I failed to mention one thing in my pie-crust post earlier this week—I used to be terrified by crust. It was an understatement when I said “Making pie used to make me nervous.” And a first-world worry if I’ve ever heard one. Seriously, should one pastry cause such neuroses? Aren’t there more important things to worry about? But somehow the fear of crust continues to paralyze people. “I just know I can’t make homemade pie crust” is what I hear again and again.
Well, let me tell ya. If I, a self-taught home baker can make crust in under four minutes in front of cameras, you too my friend, can most certainly do it. You can watch my how-to segment on Chicago’s ABC Morning news here:
Also, when I gave you the Flaky Pie Crust Recipe, I offered no filling. Were you wondering what the heck you were supposed to do with the chilled pie crust?
A pumpkin pie is a good place to start, and about as easy as pie gets. You really can’t go wrong with the recipe off the Libby’s Pumpkin Puree can (it’s akin to using the Nestle Tollhouse cookie recipe off the package)—tasty and dependable.
Apple crumb is another good novice pie (note the similarity: no top crust!). It’s good to begin with bottom crust-only pies. You then have just one dough round to fret about, not two (but no more fretting now, right?).
I turned out lots of pies while in Chicago (I was staying at my sister’s), and this particular one calls for 9 cups of apples, which is about 12 to 14 apples or 3-1/2 pounds.
As I used a basic vegetable peeler to remove the skins from my many apples, my nephew Justin asked in astonishment why I wasn’t using their hand-crank apple peeler. “Because they take so much time to set up,” I told him. But before I could finish peeling my next apple, he had the crank mounted to the counter ready to go. Within minutes we had the apples peeled, cored and sliced. I love a persistent teen.
When I got home, I dug my crank peeler out from the bottom drawer and dusted it off. Mine however, doesn’t have the handy coring function, so I needed to call on my apple slicer too. I’m usually not one for gadgets, but I’m certainly a proponent of these two.
For this pie, I still slice each of the eight apple chunks created by the slicer into three more pieces. As for types of apples, I’m favoring Empires, Golden Delicious and Jonagolds this fall. I like a combination of apples as well. Go for it guys. The scent of baking apples, cinnamon and nutmeg is downright heady. Tart, sweet, juicy, and crumbly, the pie’s taste is pretty intoxicating too. Good luck and have fun!
Sweet Home’s Mile-High Apple Pie
½ recipe Flaky Pie Crust dough
3-1/2 pounds (about 12-14 apples) firm apples such as Empire or Golden Delicious, peeled and thinly sliced, about 9 cups
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces
pinch of salt
For the topping
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 stick butter
Make the pie
1. Remove the dough disk from the refrigerator. Allow to soften up to 10 minutes if necessary. Put the apples, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, flour, and salt in a bowl. Toss gently to combine.
2. Meanwhile, make the topping. Whisk together the flour and sugar in a bowl. Add the butter, and using two forks or a pastry blender, combine to make coarse crumbs.
3. On a lightly floured board, roll out the pie crust to a 12-inch round. Place the crust in a 9-inch pie pan and flute the edges to create a ½-inch high outer edge.
4. Pour the filling into the crust creating a center mound. Tuck the small pieces of butter (1 tablespoon butter) into the filling. Cover with the crumb topping.
5. Chill the pie for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
6. Bake the pie on a baking sheet for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 375 degrees and bake for another 45 to 50 minutes. Cover the crust and/or topping with foil if after 30 minutes of baking time the pie starts to brown. Allow pie to sit one to two hours before serving.
Have you started holiday shopping yet? I envy those folks who plan far, far in advance. You know the types. The ones who come across an interesting craftsperson in June and clap their hands with glee, “oh, Aunt Bernice will love this sweet little birch basket for Christmas!” Wow, I’m lucky if I have a present for my husband’s August birthday bought by July.
If you still have some shopping to do, I am here to help—not only with a gift idea, but a personalized gift idea. I am extremely touched when I receive a handmade gift. My friend Amoreena makes beautiful homemade pillows, thoughtfully choosing fabrics for each recipient. I treasure each one she has given me. But unfortunately not everyone has the time nor inclination to craft holiday presents.
Here’s a clever compromise: customized recipe platters. You can create this unique gift for a friend or family member with little time commitment. Through a company called customsepia.com, you can have recipes, photos, or really any .jpg file permanently transferred to a platter or plate. These custom-printed platters make a beautiful display and are functional too; food safe they may be used like any other dish.
Janet Reeves, the owner of Custom Sepia, will work with you to create your own design. You can scan a family-favorite recipe card (water stains and all!) and she’ll transfer the file as is. You’ll be creating a family heirloom and preserving family history—that recipe will have a better chance of surviving if saved in more than one place.
I had one of my all-time favorite calligraphers Nancy Howell illustrate my great-grandmother’s doughnut recipe.
While the doughnut-recipe platter resides on a display shelf, it’s a durable piece and I certainly don’t hesitate to use it. I keep a stash of plate hangers on hand too and usually include one when I gift a plate.
While Custom Sepia’s FAQ states a ten-day turnaround, Janet says to allow three weeks (including delivery) this time of year. She is lovely to work with and responds promptly to questions. Prices vary according to size, from a five-inch round for $25 to a ten-inch square plate for $65.
Good luck with your holiday shopping and please let me know if you have any thoughtful, personalized gift ideas.
Easy as pie? Ha! Making pie used to make me nervous: What type of crust is best—all butter, some shortening, lard—how was I to know? My great-grandmother Phoebe had six sisters, and they would sit around for hours debating who made the best pie. Some pies have a thick top crust, bumpy from the filling underneath, others a thin, golden flaky crust, almost taut across the top of the pie dish.
But fat is not the only pie crust variable. Other decisions must be made including liquid amount and flour type. Some add the slightest bit of vinegar to tenderize the crust (the acid helps inhibit gluten formation so the pastry doesn’t become tough), others use cream cheese as their “liquid.” And then there’s the question as to whether pastry flour is a must, or will all-purpose suffice.
I could go on and on, and that’s where the anxiety sets in…how was I to know which combination would make the absolute finest crust. Like they say a dog can sense your emotions, Cindy Mushet, the author of The Art and Soul of Baking says, “Pie dough can smell fear.” And she couldn’t be more right. If you’re tense, your dough will show it (may sound a little out there, but truly, it’s important to just relax and enjoy the darn process).
Rose Levy Beranbarm has deciphered the science of good crust in her book The Pie and Pastry Bible. True to its name, this tome is a bible and the ultimate reference if you’re going to take this crust thing super-seriously. It’s an investment you won’t regret.
In the end, I’ve learned crust is as personal as your signature. Ten people could use the same recipe and all the pies would turn out differently. We’ve had many taste-offs in our own household and found that the perfect pie crust cannot be agreed upon. I always used to make an all-butter crust but found crimped edges sagged and disappeared. I didn’t exactly like the idea of using Crisco or lard (which is what my grandmother uses), but then someone introduced me to Spectrum Organic Shortening, a non-hydrogenated natural alternative to traditional options, and my shortening aversion was overcome. Replacing a portion of the butter with the shortening resulted in a rich crust that held its shape.
Just as you developed your signature over the years (I may have experimented but promise I never signed my name as “Beckie” with a heart over the “i”), over time your pie crust will take on your mark.
Like most things, making a good crust is about practice. If you’re new to pie-making, please don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a photo-shoot–ready pie on your first try. Make a pie before the holidays. Try it out and see how it feels. Pie-making practice is not a bad task, I’m sure those around you will be happy to help in your quest.
Few helpful hints:
1. Make sure your butter, shortening, and water are cold, cold, cold. (I measure out the shortening and put it in the freezer right before I begin. I also put ice and water in a large measuring cup and dip in a tablespoon to ensure water is ice cold.)
2. Important: Do not allow the dough to come together in the food processor bowl. Working the dough as little as possible helps ensure your butter clumps stay clumps and don’t smear. It’s those little fat pieces that create air pockets resulting in a flaky, tender crust.
3. Allowing your dough to chill in the fridge gives the gluten a chance to rest and makes rolling out the dough easier.
Flaky pie crust
Note: Omit the sugar when making a savory pie.
Makes enough dough for 1 double-crust pie
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
5 tablespoons cold organic non-hydrogenated shortening, such as Spectrum Naturals
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
6 to 8 tablespoons ice water 1-1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
Make the crust
1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Pulse several times.
2. Sprinkle the shortening and butter over the flour mixture. Using your fingers (being careful to avoid the blade), quickly and gently toss the fats in the flour to lightly cover them.
3. Pulse the processor 8 to 10 times until the fat clumps are the size of peas.
4. Stop the processor and sprinkle the flour mixture with water. Stop the processor immediately and see if the dough sticks together when pressed between your thumb and forefinger or clumps when squeezed in your hand. (If it doesn’t, pulse a few more times or add another teaspoon or two of water. Do not allow the dough to come together in the food processor bowl.)
5. When the dough clumps, dump the mixture onto a piece of parchment or wax paper. Using your hands, gather up the paper around the mixture and shape the dough into a ball. Divide the ball into two, flatten each one into a disk, and wrap in plastic wrap.
6. Place the wrapped disks in the refrigerator and chill for 1 hour before using. (Take the dough out of the fridge and allow it to soften for about 10 minutes at room temperature before rolling out.)
Good ol’ Chi-Town…my childhood stomping grounds. I’ve been here since last Wednesday promoting Sweet Home, meeting lots of lovely new folks, all with the added benefit of getting to visit family. While at WGN-TV Friday, I spotted the old Bozo set still in place.
Finally got at shot at bucket number 6…any of you remember Bozo the Clown?
Loved that show! I also just finished taping a segment for WLS about making the perfect pie crust. I used to be extremely intimidated by pie dough, but with some helpful hints from Grandma and a few other Master Bakers, I think I’ve finally got this crust thing down. I’m going to share my tips, recipe, and how-to with you next Thursday, November 8th, when the segment airs.
For now, I’m going to post another recipe that’s good to have on hand with the holidays right around the corner. Weekly from now until December 31 I’m going to give good, solid base recipes to add your go-to list. I’ll call it the Holiday Arsenal.
This Super-Easy Sugar Cookie is exactly what it proposes to be, super easy! If you’re not a roll-out-cookie kind of person, this recipe may change your mind.
I used to think making cut-out cookies was a chore. I disliked the struggle of rolling out a hard, refrigerated lump of dough. Then Robin Chess, who teaches kids’ cooking classes at our local elementary school, showed me how she effortlessly makes hundreds of cut-out cookies every holiday season with her students, ages five to eight. Straight from the mixing bowl, she places small handfuls of dough between two sheets of wax paper and has the kids roll it out, no sticking, no struggle.
When she makes these cookies, they go right into the oven—no chilling necessary—to avoid waiting time. For a slightly crisper cookie, I refrigerate them for 20 minutes on the baking sheets after they’ve been cut. If you’re in a rush, though, this step is not essential to a tasty cookie. Ease rules in this recipe, which yields a not-too-sweet, not-too-thick, classic crisp-on-the-edges sugar cookie.
You can use this recipe for every holiday with a quick change of the cookie cutter. So sugar cookies are first in your arsenal, and pie crust will be second. Any requests for the other eight? I’ve got some ideas, but would like to know if there’s any must-have basic recipes you’re looking for. Please let me know.
Super-Easy Sugar Cookies
Forty 3-inch cookies
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.
2. Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium for 2 minutes. Add the sugar and beat on medium another 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
3. Add the egg and the vanilla extract to the bowl and continue to beat on medium for another 30 seconds. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt to the bowl and beat on low to medium for 11/2 to 2 minutes or until the dough comes together to form a ball.
4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into two even parts. Working with one section at a time, roll the dough out to ¼-inch thickness. Cut the dough using cookie cutters and gently lift the shapes with a spatula and place on the prepared cookie sheet.
5. Refrigerate the cut cookies on the sheets for 20 minutes.
6. Remove the cookies from the refrigerator and bake for 8 minutes or until golden brown on the edges. Let cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Decorate as desired with Royal Icing.
4 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 large egg whites (or the prepared powdered egg white equivalent, meaning mixed with water)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Food coloring (optional)
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.
2. Sift the confectioners’ sugar into the bowl. Beat for another minute or two. The icing should be somewhat stiff (spreadable but not so thin it will run off the edges of the cookie). Stir in the vanilla extract and lemon juice.
3. If desired, divide the icing among several bowls and color as desired using food coloring. Cover the top of the icing with a damp paper towel to prevent it from drying out until using.
4. Decorate the cooled cookies with the royal icing, colored sugars, sprinkles, and/or dragees.
For a Cookie decorating primer, see May’s Graduation cookies post.
There are officially now more leaves off the trees than on here in the central Catkills. Daylight savings is coming to an end (clocks go back November 4th), and fall’s bounty is hastily thinning. I felt a bittersweet pang the other day when my farmer’s market guy announced that “plums were about over,” and at the same time handed me an order form for my Thanksgiving turkey. I wasn’t about to let those plums get away though. I quickly scooped up a small bagful and headed straight home, acting as if I didn’t use them right away they might just escape, like autumn seems to be doing.
Hmmm, what to make with these beauties? (I had a combination of domestic and European varieties, with a redder and yellowish-color flesh respectively. My absolute favorites are the oh-so-sweet red-flesh plums, but they seem more difficult to get your hands on.
A plum cake was calling my name. I had just bought some new flours to try. Having just written a sweets cookbook, I get lots of questions about the evils of dessert, sugar, refined flours, and how can I allow them in my house? I have one word: moderation.There’s no need to eat the entire cake you make. Baked goods are really best the day they’re made, so after you and/or your family has/have enjoyed a piece or two, give the rest away to neighbors or friends. They’ll thank you, and you’ll still have enjoyed a sweet treat.
But that said, I am also very conscious of ingredients, and make sure I’m using the most wholesome, highest-quality ingredients I can find, like organic free-range eggs, unbleached organic flours, etc. Of course I share concern for sugar and fat intake, and am working on recipes that use reduced amounts of both. These plums presented me the perfect opportunity to develop a gluten-free, lower-fat cake.
While there are several less common ingredients in this cake including Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Baking Flour and coconut oil, you may always replace them with ingredients you have in your pantry (all-purpose flour—obviously won’t be gluten free—and canola or vegetable oil). If you’re gluten free, you may not mind having a bag of Bob’s All-Purpose flour in your pantry though. A mix of garbanzo bean flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, white sorghum flour, and fava bean flour, this flour may be used as 1:1 for all-purpose flour in your own recipes.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “…coconut oil is extracted from the fruit of mature coconuts. It is a saturated fat, and consumers are cautioned against a diet high in saturated fat. Virgin coconut oil is high in lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid that raises both good and bad cholesterol levels.” There are other sources that claim virgin coconut oil aids in weigh loss and heart health among other benefits. In the end, it seems that coconut oil in moderation may have benefits, and for vegans, can be a great alternative to butter.
The result here is a moist, dense cake topped with sweet, glazed plums.
The cake base is very tasty, but you’ll have to stop yourself from picking the plums off the top (then you really won’t be able to give the cake away!)—they’re downright decadent.
I may have to hurry back to the market and see if I can get a few more. I’d like to just bake them up with some sugar and butter for a warm ice cream topping, or serve them over a bowl of So Delicious Coconut Milk, a dairy-free frozen dessert that’s as good if not better than ice cream (and comes in many flavors). You may be wondering why I don’t just enjoy the plums fresh. To be honest, they were a little hard (end of season) and not so juicy. This is my way of stretching the season a little longer…not wanting to yet say goodbye.
Do you have any favorite cake recipes using gluten-free flours?
Plum good gluten-free cake
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the pan
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 small plums halved plus 3 more plums cut into 6 wedges
1 cup almond flour
¼ cup Bob’s Mill all-purpose gluten-free baking flour (or unbleached white flour)
¼ cup cornmeal
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup white or turbinado sugar
¼ teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
¼ cup virgin coconut oil, melted
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Using a teaspoon or two of softened butter, thoroughly grease an 8- or 9-inch springform pan.
2. In a small saucepan, heat the butter and brown sugar until the butter melts, stirring constantly, making sure the mixture is thoroughly combined. Spread the mixture evenly in the bottom of the pan.
3. Place the 3 halved plums face-down in the center of the pan and arrange the remaining wedges in a decorative fan pattern around the plum halves.
4. Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk together the almond and all-purpose flours, cornmeal, baking powder and salt.
5. Next, combine the eggs and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium-high for two minutes. Add the almond and vanilla extracts and lemon and orange zests and beat for another minute to combine.
6. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and beat until thoroughly combined.
7. Pour in the oil and beat until just incorporated.
8. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan being careful not to disturb the plums.
9. Bake the cake for 60 to 70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
10. Transfer to a rack and allow to cool. Invert the cake onto a plate before serving.
I’m obsessed with mixes. Not because I use them, but because I want to use them. I’m always seeking that easy, open-the-package answer to dinner or dessert. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for marketing and want to believe ads’ promises. Do you remember Soup Starter from the late 70s, early 80s? It was a cardboard canister filled with freeze-dried vegetables, stock, and seasoning…assuring it was everything you needed ” ‘cept the meat” for homemade soup. I talked my mom into buying it, so pleased I could make this meal myself, but still remember the disappointment of the watery broth and lackluster veggies.
I’ve always found the same letdown with rice mixes, cake mixes, basically any type of pre-packaged starter—which is exactly why I don’t buy them—until recently. I was perusing Williams-Sonoma and spotted the Momofuku Milk Bar logo on the side of a cheerfully-designed take-out container.
It was a mix! Attractively packaged cookie mix that contained all you needed to make “playful yet decadently rich cookies.” Then I flipped over the enticingly compact container to see it was $16.95. Yikes. How much was that per cookie? It claimed to make 12 “traditional” or 9 “Milk Bar- style” cookies, so about $1.40 minimum per cookie. A tin of 6 is $12 from the online Milk Bar store so the price wasn’t as absolutely absurd as it seemed. Could I really have Compost Cookies in a matter of minutes? I made the purchase. (Told you I was a sucker! Mind you this was the first premium mix I’d ever managed to fork out the cash for…always wanted to try Ina’s mixes too, but in the end can’t rationalize it).
For those of you not familiar with Milk Bar, it’s a bakery that’s part of David Chang’s ever-growing Momofuku empire. There are now 5+ locations (the Montauk pop-up just closed a few weeks ago). The sweets bars are the brainchild of chef and owner Christina Tosi, whose sweet/salty/chips/cereal cravings from childhood have inspired signature menu items like Cereal Milk Ice Cream, Crack Pie, and the aforementioned Compost Cookie, a chewy treat laden with choco and butterscotch chips, potato chips, pretzels, and graham crackers.
Excited to try my new premium Milk Bar mix, I opened up the box. Here’s what was inside:
Most everything you needed, but not everything—and very detailed instructions, so detailed the card resembled a recipe, no 1-2-3 here. You still needed to add your own butter, egg, potato chips and pretzels. Darn. No pretzels or potato chips in the house. I had to wait another day to make the cookies. Once I procured the necessary goods, the process was really the same as making cookies from scratch. You needed a mixer and had to cream the butter and sugar, add dry ingredients, chill the dough. I was beginning to doubt the ease factor.
Why exactly did I pay 16.95 for the mix? I thought about this. Two reasons came to mind: 1) For those who don’t have a stocked baking pantry, this purchase may actually be economical. Why buy a pound of flour when you only need a few cups and won’t be using the rest. Ditto for sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and vanilla to name a few. 2) The mix works! The cookies turned out chewy, caramel-y, crunchy—as tasty as the bakery’s.
I was not done though. I wanted to try the homemade version. And I did. It was slightly more work than the mix, and slightly tastier. They looked exactly the same (top left and top right, below; note the mix cookies on right are slightly overbaked, be careful with bake times, you may need less time than instructions call for). The bottom cookie was an adaptation with more coffee, less sugar, but wasn’t as good as the original.
Interestingly, my kids, unlike many others I know, do not love these cookies. They find them overly sweet. What they do like though is a big scoop of ice cream sandwiched between two of the cookies. The dairy’s creaminess cuts the sugar, and the cookie’s chewy texture enables you to bite down without the cookie crumbling into tiny pieces. I used vanilla and coffee ice creams, and even rolled some in mini chocolate chips. (I bet Cereal Milk Ice Cream would be divine too!)
The verdict: I found success with both the Compost Cookie mix and homemade recipe. However, there is no magic bullet mix. This particular one takes effort but eliminates the need to purchase a pantry full of ingredients, which makes it a worthwhile investment…especially if you don’t live nearby a Milk Bar outpost (and if you do, bless your soul for the restraint you must have!).
Milk Bar’s Compost Cookie Recipe Adapted from Christina Tosi’s Momofuku Milk Bar (Clarkson Potter, 2011)
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2⁄3 cup,tightly packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-1/3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1/2 cup butterscotch chips, chopped to small pieces
1/2 cup Graham Crust (see recipe below)
1/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2 1/2 teaspoons ground coffee
2 cups potato chips, such as Cape Cod
1 cup mini pretzels
1. Combine the butter, sugars and corn syrup in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg and vanilla, and beat for 7 to 8 minutes.
2. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix just until the dough comes together, no longer than 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
3. Still on low speed, add the chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, graham crust, oats and coffee, and mix just until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add the potato chips and pretzels, and paddle, still on low speed, until just incorporated. Be careful not to overmix or break too many of the pretzels or potato chips.
4. Using a 2-ounce ice cream scoop (or a 1⁄3-cup measure), portion out the dough onto a parchment-lined sheet pan. Pat the tops of the cookie dough domes flat. Wrap the sheet pan tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 1 week. Do not bake your cookies from room temperature—they will not bake properly.
5. Heat the oven to 375°.
6. Arrange the chilled dough a minimum of 4 inches apart on parchment- or Silpat-lined sheet pans. Bake for 18 minutes. The cookies will puff, crackle and spread. After 18 minutes, they should be very faintly browned on the edges yet still bright yellow in the center. Give them an extra minute or so if that’s not the case.
7. To make ice cream sandwiches, soften a pint of ice cream for 15 minutes. Using a scoop, put the equivalent of 1/4 to 1/3-cup ice cream on one cookie. Top with a second cookie and press down slightly until the ice cream reaches the edges. Roll in mini-chocolate chips if desired. Place cookies on a wax-paper lined baking sheet and freeze for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Graham Cracker Crust
1/3 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tablespoon dried milk powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1. Toss the graham crumbs, milk powder, sugar and salt with your hands in a medium bowl to evenly distribute your dry ingredients.
2. Whisk the butter and heavy cream together. Add to the dry ingredients and toss again to evenly distribute. The butter will act as a glue, adhering to the dry ingredients and turning the mixture into a bunch of small clusters. The mixture should hold its shape if squeezed tightly in the palm of your hand. If it is not moist enough to do so, melt an additional tablespoon butter and mix it in.
Disclaimer: This post contains no alcohol. While I have many preferred liquor-infused party drinks, I also have some solid standbys sans. For me, offering up a tasty, thirst-quenching non-alcoholic beverage option when entertaining is key. Facing a table of unopened soda bottles on a drinks table is very uninviting, and as they stay uncapped, they lose their carbonation and who really wants that sweet, sugary stuff anyway.
My all-time favorite go-to party refreshment is fresh-brewed iced tea—powdered mixes are not an option, ever! Nearly twenty years ago I interviewed master tea blender and buyer Michael Harney for a short 500-word article and he sent me charming tins of his glorious teas. From that time on, I was hooked on the high-quality leaves. Harney & Sons tea, now based in Millerton, NY, was not widely available then. I’m thrilled that my local market now carries the brand, and you can find it nationwide at Barnes & Noble and of course, the Harney & Sons site.
For parties I boil up big pots of tea, let them cool to room temp, and store them in gallon-size jugs (recycled water or milk jugs). Harney makes large sachets specifically for iced tea—the raspberry herbal brews up very nicely.
The organic green with citrus and gingko is to die for. It’s light, refreshing and the flavors just dance in your mouth. Honestly, if I had to pick one tea to drink for the rest of my life, this just may be it (sorry Earl Grey, you’d be a close second).
Because I can barely keep a pitcher in the fridge (my daughters and their friends easily drink three quarts in less than half an hour) I do run out often. My second, more affordable option is plain old Lipton ice tea. It brews up clean and smooth. Sometimes I blend it with a few bags of Celestial Seasonings Raspberry Zinger a little added flavor.
When brewing, I boil one quart of water and steep 6 tea bags (three each of Lipton and Celestial Seasonings when blending) for 8 to 10 minutes (slightly less for green teas). I allow to cool, add two more quarts of water and serve in a large glass dispenser. I brew strong tea so I can add up to 1/4 container of ice without fear of diluting the tea’s flavor. I also put some fruit slices in the dispenser for garnish.
While you may regret past entertaining supplies purchases (like those long, skinny ceramic olive dishes), a glass dispenser is certainly an acquisition you’ll cherish. They look good and enable guests, especially little ones, to serve themselves (we love that!).
With summer coming to an end, you’ll find these beverage containers on sale at places like Target and Pottery Barn. My favorite is a simple glass dispenser like this one for only 20.29 from Target.
If you can invest in several, even better. I fill one with lemonade (see my babycenter.com post for the tips on the tastiest lemonade ever), another with iced tea and the third with plain water infused with lemon or cucumber slices for a colorful touch and fresh flavor. Another thoughtful addition is to place a small pitcher of simple syrup (dissolve two parts sugar in one part water by boiling just until the sugar is dissolved and allow to cool) on the table next to the iced tea.
Without sounding too Bloombergish, banish sodas from your beverage table at your next party and replace them with antioxidant-boosting tea. Your guests will be thrilled!
Does it ever occur to you that it’s easier to find a Chinese restaurant in most areas, than say, a good old American diner? Even where I live, in a tiny upstate New York hamlet, there are two Chinese restaurants within 12 miles of my house. I wish I could say the same for Thai, Vietnamese, or Indian restaurants, but alas, their lack of proximity is not conducive to ordering in. I miss the days of thumbing through the vast array of take-out menus, dialing for dinner. It’s not only the tempting amount of choices I yearn for, but the ease of opening containers and just not having to think!
In an effort to make some nights feel like we’re ordering in, I’ve developed my own take-out repertoire, including pad thai, chicken tikka masala, and a Vietnamese beef salad slightly reminiscent of NYC’s Saigon Grill Number 19. Goi du du. While there’s no green papaya or thai basil in my version (you can imagine how hard it is to find those things in my area), the tangy sweet Vietnamese dressing I make for this salad still transports me to some exotic Eastern place.
Not only have I tried to mimic the flavors of my favorite order-in meals, but I’ve created these recipes so they can be made ahead, stored in containers in the fridge, and just “taken out” at dinner time. How’s that for trying to fake myself out? Hey, the method delivers! One less meal to think about after a day at work.
I’d love to hear what your favorite take-out meals are…please send your thoughts my way.
Vietnamese-inspired beef noodle salad
The beauty of this salad is the ease factor. A key to making this a quick meal is using leftover flank or skirt steak (see marinade below). When making marinated steak, I try get three meals from it over the course of a week: night one— steak and salad; night two—Vietnamese beef and noodle salad; and night three (if you have any left)—beef, cheese and grilled onion and pepper quesadillas. A pound or two of beef can go far. You don’t need much to top a salad or fill quesadillas when you add lots of veggies too.
For the salad
1 head leafy green or bib lettuce
1 cup shredded carrot (about 2 to 3 carrots)
1 seeded and finely sliced cucumber
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup green onion, chopped
8 ounces rice vermicelli noodles, cooked
1/2 cup crushed peanuts
For the dressing
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 2 limes)
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoon dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sweet chili sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red curry paste
3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon minced garlic (about 1 clove)
1. The night or morning before you plan to serve the salad, wash and chop the salad leaves and toss with the shredded carrot, cilantro, mint, and onion. Don’t add the cucumbers until serving. Store everything in containers in the fridge.A mandoline is the perfect tool when slicing cucumbers for this salad. Remove the cucumber’s seeds to prevent soggy salad.
2. Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to the package instructions. Crush the peanuts.
3. Whisk all the ingredients of the salad dressing together except the last two ingredients. When thoroughly combined, add the cilantro and garlic and whisk again. Store the dressing in a glass jar in the fridge.
4. When ready to serve, toss the noodles and crushed peanuts with about 3/4 of the dressing.
5. Add the cucumbers to the salad and toss with the remaining dressing. (You may want to use more or less dressing to taste.)
6. For individual servings, place a single serving of noodles in a bowl with a few large spoonfuls of salad. Top with sliced beef and serve.
Grilled steak marinade
A slight alternative to the standard teriyaki-soy flank steak marinade that my mother and your mother probably made more times than we can count (my husband swears his mother served soy-marinated flank steak and a poached side of salmon every time she entertained), this combo depends on lime, orange juice, beer, onions and herbs as enhancing flavors.
I actually prefer skirt to flank steak for its tender deliciousness, but I know that the latter is more readily available and I do use it as well.
1/2 cup beer
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (about 1 lime)
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon lime zest
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 red onion, coarsely chopped
2 to 3 large garlic cloves
Place all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Put the marinade in a Ziploc bag, add your meat, and seal. Place in the refrigerator. Marinate for at least 8 hours before preparing.
My sister, Lisa, who favors chocolate over most things, opts for ice cream pie instead of cake for her summer birthday celebration. For years my mother has made her a Black-Bottom Pie, a luscious dessert that is very simple to make. There are several steps that involve chill/freeze time, but other than that, this recipe is easily accomplished by the most novice baker.
True to its name, Black-Bottom Pie has a tasty, dark-colored chocolate crust. A satisfyingly thick, fudgy sauce covers the crust before the ice cream is generously added. Mint chocolate chip is Lisa’s preferred flavor, but almost any ice cream will work with this recipe: coffee, strawberry, dulce de leche, or even plain vanilla.
Summer birthdays scream for ice cream, but so does any sticky, sweltering day. This black-bottom ice cream pie, included in my Sweet Home cookbook, is a cool ending to any summer meal.
Black-Bottom Ice Cream Pie
1-1/4 cups finely crushed chocolate cookie crumbs (about 25 cookies, such as Famous Chocolate Wafers)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
6 tablespoons water
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 quart mint chocolate-chip ice cream (or your favorite flavor)
1/4 cup chocolate cookie crumbs (about 5 wafer cookies)
1. Make the crust: Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Put the cookie crumbs, melted butter, and sugar in a bowl and stir to combine.
3. Press the mixture firmly into a 9-inch pie plate, being sure to cover the sides of plate too. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
4. Meanwhile, make the filling: In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the chocolate, water, sugar, butter, and salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until the chocolate has melted. Continue to cook for another 1 minute, or until the mixture has thickened slightly. Do not allow it to boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.
5. Pour the sauce over the cooled pie crust and place it in the refrigerator to chill for at least 1 hour.
6. Once the sauce has firmed in the crust, soften the ice cream slightly so it will be easy to scoop and spread evenly into the pie crust. Fill the crust with the softened ice cream. Sprinkle the top with the cookie crumbs and freeze the pie for at least 2 hours, or until firm.
For several consecutive days when my kids asked what was for dinner, I told them corn soup. When it came time to eat though, they would find no soup on the table, just steaming ears of corn. “I thought we were having soup?” they would ask. “Yea, well, we were...” I had the best intentions but I somehow got distracted, it was too hot to turn on the stove, or really, honestly, I just wanted to eat the sweet kernels right off the cob.
We had a French student staying with us for several weeks, and she had never eaten corn right off the cob. “That’s how they feed it to the animals,” she told us. Suddenly feeling less-than-genteel, I sheepishly showed her how we munched our way through ears of corn slathered with butter and sprinkled with salt. I can only imagine what she thought as we demonstrated this plebian skill—we probably did look like animals. Hey, je suis américaine. It didn’t take Ségolène long to jump in though, sporting a big grin from ear to ear!
Perhaps it was while presenting the merits of corn on the cob, I myself recognized the simple beauty of this summer pleasure. I did still have the desire for a cool, smooth, velvety corn soup, but I think in the back of my mind I wondered if it would be that much better than an ear of corn.
Well, it was and it wasn’t. After a good stint in the kitchen, I had a soup that was the essence of a buttery ear of corn. It was satisfying and toothsome. Corn soup, accompanied by some crusty bread and a salad, is a perfect summer meal. (Add a little smoked trout or grilled shrimp if you’re looking for extra protein.) While close, an ear of corn just does not satiate like a bowl of soup.
That said, soup requires more attention than simple corn-cob prep. But if you’ve got the time, the corn, and the inclination, go for it—especially if you’d like to feel a little more distingué.
P.S. I apologize if you’re looking to make something with an ingredient other than July’s ubiquitous peaches or corn, but really, how can one resist this annual joy?
Chilled corn soup
Serves about 6
While I had set out to make a velvety smooth soup, I ended up finding a heartier, thicker soup was my preference. I only strained about half the soup. For a more refined texture, strain all of it but keep in mind your yield will be less. Also, you may eat this soup warm, but on hot summer days it’s refreshing when chilled.
Additionally, I tried garnishes such as smoked paprika, sour cream, jalapenos, and scallion but found they all detracted from the soup’s delicate flavor. Nothing more than a sprinkle of chives is needed.
12 ears of corn, husks and silks removed
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups skim milk
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 bay leaves
3 large leeks, white parts only, thinly sliced (about 1 heaping cup)
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Chives, chopped for garnish
1. Remove the corn from the cobs. Set aside the corn from 2 of the 12 cobs (about 1 cup). You will be using the the large amount of corn first and reserving the 1 cup for later.
2. Place the 12 corn-less cobs in a large stock pot and add the chicken stock and milk. Bring to a boil. and simmer for 5 minutes uncovered. Next remove the pot from the heat, cover, and allow to steep.
3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add the onion, leeks, and carrot, and stir for 8 to 10 minutes, or until softened. Add the bay leaves and garlic and continue to sauté for another 2 minutes.
4. Next, add 2 tablespoons butter to the sauce pan and while it melts, add the corn that was cut from 10 ears of corn. Add the salt and pepper. Continue to stir and cook over medium heat for another 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaves.
5. Remove the cobs from the milk-broth mixture and pour the liquid into the sauce pan. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
6. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until it’s smooth. This may take some patience. Alternately, allow the soup to cool slightly and in batches, puree in a blender.
7. Here you may choose to leave the soup as is, or push some or all of it through a fine sieve and discard the solids.
8. Put the soup back in the sauce pan and add the remaining corn (about 1 cup). Reheat over low to medium heat, stirring constantly, until desired consistency is achieved. The soup will thicken some as it cooks. You may also thin with a little more broth or milk. Add salt and pepper to taste.
9. Serve warm or chilled with a sprinkle of chive.