Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Strawberry Balsamic Pie

Sometimes finding the perfect dessert can be agonizing.  Will it complement the main meal?  Will it look great and taste even better?  What food allergies am I dealing with?  Who won't eat it unless it's chocolate?  Who won't eat it if it is chocolate?  Can I make it the day before?  

Other times, the perfect dessert finds you.  You're casually scrolling through your instagram when boom!  There it is.

Such was the case with this stunner of a pie.  It certainly caught my eye with all it's sweet, buttery, spring strawberry glory.  It kept my attention when I read it wasn't just any strawberry pie, but strawberry balsamic pie.  Plus I already had two pie crusts in the freezer ready to go.  Then I remembered I'd had it before, in a concrete at the Shake Shack in Brooklyn.  All of a sudden, dessert went from a challenge to an event basically ordained by the dessert gods.  

They're real.  I promise.  

Of the many things to love about this pie, I think my favorite it its acknowledgement of strawberries' natural sweetness.  Of course there's sugar in the pie, but not an unseemly amount.  After all,  the balsamic and apple add their own sweetness.  The bitters and black pepper didn't stand out of course; they were there to enhance the overall flavor.  I used orange bitters and a thick, syrupy blueberry balsamic because I had them on hand, but they're certainly not required and the recipe calls for the straightforward versions of both.  

And oh. my. goodness.  When I took the pie out of the oven, it was pure heaven.  Butter and fresh strawberry jam came wafting right up, carrying a palpable nostalgia right alongside them.  Childhood memories of warm toast with butter and jam found in a grown up version of strawberry pie.  What a lovely surprise.

Balsamic vinegar lends it's tangy sweetness to ripe, red spring strawberries in this decidedly grown up version of strawberry pie.  With a flaky, buttery crust, it's the ultimate fancified version of buttered toast with jam.  

Strawberry Balsamic Pie
adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book
seen on Eats Well With Others 

1 recipe perfect pie crust (This makes enough for the top and bottom crust)
2 lb. fresh strawberries, quartered
1/4 c. plus 3 TBSP granulated sugar, divided
1 small baking apple, peeled (I used Granny Smith)
2 TBSP balsamic vinegar (the thicker then better)
2 dashes bitters
3/4 c. dark brown sugar
2 TBSP cornstarch
1-2 TBSP tapioca (depending on how thick you want the filling)
2 grinds fresh black pepper
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
egg wash--1 egg whisked with 1 tsp. water and a pinch of salt
demerara or turbinado sugar for finishing

1.  Roll out one disk of the pie crust and fit into a pie plate.  (You can use a deep dish here, but it isn't necessary.)  Trim the edges to leave a one-inch overhang.  Cover with plastic wrap and freeze at least two hours and up to overnight.

2.  Prepare the filling by sprinkling 3 TBSP granulated sugar over the berries.  Toss gently to combine and macerate for one hour.

3.  Once the berries are macerated,  drain them of any excess liquid.  Grate the apple into the bowl, then add in the vinegar and bitters.  Toss to coat.  Add in the brown sugar, cornstarch, tapioca, black pepper, salt, and remaining granulated sugar.  Gently toss to combine.  Set aside.

4.  Remove the pie dish from the freezer.  Roll out the second disk of pie dough to an 11-in. round and cut into long thin strips.

5.  Pour the strawberry mixture into the bottom crust and use the strips of pie dough to form a lattice crust.  Crimp edges as desired.  Chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to set the pastry.    

6.  Preheat the oven to 425° F and line a baking sheet with foil or a silicone baking mat.  Prepare the egg wash.

7.  Remove the pie from the refrigerator, brush the crust with the egg wash, and sprinkle generously with finishing sugar.  Place the pie dish on the baking sheet and into the oven.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the pastry just begins to brown.  Reduce the oven temperature to 375° F, rotate the baking sheet, and bake 35-40 minutes more, lining edges with foil if they brown too much.  Allow pie to cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

Yield: 8-10 slices

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Double Chocolate Banana Bread

Let's be honest.  This is cake.  Any recipe that starts with "double chocolate" cannot reasonably or responsibly call itself bread, especially when it involves butter and brown sugar.

So here you are.  A dense, rich, treat studded with an entire cup of gooey chocolate chips.  The crumb is nearly that of a cakey, fudgy brownie--sturdy enough you can eat it with your hands (guilty), but still plenty decadent enough to enjoy served properly off an actual plate with an actual fork.  Maybe with a glass of rosé or a mimosa at an al fresco brunch. 

So is this breakfast or is this dessert?  I'll let you decide.  I won't judge your choice one bit.  I promise.

Cake or bread?  It's tough to decide with this rich, fudgy, and easy to make treat your whole family is sure to love.  

Double Chocolate Banana Bread
slightly adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod

1 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. Dutch process cocoa
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 1/2 c. mashed banana (approx. 3 large bananas)
1/4 c. unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1/4 c. canola, vegetable, or melted coconut oil
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips, divided

1.  Preheat your over to 350 F and position a rack in the center setting.  Grease a 9x5 loaf pan and set aside.

2.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking soda, and sea salt.

3.  In a separate large bowl, mash the bananas with a fork.  Add the melted butter and oil and stir until combined.  Add the brown sugar, egg, and vanilla and stir until mostly smooth.  (You may still have a few small pieces of banana.)

4.  Stir the dry ingredients into the wet, taking care not to overmix.  Fold in 3/4 c. of the chocolate chips.

5.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips over the top.

6.  Bake 60-65, rotating halfway through, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean (except for some ooey, gooey melted chocolate chips!).  Remove the pan from the oven and set on a wire cooling rack for 15 minutes.  To remove, run a knife around the edges of the bread, being careful not to scratch your pan if it is nonstick, and turn the loaf out on to the cooling rack.  Continue cooling until the bread is only slightly warm to the touch.

Note: Once completely cooled, the bread may be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and stored on the counter up to four days.  To freeze, wrap in plastic wrap then foil and keep up to one month.  Thaw completely before slicing. 

Yield: 12 servings 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Meatless Monday--Tomato Harissa Coconut Bisque

I can't believe I'm saying this, but it's spring break already.  And friends--I'm in London!  WHAT?!?  I've never been to London and I'm still pinching myself that I get to spend my spring break visiting a sweet friend who now lives there.  How is this my life?

Spring weather is making its way to Texas, but for now I'm in chilly, drizzly London (eek!) where this tomato soup would no doubt be a perfect lunch between sightseeing stops.  It's got harissa, cumin, and coriander to bring in a middle eastern flavor profile and make sure the temperature isn't the only reason this soup warms you up.  Coconut milk makes it rich and silky smooth and a hit of fish sauce and lime juice round out the dish.    

In my book, tomato soup is already one of the most perfect meals out there.  I have my favorite basic recipe, which I've made time and again, but it calls for roasting fresh tomatoes.  Who has time for that on a weeknight?  Not me.  This bisque is quick and easy and distinctly different than your classic tomato soup.

I'll be back soon with a post about my adventures--culinary and otherwise--from London.  For now, make up a batch of this soup and enjoy what's left of prime wintery soup weather.

Harissa, cumin, coriander, and coconut milk make this vegan tomato bisque anything but basic.

Meatless Monday--Tomato Harissa Coconut Bisque
adapted from Dishing Up the Dirt

2 TBSP coconut or olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
3 tsp. dried harissa
2 TBSP tomato paste
1 (28 oz.) can fire-roasted chopped tomatoes
2 c. vegetable stock
2 tsp. fish sauce (liquid aminos for a vegan dish)
juice of half a lime
1 (14.5 oz) can coconut milk
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
lime wedges, for serving
toasted unsweetened coconut, for garnish
chopped cilantro, for garnish

1.  In a large stockpot over medium heat, melt the coconut oil or warm the olive oil.  Add the chopped onions and sauté until softened, about 3 minutes.  Stir in the garlic, cumin, coriander, harissa, and tomato paste.  Stir until the mixture become fragrant, about 45 seconds.

2.  Add the tomatoes with their juices, vegetable stock, fish sauce, and lime juice.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. 

3.  Using an immersion blender or working in batches in a blender, purée the soup.  Stir in the coconut milk.  Reduce temperature and continue simmering 20 minutes more.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

4.  Ladle soup into bowls and serve with lime wedges, toasted unsweetened coconut, and cilantro, if desired.

Yield: 4 servings

Monday, January 9, 2017

Meatless Monday--Chunky Creamy Mushroom Soup

I debated about posting this soup.  Y''s kind of ugly.  Like "U-G-L-Y you ain't got no alibi" ugly.  But oh. my. goodness.  It is heavenly.  

And it's garnished with a pat of butter.  So there's that.

If you're a fan of rich, silky, buttery steakhouse style sautéed mushrooms--and I am--you're going to love this soup.  It's basically like eating a bowl full of those beloved mushroom which, let's be honest, are better than the steak anyway.

This recipe came from Chrissy Teigen's Cravings cookbook.  My best friend's parents gave it to me for Christmas and it pretty much proves, once again, that they know me so, so well and love me so, so much.  Nearly every single recipe in the book had me ready to get right to work in the kitchen.  The narratives had me literally laughing out loud.  Basically, I want to be Chrissy Teigen's friend.  Does anyone know how to make this happen?  If you do, please let me know.  I'll make sure you're invited to the party.  Promise.

Rich, meaty mushrooms get the star treatment in this buttery vegetarian soup that's oh so reminiscent of everyone's favorite steakhouse sautéed mushrooms.    

Chunky Creamy Mushroom Soup
very slightly adapted from Cravings: Recipes for All the Food You Want to Eat

2 TBSP olive oil
2 TBSP unsalted butter, plus more for serving (use all olive oil to make vegan)
1 small onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 lbs. assorted mushrooms, trimmed and finely chopped (or pulsed in the food processor)
1 TBSP chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 TBSP dried, plus more for garnish
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 c. mushroom or vegetable broth, plus more if needed

1.  In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 8 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook one minute more.

2.  Add the mushrooms, thyme, 1 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper and cook approximately 10 minutes, stirring, until the mushrooms release their water and shrink to about half their size.

3.  Add the broth and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the mushrooms are tendera nd the soup thickens slightly, 15-20 minutes.

4.  Using an immersion blender, partially purée the soup.  Alternately, carefully purée half the soup in a blender and return to the pot.  Thin with additional broth, if needed, and season to taste.

5.  Ladle into bowls and garnish each bowl with a pat of butter and sprigs of thyme.

Yield: 4 servings 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Meatless Monday--Harissa-Spiced Butternut Squash Soup

I've heard a lot of people say January is one of their least favorite months.  They point to gray skies, cold weather, and a schedule that seems quite empty after the inevitable holiday rush.

I see it quite differently.

I actually look forward to evenings free from shopping trips and parties and cold Saturday afternoons spent binge watching old tv shows while snuggled up in front of the fireplace.  I really love Christmas decorations and Christmas music, but I also like the feeling of a freshly cleaned and cleared out house and the particular kind of quiet that comes from an overcast sky.  

Most of all, I like the possibility the new year brings.  Chances to recenter myself, focus on new goals, and reflect on new resolutions.  As fun as the ever decadent chocolate-covered, wine-soaked holiday season is, a January menu filled whole, healthy meals just always feels so right.  So get ready for a whole lot of piping hot soups and roasted vegetables, readers.  2016 was pretty rough.  We're going to make 2017 a whole lot better.

Start the new year off right with a big, comforting pot of this butternut squash soup.  With protein-packed chickpeas, smoky cumin, and spicy, warming harissa and cardamom, it's the ultimate healthy vegan meal for a cold winter's day.

Harissa-Spiced Butternut Squash Soup
adapted from Real Simple, October 2016

3 lbs. butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-in. cubes
5 TBSP olive oil, divided
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, divided
1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
3 shallots, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled or thinly sliced
2 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
2 1/2 TBSP harissa paste OR 2 TBSP dried harissa powder
6 c. vegetable broth
1 (15 oz.) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
plain Greek yogurt and chopped cilantro, for serving

1.  Preheat oven to 400°F.  Toss the squash with 
three tablespoons oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and  1/2  teaspoon pepper and divide between two rimmed baking sheets.  Roast, tossing once, until tender, 20 to 25 minutes.  (This may be done ahead to make for a quicker, easier weeknight meal.  If roasting the squash ahead of time, pull it out of the refrigerator to begin coming to room temperature while completing the following steps.)

  1. 2.  Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large pot over low heat.  Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and caramelized, about five minutes.  Add the garlic, cumin, cardamom, and the remaining salt and pepper.  If using harissa powder, add it here, as well.  Cook two minutes more.
  2. 3.  Add the harissa paste (if using), broth, and chickpeas.  Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat to medium.   If you roasted the squash ahead of time, add it to the soup and simmer for five minutes.  If using squash straight from the oven, remove 
the pot from heat after simmering and gently stir it into the soup.  Serve topped with yogurt and cilantro, if desired.

Yield: 8 servings

Note: This soup freezes well, so I recommend making the whole batch.