Perfect Pumpkin Pie, Take Two

A few weeks ago, I made my first pumpkin pie completely from scratch. It was definitely palatable, as most pumpkin pie is, but the flavor was a little too subtle for my taste. But with Thanksgiving still a ways away I had plenty of time to practice. And when my friend and colleague, Nicole Williams, invited me to a dinner last night at her  fabulous apartment, I knew the time had come to try another version. You may have seen Nicole on TV before—as a successful career expert she’s frequently on the Today show—or have checked out her website, WORKS By Nicole Williams, (edited by yours truly) but what I learned recently about her is that she’s slightly obsessed with pumpkin pie. Which means she’d be just the person to test out a recipe I found on SimplyRecipes.com that I’ve been eager to try.

I had a feeling this recipe would be good because it calls for lots of spices—cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and cardamom. And oh was I right. This is a fantastic pumpkin pie recipe! It’s incredibly flavorful and the distinct spices really come through. I made two versions, one using heavy cream and one with evaporated milk. After tasting both, I think the heavy cream gives the pie a smoother texture.

As with my last pie, I used fresh pumpkin and I made a pate brisee crust, but this time I used whole wheat pastry flour, which worked beautifully. The crust is light and buttery. The only other change I made was using light brown sugar instead of dark because that’s what I had on hand. If you are looking for a pumpkin pie recipe for Thanksgiving, this is it. Everyone at last night’s dinner raved about how good it was (two of Nicole’s guests had never eaten pumpkin pie before!) so this is the recipe I’ll be using come Turkey Day. Now if I could just perfect my stuffing…

 

Old-Fashioned Pumpkin Pie

2 cups of pumpkin pulp purée from a sugar pumpkin or from canned pumpkin purée

1 1/2 cup heavy cream or 1 12 oz. can of evaporated milk

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

1/3 cup white sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs plus the yolk of a third egg

2 teaspoons of cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest

 

Preheat oven to 425°F. Mix sugars, salt, and spices, and lemon zest in a large bowl. Beat the eggs and add to the bowl. Stir in the pumpkin purée. Stir in cream. Whisk all together until well incorporated.

Pour into pie shell and bake at 425°F for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes reduce the temperature to 350°F. Bake 40-50 minutes, or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack for 2 hours.

 

Fresh Pumpkin Pie

As soon as pumpkins hit the farmers markets last month, I started thinking about pie and how I’d like to try my hand at making my own pumpkin puree. The instructions seemed simple enough but I wondered if it was worth the effort, since there are plenty of high quality brands of organic canned pumpkin on the market. But when we were at Lyman Orchards a couple of weeks ago for Apple Picking Extravaganza they had a whole field of sugar pumpkins, exactly the kind I needed for baking. I bought three little ones and took them back to New York with me, where they’ve been sitting on my table along with the rest of my fall produce.

Yesterday, I had a totally free Sunday, the best kind for weekend baking. With an afternoon ahead of me, I decided the time had come to turn my pumpkins into pie. There are a couple of different ways to make fresh pumpkin puree—you can either roast the pumpkin or peel it, cut it into pieces and boil it. I tried both methods and roasting is definitely the easier option. It takes a little longer for the pumpkins to soften enough to be scooped out, but you save time and effort on the back end because all you have to do is slice the pumpkin lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, place it cut side down on a greased baking sheet, and then roast it at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes. (Save those seeds for toasting later on!) Peeling and chopping the pumpkin for the boiling method was kind of annoying. OK, really annoying. I started with that method and was tempted to throw in the towel until roasting the pumpkins proved much more efficient.

I had read that fresh pumpkin can be a bit watery so after I pureed the pumpkin pulp in my mini food processor, I lined a strainer with coffee filters and let it drain until cool. Now I was ready to make my pie.

A quick Internet search found that many pumpkin pies called for a pate brisee crust, which is a simple buttery pie dough. If you have a 9-14 cup food processor make it in there, although I used my mini food processor and it fit just fine. I just stopped it a few times when it came time to drizzle in the water since it doesn’t have a food tube.  Here is the recipe I used from Joy of Baking:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1-inch pieces

1/8 to 1/4 cup ice water

In a food processor, place the flour, salt and sugar and process until combines. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal (about 15 seconds.) Pour 1/8 cup water in a slow, steady stream through the feed tube until the dough just holds together when pinched. If necessary, add more water. Do not process more than 30 secounds. Turn the dough onto your work surface and gather into a ball. Flatter into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to one hour before using.

Once the dough had been rolled out, I flattened it into the pie dish and let it chill, covered in plastic wrap, for another 20 minutes in the fridge. I then made the pumpkin filling, also from Joy of Baking:

3 large eggs

2 cups fresh pumpkin puree or one 15-ounce can pure pumpkin

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl lightly whisk the eggs. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell and bake for 45-50 minutes at 375 degrees or until the filling is set and the crust has browned. The center will still look wet but a knife insered about one inch from the side of the pan should come out almost clean.


Here is the finished product:
I also made some homemade whipped cream to top it with for the first time, which is super easy (pour heavy cream into bowl, add a bit of sugar, whisk until the cream has thickened) though a bit strenuous on the wrist. We definitely liked this pie. The consistency is excellent and the flavor is light. It’s a little too light for my taste though, so next time I will probably up the spice ratio. I also think using fresh pumpkin is definitely worth the effort, but I won’t judge you if you opt for canned. Another interesting technique I read is that some bakers put a layer of crushed pecans or hazelnuts on top of their pie shell before filling it with the pumpkin mixture. This not only gives it more texture, but helps the crust from getting soggy. I am thinking about trying this. In fact I bought another sugar pumpkin at the Greenmarket this morning. You see, I like to practice some of the new dishes I plan to serve on Thanksgiving ahead of time, so that I know what tweaks I need to make. I hosted my first Thanksgiving two years ago and I made so many versions of stuffing that by the time the actual holiday came, Johnny couldn’t even look at it. However, he never tires of pie, so I don’t think he’ll mind sampling a few more of my efforts.
Do you have a favorite pumpkin pie recipe? Please share it in the comments below!

Apple Picking Extravaganza

I have wanted to go apple picking for years now. In fact every fall I say I am going to go to Lyman Orchards, pick a bounty of apples and then go home and bake pies with them. And then fall comes and goes and while I’ve no doubt eaten many an apple, I haven’t picked but a one of them. (Or baked a pie for that matter). But this year I decided to get my act in gear early. (Having a blog makes me so much more motivated to do food related activities). I invited Emily, Heather, and their respective husbands to join us, I set a date, October 9, and Apple Picking Extravaganza was on!

Oh how fun it was! Lyman Orchards is an eighth-generation family-owned farm in Middlefield, Connecticut. Their orchards span 350 acres and their market, the Apple Barrel, is the largest indoor farm market in the state. (They also make the best apple cider doughnuts you’ll ever eat. Oh wow). Lyman Orchards grows more than 20 varieties of apples, including my favorite, Granny Smith.  Armed with plastic bags, me, Heather, and Emily set out to pick an assortment of apples, since the best pies are made from a mix of species.

We filled our bags with Granny Smith, Mutsu-Crispin, Empire and Rome apples. We wanted to pick  Macoun too, but we didn’t see those until we were driving out of the orchard and by that point, we had a bushel of fruit and a couple of sweet pumpkins too. (Stay tuned for a fresh pumpkin pie post).

Once we were back at my house, we set to work baking pies. I wanted our pastry to be completely from scratch so I made the dough the day before the extravaganza. It was surprisingly easy thanks to my 11-cup Cuisinart food processor. If you have one, I highly recommend making pie dough in it. It took me a couple of tries to get the hang of it—probably because this was the first time I had taken my food processor out of the box— but by the third batch my dough was the perfect consistency for rolling out. I used Food & Wine’s recipe:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cubed

1/2 cup ice water (the first time I actually threw the ice into the mix. I don’t recommend this. Simply use really cold water.)

In a food processor, pulse flour and salt. Add the butter and pulse until it is the size of peas. Drizzle on the ice water and pulse until evenly moistened crumbs form; turn out onto a surface and form into a ball. Divide the dough in half. Flatten the disks, wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm.

I decided we’d make two different kinds of pies: Dutch apple, which has a delightful crumb topping, and then traditional double-crust apple pie. I had Food & Wine’s recipe for apple pie and Heather had her mom’s recipe, so we decided to make both to see how different ratios of ingredients affected the taste. Both recipes called for six large apples, but I think we must have been using jumbo-sized ones, because we had enough filling for two and a half pies from one recipe. (Granted some of the pie plates we used were more shallow then others). The main difference between the two recipes was that my filling called for lemon juice and a 1/4 cup of flour and Heather’s omitted the lemon juice and also required 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of flour.  (We also consulted Emily’s mom, who doesn’t use any flour in her filling). And speaking of Emily, that girl’s skills in rolling out pie dough are far superior to mine. Look at how perfect her circle is:

All told, we made six pies—two crumb top and four double-crust—using a mix of Granny Smith, Empire and Mutsu-Crispin. Here, three of the pies that we cut into shortly after this picture was taken:

While all of the pies were incredibly tasty, the Food & Wine version was more tart, less sweet, while Heather’s version, adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, had a sweeter, richer taste. The double-crust pies were a bit watery, whereas the Dutch apple was not. I suspect that adding that 1/4 cup of flour helps cut the wateriness. So my advice would be to use the Food & Wine recipe for a more tart pie, and the Fannie Farmer if you like your slice on the sweeter side. Below are both recipes, including the ingredients for the crumb topping.

Double-Crust Apple Pie

6 large apples—peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks or thinly sliced

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 tablespoon cold, unsalted butter, cubed

Note: We upped the cinnamon to 1/2 teaspoon and also added 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Set a baking sheet on the bottom rack. In a bowl, toss the apples, lemon juice, sugar, flour and the cinnamon. On a floured surface, roll a disk of the dough to a 13-inch round and fit it into a deep 10-inch pie plate. Spoon in the apples and top with the cubed butter. Roll out the second disk of dough of a 12 inch round and center it over the filling. Press the edges of the dough together and trim the overhanf to 1-inch; fold the overlay under itself and crimp. Cut a few slits in the top crust for steam to escape. Bake the pie for 1 hour, until the crust is golden. Cover the edge of the pie if it begins to darken. Let the pie cool for at least 4 hours before serving.

Cathy Hutchins’s Apple Pie (adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook)

3/4 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 1/2 tablespoon flour

6 large apples, cut into chunks

2 tablespoons butter, cubed

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Roll out the dough and place in a pie plate. Toss the apples with the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Spoon into the dish, then top with the butter. Cover with a second disk of rolled out dough and proceed as in the above recipe. Bake the pie for 10 minutes at 425, then reduce heat to 350 and continue to bake for another 30-40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.

Dutch Apple Pie

Assemble the pie with bottom crust only; crimp the dough. Whisk 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup light brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add 6 tablespoons softened butter and rub the mixture until sandy. Press the mixture into clumps and sprinkle over the pie. Bake as directed.

To prevent the edges from burning, we covered them with The Pampered Chef Pie Crust Shield and good old-fashioned tin foil.

And while baking six pies was both exhilarating and exhausting–Emily and I plopped down on the couch at the end of the evening and promptly fell asleep—we didn’t stop there. No, we also made spiked apple cider, apple chutney, roasted chicken with carrots, onions, and potatoes, spicy pumpkin soup and homemade vanilla bean ice cream.  It was the perfect way to cap a day at the farm.

And of course we saved room for pie!

Hot Spiked Apple Cider

Recipe by Stephania Stanley of ThursdayNightDinner.org

½ gallon apple cider

12 cloves

3 cinnamon sticks

1 cup orange juice

½ cup lemon juice

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 ¼ cups dark rum or brandy (or add to taste)

Combine first 6 ingredients in a large saucepan; cook over medium heat until thoroughly heated, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove and discard cinnamon sticks and cloves using a slotted spoon. Stir in rum. Cook over medium heat until thoroughly heated (do not boil). Pour into mugs. Garnish with cinnamon sticks and orange slices if you’re feeling festive. Extra cider or apple punch can be refrigerated for a week in an air tight container.

Apple Chutney

recipe from SimplyRecipes.com

2 large tart cooking apples (such as green Granny Smith) peeled, cored and chopped
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon allspice

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and stir well. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 50 minutes. Uncover and simmer over low heat for a few minutes more to cook off excess liquid; let cool. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 2 cups.

Peach Crisp

Peaches are in season right now and they’re available in abundance—almost every stand at my local farmers market has stacks of them among the eggplant, corn and tomatoes that are also at their peak. When I pass by the peaches I often think about what else I can do with them besides eat them as is. I made a peach tomato salsa a few weeks ago which was pretty good, but we liked the mango version better. Yesterday, I had the itch to bake, especially since Christie and I were discussing how delectable peach desserts are. I consulted my Food & Wine cookbook and found this recipe for peach crisp. Perfect. I had all of the ingredients, except the peaches, but a quick walk through the Greenmarket took care of that. The recipe was intended for 12 individual crisps, though it said that one big crisp would also work. I opted for the latter.  In order to prep the peaches, I needed to blanch them in boiling water for one minute, which would make the skins easier to peel.

Don’t these look delicious? I diced them up, sprinkled them with cornstarch and then into the crisp they went.

Here is the finished product, which I scooped into a small ramekin for photographic purposes.  I baked the crisp in a dish that was just shy of 13 x 9. I had some of the crumb topping leftover too, so if you have a bigger baking dish, use it.  The recipe says to serve it warm, but I prefer a cold crisp—especially for breakfast, which I indulged in this morning.  It’s my birthday and birthdays are a great time to eat dessert in the am, after all. The brown sugar, oat, sugar combo ensures that the crisp is tasty without being overly sugary, and the peaches deliver a delicious natural sweetness. Next time you come across a pile of peaches pick some up. Then make this dessert!

Peach Crisp

Topping

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1/2 cup rolled oats

7 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/4 teaspoon salt

Filling

3 pounds peaches

1/4 cup cornstarch

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugars, oats, butter and salt and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the peaches and blanch for 1 minute to loosen their skins. Transfer the peaches to a large rimmed baking sheet. When cool enough to handle, peel off the skins and cut the peaches into 1/2-inch dice. Transfer the peaches to a large bowl and sprinkle with the cornstarch. Toss well to coat and let stand for a few minutes.Preheat the oven to 325°. Butter and sugar twelve 5-ounce ramekins and arrange them on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Spoon the peaches into the ramekins and sprinkle with the topping. Bake the crisps for about 1 hour, until the filling is bubbling. Remove the ramekins from the oven and increase the temperature to 400°. Bake the crisps on the upper rack for about 8 minutes, until the topping is browned. Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream, if desired.

No Bake Dessert: Banana Yogurt Pie

When I was a kid, I spent most summer afternoons swimming in the pool in my backyard. My brother and I often had friends over and our mom would whip up some sort of treat for us to snack on mid-swim. Yogurt pie frequently made an appearance. It’s another simple dessert made with just three ingredients: yogurt, whipped topping and graham cracker crust. I thought about yogurt pie the other day and I knew I wanted to blog about it, but the whipped topping was tripping me up. My mother used Cool Whip, and truth be told, I love the stuff. I could—and often have—eat it with a spoon straight from the container. But then I learned that Cool Whip is loaded with chemicals and hydrogenated oil. Yuck. Over the last year or so, I’ve really made an effort to cut processed foods out of our diet, and sadly, Cool Whip had to go. I was considering making my own whipped cream for the pie when I stumbled upon a product called TruWhip. It’s an all-natural whipped topping that doesn’t contain hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, or trans fats.  Bestill my heart. This was a fabulous find. And when I tasted it and found that it’s even better than Cool Whip, I almost lost my mind. Try it. You might too. (Especially since there’s a coupon on their site for 55 cents off!)

My mom used strawberry yogurt in her pie and a graham cracker crust, but when Whole Foods only had chocolate crusts in stock, I figured I’d change the whole thing up and use Stonyfield Farm’s Banilla yogurt, a mixture of banana and vanilla. I bought the 32 oz container and used a little more than half, but if you’re buying yogurt in 6 oz cups, I’d use three. Mix the yogurt with the entire container of TruWhip (let the whip thaw completely before doing so), pour it all into the pie crust and freeze.

Oh yum. If you can, try to let the pie sit out for 10 minutes or so before serving. The top will become slightly creamier and it’ll be much easier to cut. The banana chocolate combo was a hit and now I’m thinking about making another pie with strawberry yogurt. This is a great dessert to keep in your freezer all summer long. You can just pull it out whenever you have company—or a sweet tooth. And since it’s made with yogurt and whipped topping it’s relatively healthy too!

Easy Summer Dessert: Icebox Cake

I was reading my friend Carl’s blog a couple of weeks ago and in one of his posts he wrote about icebox cake, a dessert he ate as a child. I immediately thought of the icebox cake my mother used to make. While the one Carl was talking about is prepared with whipped cream and chocolate wafer cookies, the version I remember contained graham crackers, chocolate and vanilla pudding and could often be found in the refrigerator at my childhood home. My mother often made this simple dessert in the summer months and after whipping one up this afternoon, I can see why. It’s so easy! I didn’t use instant pudding but you can if you’re pressed for time, which would make it even easier to put together. Here’s what you do: line a 13 x 9 dish with graham crackers, breaking them up to fit evenly. Pour a layer of pudding over the crackers—my mom always put vanilla first and then chocolate, so that’s what I did too, but feel free to change up the flavors—followed by another layer of graham crackers and one more layer of pudding. Then crush up some of the remaining crackers and sprinkle over the top. Let chill for at least three hours before serving, though the more chilled the cake is, the better it tastes. The pudding softens the crackers, turning them into a cake-like consistency.

We’ll have this for dessert tonight after a dinner of burgers and barley salad. As I was walking home from Whole Foods today, I thought about some of my other favorite summer desserts from yesteryear. Yogurt pie comes to mind, another delightfully simple refreshing treat. Stay tuned for that recipe later this week!

A Fourth of July Feast

I’ve always loved the 4th of July. When I was younger, we used to have huge family picnics at our house. My aunts, uncles and cousins would come over for a day of swimming, games and lots of eating. Once it got dark, we’d all gather on the front steps of my house and watch the fireworks that my neighbors and cousins were letting off in our cul de sac. (Probably not the safest thing to do, but it was definitely fun to watch.) My husband knows how many happy memories I have of the 4th, and two years ago, he added to them by proposing to me over the holiday weekend in the backyard of the house I grew up in. And over the last several years, I’ve started having my own 4th of July parties in Connecticut with friends and family. This year, Johnny and I hosted his brother, Justin, and his wife, Lauren, as well as his cousin, Jenny, and her husband, Bob. Armed with Elizabeth Karmel’s grilling tomes—which she was kind enough to send me after I interviewed her recently—Johnny and I decided we would grill as much as possible. (Since we don’t have a grill in the city, we take full advantage of the one at my father’s house whenever possible.) This year, in addition to chicken, burgers, clams and corn, we also made several pizzas. I started grilling pizzas a few years ago and I can’t believe I didn’t do so sooner. They’re so easy to make—especially if you buy the dough—and cook up really quickly. Let the dough sit out for an hour or so before rolling it out into a pizza shape. (Mine are always a bit oblong, and never symmetrical, but this doesn’t seem to affect their taste.) Brush both sides with olive oil and then place on the grill over direct heat and close the grill. Let it cook for about 3-4 minutes and then check it. (They burn super easily, so as soon as it’s lightly browned, flip it.) Add whatever toppings you want, turn the center burner off (for indirect heat)  and then close the grill and let the pizza cook until the bottom is browned and the cheese is melted. I did a version of our pesto, roasted peppers, chicken pizza and I also debuted a new pizza:

This one had an olive tapenade that I made using Elizabeth Karmel’s recipe (it’s at the end of this post), cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, grated fontina, pecorino romano and basil. I also found a recipe in her book, Pizza On the Grill, for a berry pizza, which I served as dessert on the 4th:

I didn’t have all of the ingredients for this one, so I just added a teaspoon of cinnamon and a couple of tablespoons of sugar to the dough while I was kneading it, then brushed it with canola oil. Once both sides were grilled, I removed it from the heat and spread it with one cup of ricotta cheese that I had added 2 tbsp of sugar and a 1/2 tsp of vanilla to. I then topped it with strawberries and blueberries and drizzled it with honey. It was a huge hit!

Though we did make pizzas all three nights we were in Connecticut, there was plenty of other food as well. I made the barley salad again, as well as a rotini pasta salad with spinach, ricotta, and golden raisins that I found in Real Simple several years ago.

I was tired of turkey burgers, and when a recipe for beef and bulgur burgers landed in my inbox last week as part of Whole Foods Market’s newsletter, I decided I’d make those too. They have cinnamon and allspice in them which gives them a delightful aroma and taste. Next time I may use less bulgur as they were a bit crumbly once they were on the grill, which made them harder to flip:

And finally, since my brother-in-law is a big fan of mixed berry desserts, I found a recipe for mixed berry spoon cake in my Food & Wine cookbook, so I prepared that as well. Justin gave it his seal of approval. It’s especially good warm, though eating it cold for breakfast this morning was tasty too:

It was a fantastic weekend full of good weather, good company and good food. What more can you ask for? Below, I’ve listed all of the recipes I used. Email me with your favorite 4th of July dishes!

Black Olive Tapenade

2 cups kalamata olives, drained and pitted

Finely grated zest and juice of one lemon

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup lightly packed Italian parsley leaves

2 tablespoon olive oil

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.

Rotini with Spinach, Ricotta, and Golden Raisins

1/2 pound rotini (or fusilli or bow-tie pasta)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 10-ounce box frozen chopped spinach—thawed, drained and squeezed of excess moisture

2 scallions, thinly sliced

1 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup whole or part-skim ricotta

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (optional)

Cook the pasta to the label directions. Drain and return to pot. Add the olive oil, spinach, scallions, raisins and basil and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta and balsamic vinegar; stir. Add to the pasta mixture and toss lightly. Top with the Parmesan and pine nuts if desired.

Note: I usually make this dish with a full pound of pasta, but I don’t increase all of the ingredients. I usually add a little more olive oil (especially if I’m serving it the next day) and sometimes I add more ricotta if it looks a bit dry. I’ve made it with and without the pine nuts. The pine nuts are a nice touch, but not necessary if you don’t have them. But don’t skip the raisins. They add a hint of sweetness that really makes the dish.

Beef and Bulgur Burgers

2 cups water
1 cup bulgur wheat
Canola oil
1 1/4 pounds (95-percent) lean ground beef
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4 cup finely chopped red onion, plus sliced onion for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
6 whole wheat hamburger buns, toasted
Green or red leaf lettuce
2 tomatoes, sliced

Bring water to a boil in a small pot over medium high heat. Add bulgur, cover, reduce heat to medium low and simmer until water is almost absorbed and bulgur is just tender, about 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat and set aside for 5 minutes. Uncover pot, fluff bulgur with a fork and set aside until cooled. In a large bowl, mix together beef, bulgur, parsley, cumin, cinnamon, allspice and chopped onion. Form mixture into 6 patties and season all over with salt and pepper. Grill patties, flipping once, until deep golden brown and cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes per side.

Mixed Berry Spoon Cake

Filling

4 pints strawberries (2 pounds), hulled and quartered

2 pints blackberries (12 ounces)

2 pints raspberries (12 ounces)

3/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Batter

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted

In a bowl, toss the berries with the sugar and cornstarch and let stand for 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375°. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the sugar, lemon zest, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk and vanilla. Whisk the liquid into the dry ingredients until evenly moistened, then whisk in the melted butter until smooth. Spread the filling in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Spoon the batter on top, leaving small gaps. Bake in the center of the oven for 1 hour, until the fruit is bubbling and a toothpick inserted into the topping comes out clean. Let cool for 1 hour before serving.

Fresh Cherry Cobbler

As I wrote in yesterday’s Examiner post, cherries are at their peak season right now. Whole Foods is even giving away a pound for free if you spend $25. While I love cherries on their own, I got to thinking that they’d be pretty good in a dessert as well. Since I’ve been on a crisp kick, I googled cherry cobbler and found this recipe from one of my fellow Examiners.  I liked this recipe best because it called for sweet cherries (many of the recipes that came up called for sour ones) and yogurt was used for the crumbly topping. I was pleased with how my pumpkins muffins turned out with yogurt added to the mix, so I will be using this healthy switch whenever possible in my baking. Anyway, as always I did make a few tweaks to the recipe. I used 100 percent whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose, and at the end I only sprinkled one tablespoon of sugar over the biscuit topping, not three. One adequately covered the dough, so why add more sugar if you don’t need to, right? As for the cherries, you need a little more than two pounds to get six cups. I had two pounds and was just shy of filling that last cup, but I used a slightly smaller dish than 13 x 9 so I don’t think it really mattered. Also, make sure you’re wearing either dark clothing or an apron when you pit the cherries. The juice has a tendency to splatter. Pitting the cherries is definitely not the most fun part of making this cobbler, but it’s so worth the effort.

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Rhubarb-Strawberry Crisp

Until last weekend, I had never worked with rhubarb before. I knew it was often used in pies, but if I’m being honest, I wasn’t sure exactly what it looked like or how it tasted. I don’t do a lot of pie making so rhubarb was left to languish on my mental list of ingredients that I’d get around to trying some day. That day unexpectedly came last Saturday, however, when I was over my friend Emily’s apartment. It was her birthday weekend and she wanted to make a dessert to take to a barbecue her mom was hosting the next day. Since rhubarb is in season, Emily had decided on a  recipe for rhubarb-strawberry crisp that she found on the Food Network website. I can never turn down an opportunity to bake, so when I arrived, we set to work.

The first step involved cutting up the strawberries and rhubarb (which resembled a red-hued celery stalk). To the freshly chopped fruit we added granulated sugar, cornstarch, orange zest and triple sec (the recipe calls for Grand Marnier or Cointreau, but triple sec was what we found in the liquor cabinet, so we went with it.) :

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Ricotta Pie

From a food perspective, Easter is my least favorite holiday (aside from the chocolate of course). Most of the foods I grew up eating on Easter are incredibly rich and usually contain ham, heavy cream, or in some cases, both. I do, however, have a soft spot for Easter desserts, most notably ricotta pie. My mom made this every year, and after she died seven years ago, I decided that I would continue the tradition. It hasn’t been easy. Inevitably, some sort of mishap occurs every time I attempt to make this pie. The first year, I realized that I didn’t have a pie plate or a rolling pin—two crucial instruments in pie making—so I made a frantic dash to Kmart to buy some. I also somehow thought the recipe would make two pies (it doesn’t) so each one only had about half of the amount of ricotta filling it should have had. The next year, my pie overflowed because the dish I made it in was too shallow. (Scraping it off of the oven was fun.) And don’t even get me started on the crust—a sweet variety that is made from scratch. I often talk to my mother when I am trying to roll it out, using many four letter words when it never fails to stick. The end result is usually a sub par pie. Edible for sure (it is, after all, made with ricotta and sugar) but by no means worth the effort—and aggravation—that went into making it.

This year, however, I am determined to make a perfect pie. Or as perfect as possible. I’ve got a new enameled cast iron pie dish (appropriately pastel blue in color) and tips from my Pilates instructor, Patrizia. Patrizia hails from Rome, and when I saw her this morning, she suggested I add a bit of orange extract, or even orange peel, to my filling, which gives the ricotta a refreshing taste. She also told me to let my dough sit for 20-30 minutes before kneading it, which would make it more pliable. Armed with this knowledge, I returned home and set to work.

First, I got out my ingredients:

And of course, the recipe (a more legible version is listed below):

Unfortunately, I didn’t follow the instructions for the crust very carefully (I threw everything in at once) which resulted in a sticky mess that no amount of time “resting” could fix. So alas, the first batch of dough went into the trash. My ricotta mixture, below, was already made, so I put it in the fridge while I set to making a new batch of dough. Btw, I added the orange extract and it tasted delicious:

I’m happy to say that the second batch of dough behaved beautifully! I let it sit for about 30 minutes, added some flour to it and it rolled out smooth as can be:

Actually, I had to reroll it out, because this version was too thin, but eventually it made it into the pie plate:

Then I added the filling:

I just checked on the pie, and it’s still slightly wobbly in the middle, so it’s now sitting in the oven, which is turned off, for another 10 minutes or so. I’ll post a final picture later. But this, dear readers, may be my best effort yet. Happy Easter!

Ricotta Pie

For crust:

1 stick of butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups flour

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon baking powder

Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla together. Add flour and baking powder, then one egg, mix, second egg, mix, third egg, mix.

For Filling:

4 eggs

1 1/2 pounds ricotta

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 capfuls orange extract (optional)

Stir together, then pour into crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until the middle of the pie is firm, not jiggly.

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