Thursday, July 29, 2010

Two-Layer Key Lime Pie


This is the pie you need in your refrigerator this summer. A slice of this is kind of like jumping into a cold swimming pool. The freshness is immediate and it engulfs you. It takes your breath away. This recipe calls for  a lot of limes. A total of nearly a cup of lime juice. I think I used about 7-8 limes which would have been a small fortune in produce, had I not seen them for something like 2 dollars a dozen at a local flea market. I snapped them up with this exact pie in mind.

The inspiration for Key Lime Pie came from a visit to Chicago in May. We were there to visit one of my brothers and his family one last time before they moved to Boston. One night he had a craving for key lime pie. I didn't know this about him. It's kind of a funny feeling, discovering something about a family member. It's like you're meeting them for the first time. This was never a dessert that my mom made, so he must have developed a taste for it later in life. That's one of the weird things about living so far away from my family--so far away from my siblings, in particular. We grew up together, but spent our adult lives far apart; still close in spirit, but I miss knowing little things like brother loves key lime pie. And now, so do I.


This is another new recipe for me. Again, it's from Bon Appetit, the R.S.V.P. section, which I've noticed, many of these post recipes have come from. This is the part of the magazine where they publish recipes from restaurants requested by readers. I don't know what that says about me. Am I the kind of person who wants to have what someone else has? Am I the kind of cook who aspires to cook restaurant food? Maybe. All I know is that some recipes call to me louder than others. I can taste them in my mind and I just KNOW that the result will be amazing. Sometimes they meet my expectations, and sometimes they don't, but fortunately for us, this was one of those times when my imagination and expectation were both satisfied.

One of the unique things about this pie is the crust; it is a graham cracker crust with crushed granola mixed in with melted butter. It's not fancy schmancy granola. Just plain jane sweet oats hiding in the cereal aisle. It's so good in this. It's a nuttier taste than the cracker crumbs would be by themselves and it gives the crust more texture, which, you should know by now, is one of my things.  


The other part of this pie that makes it unique is the layering. It has a lime baked custard layer, and then it's topped with a lime cream cheese layer, and as heavy and cloying as that might sound to you (but then to me, it sounds like heaven) believe me when I tell you this is the lightest, most refreshing cream pie I have ever eaten. You remember at the beginning of this story when I told you how you need this pie? You need this because it tastes like paradise, for starters. But you also need this pie because it's a dessert that spends minimal time in the oven, most of the time in the refrigerator, and not nearly enough time on your tongue. It could be my favorite summer far, anyway.


Two-Layer Key Lime Pie
from Bon Appetit
Serves 8

A small note about assembling the pie. I piped the whipped cream around the edge because I thought it would look pretty and also, the recipe instructs you to do this. You could also pipe/spread the cream over the whole surface of the pie; this would slightly mellow the citrus punch this pie hides behind it's sweet, demure appearance.

3/4 c. granola (with no raisins or other dried fruit)
3/4 c. graham cracker crumbs (from about 6 whole graham crackers)
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
3 T. sugar

Baked Layer:
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 c. Key lime juice or lime juice
3 large egg yolks

Chilled Layer:
8 oz. package cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 c. sweetened condensed milk
1/4 c. Key lime juice or lime juice
2 T. sugar
1 t. vanilla extract

Sweetened whipped cream

For crust: Pre-heat oven to 340 degrees. Using on/off turns, blend granola in processor until coarsely ground. Transfer granola to medium bowl. Mix in graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, and sugar. Press crumb mixture over bottom and up sides of 9" deep-dish glass pie dish. Bake until crust is golden brown, about 8 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees. Remove crust from oven and cool completely.
For baked layer: Whisk condensed milk, lime juice, and egg yolks in medium bowl to blend. Pour into pie crust. Bake until custard is set, about 25 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
For chilled layer: Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese, condensed milk, lime juice, sugar and vanilla in large bowl. Pour over cooled baked layer, smooth top. Cover and chill until firm, at least 4 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated.) Pipe sweetened whipped cream decoratively around edge of pie. Cut into wedges and serve.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Chicken Paillard and Arugula Salad

This is possibly our favorite way to eat chicken. I saw Tyler Florence make this one day on Tyler's Ultimate and I had to create it myself. We fell in love. With the salad, I mean. I do love his food style, though. It's very bistro, in an accessible, and comforting way. If I had a restaurant, I would cook this kind of food. Let me draw your attention to the greens. This is the most perfect example of arugula I have ever seen.  That's arugula in that bowl, not baby spinach (although you could substitute one for the other, but try arugula first, it's an incredible flavor).

We were in Hudson the other day and I had to go to Heinen's market to browse the produce section. It makes me happy. I go there just to see the baby bok choy. If you live in or near Hudson, I'm very jealous of you. But anyway, I saw the arugula and knew I was going to make this salad with it. Its delicious and can be made on a weeknight. I know this because I made it Thursday night after I got home from work. 


The prep work for this dish is minimal. Just pound out the chicken breasts, blend up the dressing ingredients, set up a breading station and cut up the tomatoes (from your garden, if you're lucky) and little balls of mozzarella. That's it. I love the dressing for this salad. It's like a Caesar dressing, but lighter, somehow. It's very fresh and pops with lemon juice, but it has anchovy, which simply gives it some earthy depth. It makes the dressing interesting. Everyone likes their salad dressing to be interesting, don't they?

So now you are rewarded with a dinner you can be proud of. Just one little suggestion: you should really eat these together. If you are the kind of person who eats everything separately (like my dad), you should know that these two things on this plate were made to go together. Tender and peppery greens, juicy tomatoes, creamy mozzarella and a crunchy poultry crouton of goodness. It's about complementary components. It's about balance. It's about texture. It's about flavor. And I am all about this salad.


Chicken Paillard with Creamy Parmesan Salad
from Tyler's Ultimate
Serves 4

4 skinless boneless chicken breasts
1 c. flour
4 eggs, beaten with a splash of milk
2 c. panko
2 T. olive oil

2 anchovy fillets
2 egg yolks
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 lemons, juiced
1/2 c. olive oil
1/4 c. grated Parmesan

1 c. grape tomatoes, halved
1 bag baby arugula
1/2 lb. bocconcini, halved
shaved Parmesan
Lemon wedges

Pound chicken between sheets of plastic wrap until very thin. Place flour, eggs and panko in separate bowls and season with salt and pepper. Season chicken, dip in flour, eggs and panko. Lay on a baking sheet and chill 10 minutes. Fry chicken in oil 2-3 minutes per side. Drain and sprinkle with salt. For dressing: Place anchovies, yolks, garlic, lemon juice and some ( 1-2 teaspoons, I'm guessing) water in a blender and process 30 seconds,  until smooth. With blender running, add oil in a steady stream. Stir in cheese, season with salt and pepper to taste; set aside. Prepare salad: Mix ingredients together and place on top of chicken. Garnish with shaved cheese and lemon wedges.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Blueberry Boy Bait

This is a recipe I shamelessly lifted from the Smitten Kitchen blog. It's my favorite source of inspiration for edible art. Her photography is beautiful and her writing is honest and makes me laugh out loud. I made this recipe for the first time last summer and was a little frustrated with it. I wasn't intimidated by all the butter in this batter. I like butter. A lot. However, this batter is so rich it turned out almost crumbly in texture, and yet moist at the same time. Almost smooshy in texture, which isn't what I was looking for in a cake. Even a cake with this much butter.
So I tried it again, simply because I believe in this dessert. I'm going to invest in this relationship. And honestly, is there such a thing as a cake that is too moist? This one pushes the boundaries, but I'm concerned that it's not the cake. Maybe it's me. Maybe I didn't beat the batter enough? Maybe I didn't beat it enough so it could fulfill its cake potential? I really don't want to blame the berries. They were so perfect. So fresh. So juicy. All you could want in summer produce. But they were very, very juicy. They were heavy with juice. And as a result, the ended up as a purple layer on the bottom of my cake. 
Even when dusted with a blanket of flour, even when lovingly sprinkled over the batter, they sunk to the very bottom. There was virtually no cake layer on the bottom; just berries. The batter wasn't up to the challenge of supporting their weight, apparently. This batter is something else. It's billowy, lush and glossy. Whatever you do, don't taste it. You won't be able to stop.

And so, I've determined to perfect the flaws that keep me from loving this recipe, or rather, that make me feel as if this recipe doesn't return my love. But, with that said, I've only heard good things from others who have tasted this cake. They weren't all boys, either. Click here for the back story of the name. And pictures of how I wanted the cake to actually look.

This recipe is a challenge for me. A delicious challenge that is rewarding, no matter what the outcome. It's as close as I'll ever get to being a scientist; testing, questioning and evaluating. And the pursuit is it's own reward. I'm still creating, even if it misses my own perfectionist mark, it's still my creation.


Blueberry Boy Bait
Adapted from Cook’s Country, which adapted it from the original

Serves 12, generously
2 cups plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup whole milk (though buttermilk, which was all I had on hand, worked just great)
1/2 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen (if frozen, do not defrost first as it tends to muddle in the batter)
1/2 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen (do not defrost)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 13 by 9-inch baking pan.
Whisk two cups flour, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl. With electric mixer, beat butter and sugars on medium-high speed until fluffy, about two minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just incorporated and scraping down bowl. Reduce speed to medium and beat in one-third of flour mixture until incorporated; beat in half of milk. Beat in half of remaining flour mixture, then remaining milk, and finally remaining flour mixture. Toss blueberries with remaining one teaspoon flour. Using rubber spatula, gently fold in blueberries. Spread batter into prepared pan.
For the topping:
Scatter blueberries over top of batter. Stir sugar and cinnamon together in small bowl and sprinkle over batter. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan 20 minutes, then turn out and place on serving platter (topping side up). Serve warm or at room temperature. (Cake can be stored in airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Asian Lettuce Wraps

One of our favorite summer meals is the Asian Lettuce Wrap. The kaleidoscope colors of the vegetables, the contrasting textures of crisp lettuce, savory meat, nubbly rice, aromatic herbs and the satisfying crunch you hear when you sink your teeth into a meal that is art---all of this makes it a meal that never gets old.

I've tried several variations of this dish in the past few years, but, of course, this one is new. And it's from Bon Appetit, my prime source of recipe material. George gave me a subscription for Christmas six years ago and it has remained one of the best gifts I've ever received. I go through every issue and get inspired over and over  again. 
This particular recipe is unique because of the blend of Asian flavors. I changed the recipe slightly, partly because I didn't have ten people to feed (just two) so I estimated amounts and tweaked the ingredients until I got what I was looking for. I wanted to use ground chicken to add to my texture party, but I think marinating chicken breasts, thighs, or slices of pork tenderloin in the soy/mirin mixture and then grilling them would be fantastic.


I also chose to keep all the vegetables raw instead of sautéing them, to keep the meal as light and fresh as possible. I used Sriracha as my heat element; feel free to use red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper, but we love the tangy, garlicky punch of this Asian condiment.                                       

Pan-Asian Chicken and Vegetable Lettuce Wraps adapted from Bon Appetit January 2004
Serves 2

Dipping Sauce:
1 t. toasted sesame seeds
2 T. soy sauce
2 T. unseasoned rice vinegar
1 lime, a few squeezes, to taste
1 t. Asian sesame oil
4 squirts Sriracha

Stir-Fry Sauce:
1/8 c. soy sauce
1/8 c. mirin
1/8 c. sake ( I omitted this)

1 1/4 lb. ground chicken/pork
1 T. Asian sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 carrot, peeled, julienned
1/4 head green cabbage, shredded
1/4 head red cabbage, shredded
1 scallion, sliced thinly on angle 
1/2 c. bean sprouts
6-8 large lettuce leaves, washed, dried with paper towels
small handful of mint leaves, chopped
small handful of basil leaves, chopped
steamed rice

For dipping sauce: combine all ingredients in small bowl. Divide between two ramekins; set aside.
For wraps: Place medium skillet over medium-high heat. Heat sesame oil, and when hot, add chicken, garlic and shallot; season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir and break up meat with wooden spoon until browned, 8-10 minutes. While meat cooks, combine stir-fry sauce ingredients and when meat is mostly cooked, add mixture and stir until meat is coated. Keep warm. Place all of vegetables and herbs on serving platter, lettuce on another platter and meat in serving bowl. Divide among lettuce leaves, wrap and dip in sauce, to serve. This makes plenty--leftovers are good (minus lettuce leaves) tossed together and eaten with a fork, like an Asian rice salad.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Blueberry Pie

You can never have enough pie. It's true. There are so many kinds, so many different techniques; I have to try them all. So, in the past two weeks, I have baked two berry pies. I was required to make a black raspberry pie--our berry bushes were dripping with them and I couldn't let them go to waste. So I made muffins with them, too. But I'll save that post for another day.

Today I wanted to share the beautiful simplicity of a good blueberry pie. I hadn't made one before, but it seemed appropriate for the Fourth of July. And my mom was here to help out and she makes the best pie crust I've ever had. Seriously. If you put a pie in front of me and it doesn't have her crust on it, I won't eat it. That's how biased I am. Thankfully, she taught me everything she knows about the art of pie dough and now I can have a pie whenever I want. Which is often, since it's my favorite dessert. Well, that and cheesecake, but one dessert at a time.

The trick to making a good crust is not to overwork it. Just like a quick bread or a cake, overworked pie dough gets tough. It's important not to stir too much, if you're making it by hand. Just toss and fluff the flour as you add the water until the dough comes together on its own. The other important thing is to have a really good filling. As good as pie crust is, it needs to complement the ingredients inside. Which brings me to the blueberries. I was a little concerned that it wouldn't set up and berry juice would leak all over the oven. The recipe I used included flour as a thickener, surely not enough to soak up all the juices. As it turns out, it was perfect. A hint of cinnamon, a sprinkle of lemon juice and lots of blueberries. The texture of the filling was absolutely lush. The berries were soft, without being mushy and the flavor was rich and just sweet enough. It was the best berry pie I'd ever made and I'll definitely be making one again. Just with a different recipe. I won't know until I try them ALL if this is as good as it gets. But it's a good place to start.

Blueberry Pie
 from Betty Crocker's Cookbook
Serves 8

Pastry for Two Crust 9'' Pie
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. flour
1/2 t. cinnamon, if desired
6 c. blueberries
1 T. lemon juice
1 T. butter

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Make pastry (see previous post for ingredients and steps). Mix sugar, flour and cinnamon in large bowl. Stir in berries. Turn into pastry-lined pie plate Sprinkle any remaining sugar mixture over berry mixture. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Cut butter into small pieces; sprinkle over blueberries. Cover with top pastry, flute and cut vents in top. Cover edges with strips of aluminum foil to prevent excess browning; remove during last 15 minutes of baking. Bake 35-45 minutes or until crust is golden brown and juice begins to bubble through slits. Cool on wire rack at least 2 hours.

Friday, July 9, 2010

First Berry Pie of the Summer

It's summer in northeastern Ohio. It feels like it. The sun is shimmering, the humidity is rising and the air is heavy with a breeze that could have come out of an oven. Some would say this is the time to get out of the house. Go out to eat. But for me, summer is just another reason to stay in.... in the kitchen, that is. I'm all for being outside. Bring on the picnics and the grilled everything, but I'll be bringing homemade pie with me. Any objections? I didn't think so.

Summer means fresh fruit pies for me, (along with grilled burgers, crunchy salads and ice cream) so I would like to share a recipe I tried for Razzle Dazzle Berry Pie from Bon Appetit. It calls for raspberries and blackberries, but I just used the black raspberries from the bushes in our back yard. The filling is simply berries, sugar, orange juice concentrate and some cornstarch to thicken. The end result was delicious-- like homemade jam delicious. It tastes like summertime and it looks like home to me. I use a pastry recipe with shortening; that's what my mom uses and how she taught me to make pie. I'd like to use butter in pastry because I love the taste, but this pie crust is so delicious and so reliable, I haven't experimented with any others....yet. I have plenty of recipes to try out and I want to share them all. Just thinking about all the possibilities excites me and I hope this blog will inspire you to create, to play with flavors and to discover all the many ways they can sing.

Pie Crust (9" double crust)
2 2/3 c. flour
1 t. salt
1 c. shortening
7-8 T. cold water

Combine flour and salt in medium mixing bowl. Cut in shortening until it is the size of peas. One tablespoon at a time, sprinkle in water, stirring lightly with a wooden spoon after each, until dough comes together. Pat into a ball and divide in half. Proceed with filling.

Razzle Dazzle Berry Pie from Bon Appetit, July 2006

1/2 c. plus 1 T. sugar
1/4 c. cornstarch
1/4 c. water
1/4 c. frozen orange juice concentrate
3 c. fresh/ frozen and thawed raspberries (12 oz.)
2 c. fresh/ frozen and thawed blackberries (8 oz.)
1 T. milk
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix 1/2 c. sugar and cornstarch in medium skillet. Add water and stir over medium-high heat until mixture thickens and begins to boil. Remove from heat and stir in orange juice concentrate. Add berries and stir to coat. Roll out one portion of pie dough to about 10-11" round. Roll dough around rolling pin and transfer to 9" pie plate. Pour berry filling in. Roll out rest of dough and cover filling in same manner. Trim edge of pastry, if needed and crimp decoratively. Cut in some vents for steam to escape and line crust with three strips of foil to prevent over-browning. Brush top of pie with milk, if desired. Place pie on lined baking sheet to catch any drips, then bake until juices are bubbling and crust is golden brown, about 1 hour and 45 minutes. (Maybe this baking time is for frozen berries? I don't think mine took this long. I made this before I knew I would be sharing it with the world, or I would have paid more attention to details like this. The pie should be done when the juices bubble and the crust is browned to your liking.) Remove foil strips for last 15 minutes of baking to brown edges. Cool pie on a rack at least 1 hour before serving with vanilla ice cream.

*Some of the directions for baking and assembling are my own additions. The original recipe calls for a butter crust, freezing it briefly and then cutting it into a lattice pattern. I prefer more crust on my pie, and it's much simpler to do.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Israeli Couscous Salad with Asparagus, Olives and Feta

I love fresh food. This is the main reason I love spring and summer. Cooking with the seasons is important to me. It's what inspires me to cook and usually dictates what foods and flavors I want to eat. I especially crave salad in the hot weather. Any salad, really, but it has to have vegetables in it. And a good, homemade vinaigrette. And variety. I wouldn't eat mind eating out so much if only I could get someone to make the food I want and make it the way I want. It isn't easy finding a good salad. So many of them are just lettuce and the vegetables are an afterthought. For me, two grape tomatoes and a slice of cucumber does not make a salad. The dish is so much more and can be a way to be as creative and as adventurous as you want.

Take this one for example. This is one of my favorite salads. It's refreshing, it has a lot of flavor and interesting textures. And it is maybe one of a handful of things I have made more than once. As much as I love finding a recipe I love and want to come back to, I am always looking for the next Perfect Recipe. It could be anywhere. In a magazine, on the Internet, or in one of my many cookbooks I should use more often. So I've made this one three or four different times and that should tell you something about what a great recipe it is. It uses Israeli couscous, which is like a small pasta. The reason you should look for this particular ingredient is the texture. It's a toasted pearl of pasta and it has a wonderfully chewy texture that is substantial and holds up well against the other components of the salad. It also calls for asparagus, which is so good in this, but I think green beans, prepared the same way, would be really good, too.

Israeli Couscous, Asparagus, Cucumber and Olive Salad from Bon Appetit, June 2006
Serves 8

1 garlic clove
3 T. fresh lemon juice
1 t. Dijon mustard
1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil

2 1/2 c. low-salt chicken broth
2 c. Israeli couscous (about 6 oz.)

2 c. 1/2" pieces thin asparagus spears, blanched 2 minutes ( or green beans, blanched a few minutes longer)
2 c. 1/2" cubes seeded English cucumber
1/2 c. pitted Kalamata olives, halved
2 large green onions, chopped
1/4 c. fresh mint leaves, plus sprigs for garnish, if desired
1 1/2 c. coarsely crumbled feta cheese ( 7 oz.)

Press garlic clove into a small bowl. Add lemon juice and mustard; whisk in oil. Season dressing with salt and pepper. Bring broth to a boil in medium saucepan. Mix in couscous. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until couscous is tender and all broth is absorbed, 10 minutes. Transfer couscous to large bowl; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cool to room temperature, tossing occasionally, about 45 minutes. Mix asparagus (or green beans), cucumber, olives, green onions and 1/4 c. mint leaves into couscous. Add dressing; toss. Gently mix in cheese. Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Garnish with mint sprigs, if using, and serve.