Friday, January 28, 2011

We’re Having a Baby Pie

This weekend my baby is turning 3! It is hard to believe, and it feels like a big milestone. As I was thinking about her special day and what I could post in honor of it. I decided that I would share with you a pie that was inspired by her. It was actually inspired by her before I even knew she was a “her”, before we knew she was Lucy, before we knew she would be full of life, an early riser, a smile bringer and a passionate, sun-shiny soul.
My Chocolate-loving Girl!
When Dave and I knew we wanted to begin trying for #3 our dear friend, Amy, asked us to please try to be creative when announcing to her that we were pregnant. We have never gotten very creative when it comes to announcing pregnancy and this was a tall order coming from one of the most creative people I know- (check out her house design blog). So I began to ponder what I could do to creatively let her know that we were expecting a baby.

When I was only a few weeks pregnant, I went with a group of girlfriends (including Amy) to see Waitress in the theater. [One friend wore a cute apron to the movie. How fun is that? I wish I had thought to do that too.]
Have you seen the movie? It stars Keri Russell (who I think is great- so fresh and naturally beautiful) and Adrienne Shelly, who wrote, directed and acted in the film (RIP). The film is a dark, poignant, quirky, disturbing-yet-endearing story of love, dysfunction, dream seeking, and pie making. I love a movie where cooking is the context. She makes pies throughout the movie, and they are beautiful and delicious looking: including Falling In Love Chocolate Mousse Pie, Lonely Chicago Pie, Marshmallow Mermaid Pie and Bad Baby Pie. She makes rich chocolate pies, fruit pies, even quiche-like savory pies. She is creative and daring in her pie making, as she invests great emotion and meaning behind each one! I also love that she sings this childhood melody, “the Pie Song”, during the film. I left the theater wanting to make a pie and sing that song.
This gave me the idea!

I decided to make a pie: Amy’s favorite pie- Kentucky Derby Pie and serve it with a label on it: "We’re Having a Baby Pie".  So I made that pie, singing the Pie Song and invited Amy to have a piece of pie. She asked, “What kind of pie?” and I said, “we are having a baby pie”as i lifted the pie cover. She said, “what?” and the rest is history... 3 years and a few pies later we are celebrating that baby’s 3rd birthday.

There's really nothing novel about the pie.  You have probably had it many times at potluck dinners or grama's house. I don’t know what you call this pie. Chances are it’s probably not We’re Having A Baby Pie or Sweet Lucy Pie. Maybe Derby Pie, Kentucky Derby Pie or Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie. I sometimes call it Chocolate Chip Pie in front of my kids, hoping they won’t notice the pecans, which they think they don’t like. Any way you name it, it is simple and tasty, a crowd pleasing southern classic.It's great warm or room temp with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

Happy Birthday to Lucy- you’re as sweet as pie!

Derby Pie
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 stick melted butter
2 eggs well beaten
1 cup chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 refrigerated pie crust

Start with the pie crust and follow the directions on the box for prepping it.  I slightly roll it out on a floured mat to give it ample room to hang over the pie lip.

In a bowl, stir together sugar and flour. Then stir in melted butter and eggs by hand. Then stir in the Chocolate chips, vanilla and nuts.

 Finally pour into the pie shell.

Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes. After 15 minutes I reach in and tent aluminum foil over the edges to prevent burning.  The only tricky part of the pie is determining done-ness.  You want it to not jiggle when you shift it around. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving. The pie will firm up during the cooling.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Roasted Winter Vegetables

Ina Garten is my favorite high profile cook.  I trust her.  She is real, down to earth, uses great ingredients (some that are far beyond my scope or wallet, but most not) and simple techniques.  One of the best things I have learned from her, through the several Barefoot Contessa cookbooks I own, is roasting.  She has taught me to roast chicken,  asparagus, peppers, new potatoes and carrots.  It is remarkable that the simple components of a hot oven, olive oil, Kosher salt and ground pepper could create such beautiful, savory, healthy, tasty dishes.  I stand in awe.

So we roast quite a bit in our house and we use a good amount of kosher salt, ground pepper and olive oil.  They are 3 of my dearest friends in the kitchen.  

Do you use kosher salt?  I think it was Martha Stewart who first introduced me to it many years ago.  Thanks Martha!  There is something valuable about the size and coarseness of Kosher salt for seasoning.  Because Kosher salt doesn’t shake out of a salt shaker very well, I began using a small bowl of it in my kitchen.  Then you're able to pinch or measure out what you want, rather than pouring it from the awkward box.  And it is remarkable how ground pepper from the mill brings so much more zip to a dish (though Dave sometimes accuses me of being pepper happy).

This season I have been making varieties of Roasted Winter Vegetables.  In Ina's original recipe she uses butternut squash, carrots, sweet potatoes and white potatoes.  It is beautiful and lovely.  I realized, however, that in this mix the squash is my family’s least favorite. It is also the most labor intensive to prep and most expensive to purchase.  I began to omit it.  Sometimes we just roast carrots, sometimes just new potatoes, at times only sweet potatoes.  This past week I roasted white and purple potatoes and sweet potatoes, and they were gobbled up by all…even my persnickety eaters.  I usually serve them with a dollop of sour cream, though my kids sometimes prefer a little ketchup or even some brown sugar with those sweet potatoes. 

They couldn’t be easier or yummier. In fact, they sometimes upstage the main dish on my dinner plate!

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Slice potatoes, (peel and slice sweet potatoes, carrots and butternut squash).
Toss in enough olive oil  to coat but not drench the vegetables.
Sprinkle with Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper (to taste).
Dump onto cookie sheet.
Bake until tender inside with some crispy outsides (30-45 minutes).  Using a spatula, toss and turn at least once during the cook time.
Once you start roasting, you might start thinking about other things in your fridge that you want to add to the mix.  Mmm, winter comfort...and healthy!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Honoring Dr. King

Asher's MLK illustration a few years ago

On Monday we will celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, junior.  I don't recall knowing much about him until I was in social work graduate school and began to learn of the man of integrity that he was, and the dedicated fight he fought for justice, equality, peace and unity.  I remember admiring him, but not thinking much about the holiday set aside to honor him.  (Which was first established in the late 1980s).  This changed when my son, in Kindergarten at the time, came home and asked me if I knew Martin Luther King, junior.  I said, “Well, I didn’t know him personally, but I know about him”. To which he earnestly replied, “Mom, he changed the world!” and then, with the same sincerity and inspiration that his amazing teacher must have relayed to the class, he went on to tell me some of the great things that Dr. King did.  “Mom, he fought against people being treated differently because of the color of their skin.  He was a preacher and he believed that God was for love and peace.  He said he had a dream that one day children: black and white, would go to school together and be friends. He was amazing, mom”.   I was choked up and ready to join the parade honoring this great man…and thus began a tradition of celebrating Dr. King’s life and work in our home.

So, this Monday at our house, we will have our 4th annual birthday celebration honoring Dr. M.L. King.  Rather than just trying to pass the time on a day when the kids are out of school, we try to seize the opportunity to actually celebrate the birthday of MLK.  We learn some history, talk about his life and seek inspiration to dream of what difference we might make with our own lives, following his example.  It has been a fun process of trying to figure out how to celebrate this holiday.  Book reading, video viewing, cake eating and dreaming of what we want to do with our lives are the key components of our celebrations. (Some of our favorite MLK books are Martin's Big Words by Rappaport & M.L.K. Journey of a King by Bolden).

We have attempted to symbolize racial integration and harmony by creating different varieties of vanilla/chocolate cakes: marble cake one year, white cake with chocolate frosting, chocolate cake with white frosting, and this chocolate cake with both white and chocolate chips topped with cream cheese frosting and chocolate shavings.

I have been thinking about the Black and White cookies that are sold in New York Delis.  Do you know these?  I found a recipe for them on Smitten Kitchen and a great blog entry that she has written about these cookies, which I think fits with the topic of the day.  I would like to make these cookies sometime as part of our celebration. 

I don’t know how you celebrate this holiday, or if you do, but I would love to hear your ideas!  I am humbled and inspired when I read about the lives of Dr. and Mrs. King, Rosa Parks, Rev. Fred Gray and other civil rights leaders who have courageously fought for Justice and Dignity in our country. 

This cake recipe was first introduced to me by my friend, Connie, who calls it Yummy Easy Chocolate Cake.  There is a similar cake in cookbooks called "Your Way" Cake, because of the flexibility of the cake.  You can vary the kind of cake mix, pudding, mix-in (chocolate chips, nuts, etc) and frosting (if you choose to frost it) that you use.  This is true for this recipe as well.  I call it Yummy Easy because it is indeed both yummy and easy- a great “go to” cake. 

1 box yellow cake mix 
1 small box instant chocolate fudge pudding
4 eggs
2/3 cup canola oil
1 cup sour cream
2 cups (or so) chocolate chips

Mix all ingredients (except for chocolate chips) together in a medium-sized bowl mix until well blended. Add chocolate chips.  Mix together.  Pour into greased and floured Bundt pan and bake at 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.  

I often make this cake in a Bundt pan without frosting it.  However, if you want to ramp it up, the following cream cheese frosting does the trick.

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 block cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla

Mix together cream cheese and butter until smooth.  Add vanilla and powdered sugar and blend until smooth and creamy.  If it is too runny- add more powdered sugar; too thick- add a little milk or water.

[This frosting recipe is a little different than the one from my Red Velvet Cake recipe, simply because that one makes a larger batch for the layered cake...either are scrumptious!  The main difference is the amount of cream cheese.  You really can't go wrong either way.]

Friday, January 7, 2011

Your Very Own Vinaigrette

After indulging in all the baked goods and big holiday meals, I have been in pursuit of leafy greens in these January days.  I saw a sign today at Whole Foods Market that says, "This year I want to eat more plants".  I like that goal.  I love goal-setting in January-  I think I might add this one to my list.     I like salad, though I typically prefer it at a restaurant rather than at home. There are several salads at restaurants that I really, really like. I actually crave them. I think the difference in salads at home and at restaurants is the dressing.  I am always trying to de-code dressings when I am out to eat- trying to discern ingredients, seasonings, methods so I can come home and try to re-create them. 

Do you ever make homemade dressing?
They are cheaper, fresher, preservative-less, made-to-your-liking, and lighter (if you wish). I have found some of my favorites in Everyday Food Magazines. I find homemade dressing makes a significant difference in my feelings about salad.

My favorite green salads are Greek and ones with fruit and nuts on them.  In the summer I make strawberry and mango salads all the time, and in the fall and winter I top my green salad with slices of fresh pear and dried cranberries. The ONLY thing challenging about this salad is toasting the nuts.  I burn them frequently! Do you have this issue when you toast nuts?  I stick them in the toaster oven and it seems like they are raw until the 5 seconds that they burn!  So, you must watch them very closely.  I must say they are worth it though- so buttery and crunchy. YUM!

Here’s my recipe:
Lettuce (I like a combo of green leaf and spinach)
Crumbled Feta Cheese (a little feta goes a long way in flavor)
Toasted Pecan halves or pieces
Sliced pear or apple
A handful of dried cranberries
Red onion, thinly sliced (optional) 
Vinaigrette Dressing

I've included two of my favorite Vinaigrettes. Take your pick- one is balsamic vinaigrette, the other a sweet vinaigrette.  I love them both...OR get creative!  Basically if you have oil and vinegar (or lemon juice) and seasoning, you have the basics for a dressing.  You can add sugar or honey for sweetness; herbs: rosemary, basil, cilantro; garlic, salt and pepper for flavor.  You can use balsamic vinegar, apple cider or flavored vinegar.  Play around and make it to your liking.

My friend Rich was telling me last week that lately he has been making a lemon dressing by whisking up the juice and zest of a lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper.  I tried it yesterday and it was a tasty, zippy, quick dressing!  

What are your favorite homemade dressings?

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp mustard, Dijon or I love Nance’s Sharp and Creamy Mustard (thanks, Melissa for introducing us)
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup water
½ tsp. coarse salt
¼ tsp ground pepper
½ cup olive oil
Pour all of the ingredients (except for oil) into a blender and blend until smooth, then stream in the olive oil and blend until creamy. 

The blending creates a creamy, emulsified consistency.


½ cup oil
½ cup sugar (or less)
½ cup red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp. coarse salt
½ tsp. paprika
¼ tsp. pepper
Pour all ingredients into a jar and shake well.