatproof bowl if you’re using a hand mixer), combine the egg whites and sugar, and place the bowl over a small pot of gently simmering water. Whisk the mixture constantly until the sugar has fully dissolved, about 2-3 minutes. Rub a little between your fingers, and if there is no hint of a grainy texture, it’s done (or when it reaches 160 degrees in temperature). 
  2. Place the bowl in your mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and at high speed, beat the egg mixture until stiff peaks form. Continue beating until the eggs are fluffy and the mixture has cooled, about 5-6 minutes. Make sure the stiff peaks don’t become dry, you want them to stay glossy. 
  3. Switch to the paddle attachment and with the mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter 2 TB at a time, waiting until it is fully incorporated into the mixture before adding the next addition. If the buttercream begins in separate, turn the mixer up to medium-high speed and beat for a few minutes, until it is smooth again. Add the vanilla, salt, and lime juice, and beat until incorporated. Again, if the mixture separates or thins out too much, beat on medium-high speed until it is light and fluffy again. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat for 2 minutes to eliminate any air bubbles. 
  4. Using a pastry bag or a Ziploc with the corner cut off, frost each cupcake. In a small bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs and lime zest, and lightly dust each cupcake with just a pinch of the mixture. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Help me go to bootcamp!

Recipe below: Earl Grey Plum Preserves Crumb Bars

Pacific Natural Foods is hosting an exciting food challenge...ok, the challenge isn't that exciting, but the prize is! An all-expenses paid two day trip to Napa to attend the Culinary Institute of America's culinary bootcamp program. Let me break down all the awesomeness I just smooshed into one sentence. Napa. A weekend in Napa. Cooking. Learning to cook. From a real culinary school! An awesome culinary school. It's the chance of a lifetime. Since money is the only thing stopping me from enrolling in culinary school tomorrow, it would be a great sneak peak into what it would be like and if it's really for me. Not to mention a weekend with a bunch of people who love food almost as much as I do.

With a prize like that, entering immediately was a no-brainer. All I had to do was post a recipe using Pacific chicken, beef, mushroom, or vegetable broth. Simple! Oh yeah, and include mushrooms in the recipe. Easy. The timing? Well that was problematic. Did I have time to run to the store, buy mushrooms and broth and other savory things and make something killer? Well no. So I did the next best thing, perused my Bananas for Bourbon recipes, and found the perfect recipe. Remember my favorite grilled mashed potatoes? Think they’re culinary bootcamp worthy? I think so!

Here's where you all come and in to help. Just go to my grilled mashed potatoes recipe on the challenge website, scroll down to the bottom of the page, and click to button to vote for my recipe. It's that easy! And you can do it everyday! Tell all your friends, and maybe a few random strangers while you're at it. Think of all the stories and recipes I'd bring home to share with you all. Everyone wins!

And in return for supporting me...dessert! Beautiful, ruby red plums have been prominently displayed at the store for weeks and weeks, and I finally decided to use some in more than just my morning cereal. These earl grey plum preserves are fantastic on their own, spread on some fresh bread or spooned over greek yogurt. Baked into these buttery, crumbly bars, they are even better. The preserves thicken into a sweet, almost candy-like in texture syrup, and the citrus and tea notes keep it fresh and interesting.  A beautiful pairing.

Earl Grey Plum Preserve Crumb Bars

crumb bars adapted from Smitten Kitchen
plum preserves adapted from The Kitchn

Makes 36 1 1/2”squares

For the preserves
1 1/4 lbs black or red plums*
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 TB lemon juice
1 tsp orange zest
2 TB Grand Marnier (optional)
1 cup boiling water
2 TB Earl Grey tea leaves

For the bars
3 cups AP flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp orange zest
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into cubes and very cold
1 egg
1 TB cold water, optional

To make the preserves:
  1. Cut the plums into bite-sized pieces. I cut each plum into eighths and quartered each piece, but whatever works for you. Transfer the plums to a medium saucepan, along with the sugar, honey, lemon juice, orange zest, and Grand Marnier. Toss until the plum pieces are coated, then set it aside.
  2. Combine the boiling water and tea leaves in a small bowl and steep the mixture for 15 minutes. Strain the leaves out through a fine mesh strainer. Place the brewed tea in a small saucepan, bring it to a boil, and let it simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by half (~1/2 cup).
  3. Pour the concentrated tea into the saucepan with the plums. Bring the mixture to a boil, and let it simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 25-30 minutes, or until the plums have broken down and the mixture has thickened. Let the preserves cool for about 30 minutes, then move them to the refrigerator for another 30 minutes to fully cool and thicken. 
Note: You want the preserves a little on the thin side, or what you would consider thin if you were going to spread some on a slice of bread. Remember they’ll thicken up more when you bake them into the bars.

To make the bars:
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and spray a 9x9” baking dish with baking spray.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the lemon and orange zests. Using a pastry blender, a fork, or your finger tips, cut the cold butter into the flour until the butter and flour are worked into pea-sized crumbs. Stir in the egg to get a crumbly dough. If the dough feels a little too dry and isn’t forming very large crumbs, add the water. I didn’t do this and I wish I had.
  3. Press 1/2 to 2/3 of the dough into your prepared baking pan, depending on the bar-base to crumbly-top ratio you prefer. I used almost 2/3 because I wanted a more substantial shortbread base. Pour the chilled preserves over the dough, using a spatula to gently spread them to an even layer. Crumble the remaining dough over the preserves and very gently press them into the preserves.
  4. Bake the bars for 45 minutes, or until the crumbs are golden brown. Let it cool completely in the pan so everything sets up properly, about an hour. When cooled, cut the bars, using a sharp knife, into 1 1/2” squares.

*Don’t worry about buying exactly 1 1/4 lbs of plums, just make sure it’s on the heavy side of 1 lb. The pits take up a bit of the weight and I wanted a hair more plum when I bought just 1 lb.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Vidalia Onion Fig Broccoli Slaw

We have a winner, folks. I’m very happy to report the winner of the CSN Stores giveaway is none other than......drum roll please.......


Congrats, Geri! No one deserves it more. A more committed and caring doggy mama you will never meet. Of course, it was still all chance. See?


A big thanks to everyone who participated!

Well no surprise here, you all are ready for fall. Fragrant pumpkin breads, hearty squash soups, slow oven-braised meats, and the like. I've just got a few more end of summer recipes to share with you first. How lame am I? Torturing you with such deliciousness, it’s unconscionable, I know. But you know what? Sure, we’re all in a big rush to eat the fruits of fall, but San Diego is just not ready to let summer go. While enduring triple-freaking-digit temperatures this week, I was glad to have a nice cooling slaw in the fridge. Right next to my even coolingier beer. Naturally. So you East Coasters who are dealing with torrential downpours and beautiful foliage, well, you’ll just have to wait.

This broccoli slaw is pretty straight forward. It was actually one of those happy accidents. You know, when you buy broccoli at the store because it’s on sale and you love it in just about everything, and when you go to make something with it, you just kind of throw something together, whatever sounds good? Yeah, one of those happy accidents. I had some of that lovely vidalia onion fig sauce leftover from my awesomely delicious glazed pork, and turned it into a vinaigrette for the slaw. Good and gussied up with dried cranberries and toasted pecans, this slaw turned out better than anything I imagined when I first brought home that broccoli from the store. Don’t you love it when that happens?

I’m sure it will come as a shock to no one who reads this blog with regularity that I usually opt for a vinegar/oil-based dressing for slaws rather than drowning them in gobs of the devil’s condiment. Who needs fat when you've got flavor?  And this one had some great flavor. The fig sauce really came through when mixed with the oil, vinegar, and lemon juice to make a nice, cohesive dressing. The sauce added all the complexity needed.  No garlic, shallots, or any other finicky vegetable cutting or obscure spice procurement necessary! I’m very dressing-shy and will under-dress a salad or slaw to a fault, so feel free to double the recipe if you think you need more. Just remember you can’t remove it once you add it! Alternately, my slaws tend to be quite large in volume, so you could also cut that recipe in half very easily too. But then you won’t have as many leftovers.  And trust me, you're going to want leftovers.

Vidalia Onion Fig Broccoli Slaw

Makes about 6 cups, or about 12 servings

1 1/2 lbs broccoli
5 medium carrots
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped

For the dressing:
2 TB fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
2 TB sherry vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
pinch of salt
pinch of ground black pepper
1/4 cup Stonewall Kitchens Vidalia Onion Fig Sauce
1/2 cup olive oil

  1. Using a food processor fitted with the grater blade, shred the broccoli and carrots. [If you don’t have a food processor (you poor thing!), a box grater will work, though is a bit more labor intensive.] Combine the shredded broccoli and carrots with the cranberries and pecans in a large bowl.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, vinegar, salt, pepper, vidalia onion fig sauce, and olive oil. Whisk vigorously until the ingredients are emulsified (i.e. the oil and vinegar are combined into a cohesive liquid). Pour the dressing over the slaw and toss until everything is well-coated.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Vidalia Onion Fig Glazed Grilled Pork Loin with Caramelized Onions and Polenta

Remember my last giveaway? It was just last month, actually. Apparently it was such a success that a representative of CSN stores contacted me again, asking if I’d like to do another one. Naturally, I said I would love to! I mean, do you all have a problem with me trying to hook you up with free money to an online store that sells everything from cookware to cheap bedroom furniture? No, I thought not. And if you do...well you can just skip to the recipe at the bottom. Away with you!

So just like last time, one lucky winner will be awarded a one-time-use $35 gift certificate, good at any of CSN’s 200+ online stores. To enter leave a comment on this post telling me whether you’re scrounging for every last late summer recipe you can find, or if you’re over it and ready for fall. Please make sure you provide an email address if there isn’t one linked to your profile.

For additional entries, do one or all of the following, then come back and leave a separate comment for each, letting me know the deed is done.

  1. Become a fan of (“Like”) Bananas for Bourbon on Facebook, and if you already are, just say so!
  2. Subscribe to my blog via an RSS feed (just click that “Follow” button in the toolbar on the right), and if you already do, just say so!
  3. Post a link to this giveaway on your blog, and let me know about it.

The rules: open to US and Canada residents only, as that is where CSN store's products ship. The giveaway closes on Thursday, September 30th at 11:59pm PST. The winner will be selected by a random number generator and announced (and contacted!) sometime on Friday.

And by a total coincidence, just like the last giveaway was paired with a Stonewall Kitchen sauce recipe, it just happens that today’s recipe is also courtesy of my very giving friend who sent me that awesome care package all those weeks ago. The sauce I was most excited to try was the Vidalia Onion Fig sauce. I have a thing for figs, see. Can a fruit be meaty?  I think figs kinda are.  The minute I saw it, I thought of doing a glaze on a pork loin. Don’t ask me why. Then I thought caramelized onions would go awesome with pork glazed with an onion sauce. Then I thought it would all sit beautifully atop a soft, creamy bed of polenta. Then my mouth watered and I made it. A few weeks later...but nevermind that.

Let’s talk about the pork. First off, I brined it. Have you ever brined pork? Have you ever brined chicken? Maybe a turkey for Thanksgiving? It’s truly amazing what it does for the flavor and texture of meat and poultry. If you’re not hip to the lingo, brining is when you soak your meat in salt water for several hours before you cook it, which helps prevent it from drying out during cooking, so you end up with moist, tender deliciousness (Wikipedia explains it far better than I can). Brining is not the time to be timid with salt. You want a saturated solution, so it uses a lot. But don’t worry, you’ll rinse it off after the soak, so it won’t make your finished dish taste like the sea. Promise. Since I was grilling a rather large and lean piece of pork, a brine was the right way to go. For a more delicate cut of meat, like tenderloin, I wouldn’t say brining would be necessary, but I’m sure it would be delicious just the same. I chose to grill because I wanted a nice caramelized crust on the outside (I’m sure oven roasting would be tasty as well for the colder months), and I’m glad I did because, man oh man, was this pork ever delicious. Juicy, tender, and sweet thanks to the vidalia onion fig sauce.

I love to pair meat with caramelized onions. Their soft texture and sweet, mellowed onion flavor just go so nicely. I actually was experiencing some recipe-writing-block when trying to type this out, so I sent it to my editor sister for some tips. She came back with enough to help unstick my brain (thanks, Sheesh!), but also questioned the total cook time - “Did I read that right, that you cook the onions for 45 minutes? That seems crazy long. If that's right, you might want to say, ‘Yes, you read that right. 45 mins.’" I said something along the lines of, “OMG, seriously?! You’ve never caramelized onions!? They are so flipping tasty!” Then later that day I told Husband about it and he said something along the lines of, “Really? But they’re so flipping tasty!”, and I said, “I know, right!?” Sure, they’re a pain because they take so long, but they’re actually pretty easy and hands off. Just stir every few minutes, then forget about them. It’s just the clock that makes them problematic, but it’s a sound investment because caramelized onions make everything taste better. Ok, not chocolate cake. Savory things? Totally.

With the polenta, I thought the flavors came together so well. Everything had a sweet element to it, but surprisingly, I didn’t find it too sweet at all. Well the sauce was too sweet on it’s own, just like the ginger wasabi sauce (sugar was again the first ingredient), but with a dab on a piece of pork with the onions and polenta? Yum. It added a kick of flavor that was needed, and intended, and the onion flavor really came through.  Next time I might try mixing some fresh thyme into the polenta or with the onions, but I was totally out of fresh herbs. There are definitely ways to make this dish your own, but I thought my version was a winner.

Guess that’s two sauces down, and two to go! Stay tuned!

Vidalia Onion Fig Glazed Grilled Pork Loin

Makes about 8 servings

For the brine:
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup honey
10 black peppercorns
1 TB dried rosemary
2 TB onion powder
1 bay leaf
~3 cups water
2lb pork loin

For the rub:
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/2 tsp mustard powder

For the glaze:
1/2 cup Stonewall Kitchen Vidalia Onion Fig Sauce (plus more for the final dish)

To brine the pork:

In a gallon-sized ziplock bag, combine the salt and honey with about 3 cups of water. Scrunch the bag to agitate the water and dissolve the salt. Add the peppercorns, rosemary, onion powder, and bay leaf. Add the pork loin and enough water until it is fully submerged in the brine. Let the pork brine for at least 8 hours, overnight is even better.

Note: Don’t trim the layer of fat off the pork yet. You’re going to be using it later.

To grill the pork:

  1. A little before you plan to grill it, remove the pork from the brine and give it a good rinse to get the excess salt off. Pat it dry with paper towels and let it air dry for a few minutes.
  2. Cut the fat layer off the top of the loin, doing your best to keep it in one big piece. Set it aside.  Combine all the ingredients for the rub in a small bowl and rub it over the pork until it is evenly coated. Using butcher’s twine, tie the fat layer back onto the pork. This will keep it moist and add flavor while it cooks. But if it grosses you out or is too finicky for you, just skip that part.
  3. With the grill heated to medium-low, place the pork on the grill, fat-side down, and cover. After 3-5 minutes, turn the pork over and grill for another 3-5 minutes. Cut the butcher’s twine, and remove and discard the fat layer. Turn the pork over again so the side that was covered with fat can get some good grill marks, another 3 minutes or so. Now is the time to glaze. Brush the onion fig sauce generously over the pork and continue to grill, flipping every few minutes. I did a second coating of glaze once the first coat did a turn over the flames, but that’s optional.
  4. When the glaze is caramelized and the pork has reached an internal temperature of about about 140 degrees (this will vary based on the size your particular cut of loin), about 15-20 minutes, remove it from the grill and let it rest, covered loosely with some aluminum foil, for about 10 minutes.

Note: If you don’t have this fig sauce, fear not! There are plenty of other options. You could mix some fig jam, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. If you don’t like figs, how about blackberry? Or a cranberry compote? You just need something a bit sweet (preferably with a hint of savory) that is going to bring a lot of flavor.

Caramelized Onions

Makes about 2 cups

4 medium yellow onions, sliced into 1/4 inch wide half moons
1 TB olive oil
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 TB balsamic vinegar
1 TB Marsala wine

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and salt. When the onions have given off their water but before they begin to brown, turn the heat down to medium-low (or all the way to low if it’s a hot burner). You want to make sure the onions are cooking, but not browning, so you may want to play around with the flame a bit to ensure they aren’t cooking too hot or too cold, and you’ll want to stir them up occasionally. The slow cooking will allow all the water to cook away and the sugars to caramelize until they are sweet and delicious.
  2. After about 45 minutes, (Yes, you read right. You can’t rush perfection!) the onions should be well caramelized. They’ll be considerably shrunken because all the water will have cooked out, and they’ll be golden brown to dark brown in color. Add the balsamic vinegar and Marsala wine and cook for another minute, just until they are incorporated. 

Creamy Polenta

Makes about 6 cups

4 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups polenta
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup Marsala wine
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 cup Gruyere cheese, grated
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil. While stirring constantly, very slowly sprinkle in the polenta. The slower you add, supposedly, the creamier it will be. Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the polenta is thickened and the water is fully absorbed.
  2. Add the cream, wine, salt, and pepper, and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until everything is incorporated.
  3. Add the cheeses, stirring until they are fully melted. Adjust the seasonings to taste.

To assemble this dinner of deliciousness, spoon an appropriate amount of polenta on your plate. Top the polenta with a helping of caramelized onions, and then a few slices of pork. Pour an additional dab of the vidalia onion fig sauce over the pork and enjoy!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Grilled Corn Pesto

I have been remiss. I totally forgot all about this recipe until I was rifling through my “food pictures” folder and saw this right next to my grilled corn chowder folder - it’s alphabetized, ya know. Oh snap! How could I have forgotten such deliciousness? I was unconscionable of me, really. But the remedy is easy - sharing the recipe with you! Right now. Forthwith.

And by forthwith, I mean after I’m done talking my head off about it. Terse I am not, people.

I made this a few weeks ago when corn was on super sale at the store. Actually, I thought it was a super sale at the time, but I found out my naivety the next week when I was all corned out and it was even cheaper. The same thing happened to me last week with peaches. Don’t you hate that? Anyway, I had come across a pasta dish in the course of my interweb travels that was topped with a fresh corn pesto, which used corn instead of the more traditional greenery of basil or spinach. Intrigued, and laden with several ears of corn, I decided to do my own spin.

First off, I grilled the corn. Of course I did. Remember when I said that I’ll never cook corn another way? Ok, I don’t think I ever actually put it in those terms, but I figured the sweet, caramelized flavors of grilled corn would add a great flavor to the pesto. I was right - it was amazing. I’m too modest, I know. Other than the corn, this is a pretty traditional pesto. Or at least, traditional for me. I don’t usually have pine nuts in the pantry, so I like to use almonds. The silky, mellow nut flavor from the almonds went really well with the corn. All ground up, it’s like velvet. That’s a taste, right? I had a handful of basil thanks to an awesome friend who had sent me home with some from her garden the day before, so I threw it in. Along with the parsley, it did a great job of brightening the sauce with some needed herbaciousness, but the lesser amount kept it as a complimentary background flavor. The corn was the star of this pesto. It was creamy, sweet, and tasted distinctly of summer. Definitely a winner!

I know pasta is the traditional means of delivering sauces, like pesto, to your mouth. But corn is a very starchy vegetable*, and, well I admit it, I am totally neurotic about eating too many carbs. It has absolutely nothing to do with any kind of moronic low-carb diet. I just know my body, and super starchy meals result in a very unhappy Julie, hungry with low blood-sugar. It’s pretty much the worst thing ever because I love carbs. It’s pretty much all I ate for the first, um, 27 years of my life...or so. Sometimes feeling your best means sacrificing your wants for your needs. Also? I needed a vegetable for this particular meal. So I shredded up some zucchini (using my handy-dandy Cuisinart food processor with the shredding blade. (I’ve been using that shredding blade all summer to make all kinds of slaws. Yum! (I’m not trying to plug Cuisinart, but last week a friend asked what food processor I use, so I figured I’d share. (She’s getting married. Congrats! (I think all people getting married should register for a food processor. You might not use it right off that bat, but one day you’ll need it, and the love affair will begin...)))))**, and tossed it with the pesto to make a delightful side. Somewhere Husband is laughing at my use of the word “side,” saying that, in terms of proportions, vegetables are always my main. And he’s right, but nevermind that. I think the punch of flavor from the pesto and the fresh, crisp texture from the zucchini was a great combination, but of course, there are a million ways to have fun with how you eat this. Grilled corn pesto pizza? That’s a salivating idea, indeed! Want to go a healthier route, but not tickled by the idea of zucchini? Try roasted spaghetti squash. You’ll still get that fresh bite (even though it’s fully cooked, spaghetti squash, amazingly, still manages to maintain a crispness to it), but with a bit of a milder flavor. You could also serve it directly over some meat.  Since you're grilling anyway, maybe a few slices of grilled steak?  Heck, I went ahead and ate a few spoonfuls right out of the bowl. So, you know, that’s always an option too.

However you choose to eat this pesto, I highly recommend you make it. It’s sweet, it’s silky, and it tastes like summer.  In hindsight, I wish I had captured a shot of the sauce by itself.  But after spending hours thinking about the recipe, buying the ingredients, and putting it all together, I just wanted to eat it.  Can you blame me?

How would you serve this? I’m always looking for ideas.

*You know that Manwich commercial where the kid is dressed up like a Manwich for a school play and some kid in a corn costume chides her, saying she’s supposed to be a vegetable? I always yell at that kid that I don’t count him as a vegetable either. And really, that commercial is just a bunch of BS. When a food company tells you their product “counts” as a serving of something healthy, don’t buy it.
**You counted my parentheses to make sure I closed them all off, didn’t you? Admit it.

Grilled Corn Pesto

makes about 3 cups

4 ears of grilled corn (see instructions below)
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/2 cup almonds, toasted
3 cloves garlic
juice of 1 lemon (about 2 TB)
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 cup basil, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup of olive oil, or more for desired taste and consistency

Blend all the ingredients in a food processor, minus the olive oil. When the ingredients are well blended, with the food processor running, stream in the olive oil until a thinned out sauce forms. Add enough olive oil until your desired consistency is reached. Serve over pasta, meat, or shredded vegetables.

Note: You can toast almonds in the oven at 350 degrees for a few minutes or in a dry pan over low heat. Just until you can smell their oils releasing. I use my toaster oven. It’s fastest. 

Grilled Corn (cut and pasted from this post)
  1. Over medium heat, place the corn (in their husks!) on the grill, directly over the flames. Turn the corn every 2-3 minutes, when the husks begin to blacken. The silk or ends of the husks might catch fire as they dry out. I think this adds an amazing smoky flavor to the corn, but if you’re scared (chicken!), just make sure to trim those bits off before you put them on the grill. [Practice proper safety! Always use long tongs when handling the corn, and keep your digits away from the flame.] 
  2. When the husks are good and charred and the kernels are mostly cooked, remove the corn from the grill and place it in a pan or bowl you have standing by until it cools down a bit. Carefully peel back and remove the husks, watching out for any trapped hot steam. Place the naked ears (teehee!) back on the grill and turn every 1-2 minutes, or until as many kernels as possible have browned and caramelized. Brown = sweet flavor! 
  3. Remove the corn from the grill, and when it is cool enough to handle, cut the kernels from the cob. Scrape the back of your knife along the cob to really get all the creamy corn bits out of there.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Cinnamon Spiked Blueberry Icebox Pie

Remember when I said you should buy up every clamshell of blueberries you can still find at the store? Well that’s partly because I have another blueberry pie up my sleeve. What a minx I am! But this pie couldn’t be more different than my previous azure berry exploit. That blueberry pie was a traditional pie. The kind of pie that comes to mind at the mention of pie. The kind with a tender, buttery crust and a warm, ooey gooey center. The kind that bakes forever in the oven and then cools mercilessly on the counter all afternoon. This blueberry pie is not that kind of pie. This is an icebox pie. Totally different! Ever had an icebox pie? I hadn’t until I made this one. I think I may need a do-over of the last 28 years, just so I can work this pie into my childhood food memories. When I was 5 - barbecue beef (it was my favorite kind of chicken!) and icebox pie. When I was 10 - blueberry pancakes and icebox pie (sounds like quite a combo to me!). When I was 16 - macaroni salad and icebox pie.  Annual Mother's Day picnic - Everett and Jones BBQ and icebox pie (*drool!*).

But what is it?

It’s a chilled pie (a correlation I'm sure you made on your own) with a graham cracker crust, a thick fruit jam filling, and a whipped cream topping. It’s a pie for those hot summer days when you don’t want your oven on for an hour. It’s a pie for when you’re craving something sweet and creamy, yet light and cool. It’s a pie for you, right now. Promise.

It all started a few weeks ago. I had an odd craving for graham crackers - odd because I don’t really ever eat graham crackers. Apart from this pie, the cheesecake squares, and the ‘smores in Reno, I haven’t eaten a graham cracker since I was maybe 14. No joke. (I used to think they ruined the 'smore.  The idiocy of youth, right?)  So when I saw graham crackers on sale that very week, I picked up a box. Why not, right? Then, the very next week, a giant 18oz container of blueberries was on sale for $2! Why,those little buggers hopped into my cart of their own accord. They know a good home when they see one. So there I was, craving graham crackers and mulling over blueberry recipes, and it just clicked. I searched around my Google reader for recipes, landed on a strawberry icebox pie I could modify for my own devilish purposes, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now, let me tell you about this icebox pie. Because you know I gave it the Julie touch. I spiked it of course! I just love the combination of cinnamon and blueberry, so I gave the Goldschlager a second try, and I think it came through much more prominently this time. I used it in the crust and the whipped cream topping, and the cinnamon liqueur flavor that added that hint of something extra I looking for was definitely present. The blueberry jam filling for the pie also turned out great. I let half the blueberries break down into a syrup, and I left out the other half until the very end so they would stay intact. That way it felt like you were still eating a blueberry pie and not a blueberry syrup pie. I wanted some identifiable berry. And I needn’t mention yet again how well brandy goes with berries in baked goods. If you’ve tried it, you know. I kept the sugar in this recipe pretty low because I prefer to let the flavor of the fruit come through, and there’s enough sweetness that comes from the graham crackers (especially sugar-leaden store-bought ones), but you could always add more if you've got a sweet tooth.

Overall, this pie was amazingly good, satisfying my craving and then some! Don't you love it when you make something on a whim and it turns out far better than you expected? It makes it all that much more satisfying, I think.  The crust has that sweet, kind of comforting taste you get from graham crackers, the filling is really just a jam, but a jam you might eat straight out of the jar because it’s so tasty. It's light and summery, yet with the cinnamon and graham cracker crust, almost homey and comforting.  (As good desserts should be. Or maybe I’m just comforted by weird things...)  The whipped cream topping just turns everything to silk in your mouth, brings it all together. It's definitely the star, and I’m not even a whipped cream kind of person.  I think doctoring it up made all the difference. I also really like the proportions of the three components in this recipe. The crust to filling to topping ratio is right on.

Yes, the pie is good.  But really, it's dangerously good. I couldn’t stop eating it! I kid you not, I ate a third of this pie in one night. In my defense, it is a bit of a vertically challenged dessert.  But it's also a baked good of mass waistline destruction, people! Make at your own risk!

But really, make it.  It's yummy.

Cinnamon Spiked Blueberry Icebox Pie

adapted heavily from Shutterbean

For the crust:
10 graham crackers (standard 2 1/2 by 5 inches)
2 TB sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
5 TB melted unsalted butter
2 TB Goldschlager

For the filling:
18oz fresh blueberries
1/4 cup sugar (or more to taste)
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (about 1 1/2 oranges)
3 TB cornstarch
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup brandy

For the topping:
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 TB powdered sugar
1 TB Goldshlager
1/2 tsp vanilla
pinch of cinnamon

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. In a food processor, pulse the graham crackers, cinnamon, and sugar together until they are reduced to fine crumbs. With the machine running, stream in the melted butter and Goldschlager and process until the crumbs are moistened. 
  3. Press the crumb mixture into a 9” pie plate in an even layer. Bake the crust for 12-14 minutes until it is golden brown and when you poke it with your finger, it feels like a crust, rather than moistened crumbs. Let the crust cool completely. 
  4. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and half of the blueberries, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Let the berries cook until they have started to break down and form a thickened syrup, about 5-10 minutes. 
  5. In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice, cornstarch, cinnamon, salt, vanilla, and brandy until the cornstarch is fully incorporated. Stir this slurry into the blueberry mixture, and continue to simmer for a few more minutes, until it has thickened to the consistency of a jam. Stir in the rest of the blueberries, reserving a small handful for garnishing the top of the pie. Remove the blueberry mixture from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes. 
  6. Pour the blueberry mixture into the cooled pie crust and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. 
  7. To finish the pie, pour the heavy whipping cream into the bowl of a stand mixer set with the whisk attachment and beat on high until soft peaks form. Add the powdered sugar, Goldschlager, and vanilla, and continue to beat on high until soft peaks form again. Be careful not to overbeat! 
  8. Spread the whipped cream evenly over the chilled pie and sprinkle with cinnamon and the reserved blueberries. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Blueberry Rhubarb Pie

I apologize for my lack of posting last week.  Took the husband and furkid up to Reno for a visit with the family and I was just having far too much fun to talk to you.  The highlight?  There was 'smores making by the firepit in my parents' backyard on a gorgeous, crystal clear night.  There was getting smashed together on cocktails and wine and then stumbling around the neighborhood, attempting to take my dog for a walk.  But the real highlight was definitely getting to hang with my 10 month old nephew, who is the perfect package of happy, hilarious, and adorable.  The kid has what my sister calls "his badass face" for goodness sakes!  It's badass.

Another highlight was a second go at Husband's Ultimate Birthday Cake.  You may recall I made this for Husband's birthday a few months ago with much success.  Too much success!  Husband had been bugging me to make it for him ever since, and this trip finally seemed like a good time to do it.  Something about having 4 other people in the house to help eat it quickly was certainly appealing.  This was actually the first time I've followed one of my own recipes.  Sure, I've written stuff down as I go, jotted down quick instructions to myself, or modified and adapted other people's recipes, but hearing my own voice come through as I followed this recipe step by step was kind of surreal.  And kind of awesome!  I kept thinking, "I know exactly what I mean!" 

And having made this cake twice now, I can safely boast that it is awesome!!!  Seriously.  Not to toot my own horn or anything, but both my sister and my dad declared their disdain of the chocolate/raspberry flavor combination before trying this cake.  [*GASP!*  Blasphemy!  Chocolate and raspberry are the ultimate!  ULTIMATE!  Ok, only my dad expressed disdain.  My sister merely said she had never tried a chocolate raspberry dessert to her liking before.  My sister - always the diplomat.]  After they each tried a piece, however, it was a whole other matter.  There was lots of raving.  And not polite raving.  Adamant, genuine, "I'm a believer!!!" raving.  They both said the flavors were perfectly balanced - not too sweet, not too tart.  And my mom, who was of the opinion that no cake could be worth that much effort, decided that this cake was worth that much effort, as long as someone else was making it.  Anyone know the onomatopoeia for a head inflating?  *Wooshooop!*  Because that's what's happening right now.  I just love cooking for my family.  Part of the reason I'm so neurotic about feeding other people is that I get so worried that they hate my food but they're too polite to say so, so I just tend to assume no one liked anything and I was just this crazy food-pusher they couldn't get away from.  But family is different.  You can tell when they're lying. Mwhahaha!

And one more highlight - my discovery of pumpkin seed oil!  Have you ever heard of it?  Apparently it's common in Europe, and there's a European market in Reno where my mom can buy it.  I'm, of course, kicking myself for not getting to that market to get my own bottle because it is some seriously nommy stuff.  For dinner one night my mom grilled some veggies simply tossed with a little olive and pumpkin seed oils, then threw it all together with some brown rice and shrimp.  I figured it would be tasty, but the pumpkin seed oil hit this meal out of the park.  It was that secret ingredient that made all the flavors come together perfectly. Yum!   Mom, if you are reading this, please bring me a bottle next time you visit! 

But enough about cake and plant oils.  I'm here to talk about pie.  I've been sitting on this recipe far longer than I wanted to.  It's still blueberry season, right?  Well I highly suggest you run out and buy every last clamshell of blueberries you can find because this pie is worth it.  I know, rhubarb usually goes with strawberries, in fact strawberry rhubarb is Husband's favorite pie, but one bite of this baby had him saying "Strawberry who?" No joke.

Pie crust.  Let's hash it out and get it out of the way.  Tender vs. flaky.  Shortening vs. butter.  Everyone has their own pie crusts tastes.  Some people like all of one or another, some people have different ratios of both.  I have by no means baked pie crusts extensively enough to give a definitive opinion on the matter, but I will say that of the crusts I've made so far, I am in the all butter camp.  First, shortening doesn't taste like anything.  People use it because it makes for a flakier crust.  But here's the thing.  I find butter crusts plenty flaky, and I actually prefer the more tender texture all butter crusts have.  Not to mention their amazingly buttery flavor.  You just have to incorporate the butter the right way, and maybe have a trick or two up your sleeve.  Like booze!  Have you heard of using vodka in pie dough?  It's wet enough to bring the dough together, but it doesn't gum up the flour like water does.  But vodka has no flavor, so I decided to try Goldshlager instead.  I thought the cinnamon liqueur might infuse a little extra flavor into the dough.  While it succeeded in keeping my dough light, I didn't get a lot of cinnamon flavor, so next time I might just stick with vodka.  I'm on a budget, after all, and they unfortunately don't sell Goldschlager at Costco.  The most important thing with a good pie dough is making sure everything is cold.  I actually stuck the butter in the freezer until it was just frozen, which worked perfectly.  I like to work the dough with my hands, but that always warms the butter too much.  This way the frozen butter actually needed the heat from my finger tips to become workable. 

To the novices out there who are completely intimidated at the thought of making pie: you can totally do this.  Pie crust can be a pain, and if you want it perfect, you do have to be somewhat of an artist, but I maintain that anyone can make a decent pie crust.  It'll probably be flawed, sure, but it'll be tasty, and isn't a tasty pie the real goal?  Start off by reading Deb's tips for the logistics of proper pie construction at Smitten Kitchen.  I always thought the hardest part was rolling it out.  I remember my mom's many failed attempts to get her pie crusts from the mat to the pie plate in one piece.  Turns out the secret is just lots of flour, and lots of turning.  Easy!

Now the filling.  I'm swooning just thinking about it.  I actually set out just to make a plain blueberry pie, but when I had all the berries in the bowl, I knew it was lacking in volume.  I had by chance bought some frozen rhubarb at Sprouts a few weeks ago because I was curious (also, it was on sale - impulse buy!). I had never seen frozen rhubarb before, and neither had the cashier who rang me up.  She asked if it was good, and I told her I'd have to let her know.  I figured, what the hell, and threw it in with the rest of the filling.  I guess it was fate because this is easily the best pie I've ever made - including strawberry rhubarb!  It was just the right balance of sweetness from the blueberries and that touch of sour tartness from the rhubarb.  I love the sweetness of blueberries, but find a little acid to break up their flavor really brings them up a notch. And the deeper sweet flavor of the brandy brought everything together perfectly.  But the real secret was the tapioca starch.  All purpose flour is normally used in pies to help thicken the filling, but tapioca starch does a much better job of making a glutenous mixture.  Got that trick from Alton Brown.  I buy tapioca starch at the Asian market, but I'm sure it can be found at other specialty markets.  If you don't have any, just use regular AP flour.

It may be an ugly pie, but it was darn delicious.  When Husband and I were ready for dessert all conversation would cease while consumption was happening. Unless it was one of us chiming in to say how good the pie tasted.  But usually it just came out as approving grunts and groans.

Blueberry Rhubarb Pie

crust adapted from Smitten Kitchen
filling adapted from Joy the Baker

For the crust (both top and bottom):

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 TB ice cold water
Goldshlager (or vodka)
For the filling:

18oz fresh blueberries
12oz bag frozen rhubarb, thawed (or about 2 cups fresh rhubarb, chopped)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup tapioca starch (or substitute AP flour)
zest of half a lemon (about 1/2 tsp)
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of kosher salt
3 TB brandy
1 egg
1 TB milk
To make the dough:
  1. Cut the butter into small pieces and break them apart. [I like to cut the stick lengthwise, turn it 90 degrees, and then cut it lengthwise again, so I have 4 long sticks. Then I cut regular tablespoon-size pats, so I end up with a bunch of 1/4 TB pieces.] Put the well-separated pieces into a bowl and place it in the freezer for about 30-40 minutes, or until they are just barely frozen through.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the frozen butter and gently work it into the flour with your fingertips. Since it’s frozen, you’ll have to kind of smush it out. Use your finger muscles! The butter will be incorporated enough when you have small pea-sized bits of butter left.
  3. Add the very, very cold water and stir it into the mixture. This shouldn’t be enough moisture to bring the dough together, so add the Goldshlager 1 TB at a time until the dough will just form into a ball. Divide the dough evenly into two balls. Wrap each ball tightly in plastic wrap and squish it into the shape of a round disc, like a giant hockey puck.
  4. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, but overnight is okay too.
To make the pie:

  1. In a bowl, combine the blueberries, rhubarb, sugar, tapioca starch, lemon zest, lemon juice, cinnamon, salt, and brandy. Mix until everything is incorporated and the fruit is well coated. Set aside.
  2. Remove one hockey puck of dough from the refrigerator. On a very well floured surface, roll out the dough evenly until it is big enough to cover your pie plate, plus a 1/2 inch or so. This is best achieved by constantly turning and flipping your dough so it doesn’t stick to your surface. Don’t be afraid to add too much flour, you can’t. Transferring to the pie plate can be tricky. I like to fold the dough in half, and then in half again, and then transfer the quarter wedge to the plate and carefully unfold it. But use whatever method you like.
  3. Gently press the dough into the plate and trim off any dough overhanging more than a 1/2 inch over the plate. Using the excess bits to fill any holes or imperfections you have. Remember, you won’t see the bottom crust, but you’ll taste any spots where there’s missing dough. Pour the blueberry mixture over the bottom crust and set aside.
  4. Remove the second hockey puck of dough from the refrigerator, and roll it out the same way you did the first one. When it is big enough to cover the pie with at least a 1/2 inch overhang, figure out what’s going to be the center. You need to make vents in the top crust for the steam to escape. I cut a hole about the size of a shot glass in the very center, but it can be anywhere. You’ll want at least one. I also cut a few smaller holes around the edges. When the dough is properly ventilated, carefully cover the pie, and again trim any excess. Tuck the two crusts under so it is flush with the plate. Using your fingers or a fork, crimp all the way around the edge of the pie so it’s sealed. Cut a few more vents in the crust. Put the pie in the refrigerator to chill for about 20 minutes.
  5. While the pie chills, preheat your oven to 425 degrees and move the rack to the lower third of your oven. If you’re worried about filling bubbling over and making a mess you can put a cookie sheet under the rack to catch any drippings.
  6. Beat the egg and milk together and brush evenly over the top of the chilled pie, making sure none of it pools.When the oven is ready, bake for 30 minutes, then knock the heat down to 375 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes. If the pie starts to get too brown before it is finished baking, cover it loosely with foil (I did this about 45 minutes in). The pie is finished baking when the crust is golden brown and the filling is thick and bubbling.
  7. Let the pie sit and fully cool before cutting into it to give the filling time to come together, at least 4 hours.  Don't jump the gun, you'll regret it!