Archive for July, 2011

July 31, 2011

Fresh Strawberry Pie

by Jen

I have been in the mood to make pie, and this fresh strawberry pie was my third this weekend.

The first was a rhubarb custard pie, from a recipe of my friend Helen’s mother.  I have such fond memories of sitting at Helen’s house in Ohio eating that pie, and as a birthday present for me this year, she shared the recipe.  I’m eager to make it again, at which point I may be able to post it.

The second was a semi-reciped-semi-improvised pie with a filling of raspberry, nectarines, and plums.  It did not turn out quite as well as I might have hoped, mostly because the crust got burned early in the baking process.

And finally, this afternoon I made this fresh strawberry pie with a graham cracker crust.  I’m planning to bring it to my brother’s house for a dinner party tonight, which I am excited about because my brother is a very good cook.

The offer to bring pie was made while slightly drunk, while the pie itself was made while slightly hungover (inexplicably) — but it was ultimately pretty simple to make, and now it exists and I’ll get to eat it, so win-win.

Recipe for the graham-cracker pie crust (from Joy of Cooking):

Crush up 9 graham crackers (I did this by banging the bag containing the 9 graham crackers with a rolling pin for a while until they were mostly crumbled, then opening and emptying the bag and mushing it with my hands) and mix in 6 Tbsp. melted butter, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/4 tsp cinnamon.  Put the mixture in a pie pan and try to convince it to cover both the bottom of the pan and the sides.  I did this with the help of a water glass to get an even surface.  Bake at 350° for 15 minutes.

Recipe for the pie (also from Joy of Cooking*):

Wash and hull about 6 cups of strawberries: 2 cups should be basically intact attractive smallish strawberries for the top layer; 2 cups should be in thick slices for the bottom layer; and 2 cups (the most mediocre) should be pureed in a food processor.  Then, in a medium saucepan, stir together 1 cup sugar, 1/4 cup cornstarch, and 1/8  tsp salt.  Once the cornstarch is well-dispersed in the sugar, add 1/2 cup water, the pureed berries, 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice, and 2 Tbsp unsalted butter (the 2 Tbsp you didn’t use for the crust!).  Put the mixture on the stove over medium high heat and cook for a minute — it will thicken up substantially.

Now the fun part: layer the thick sliced strawberries over the crust.  Pour a bunch of the hot berry mixture over them to make a uniform layer.  Then make a second layer with your most attractive strawberries, and add more hot berry mixture as desired.  (I just put it over part of the top layer, but you could add another complete coat.)

Recipe for yogurt topping:

Mix together 1 cup Greek yogurt, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract; and 1/4 tsp almond extract.  Serve with slice of pie.

One nice outcome of all this pie-making was left-over ingredients — I had a bunch of pastry dough leftover from the rhubarb pie.  So I rolled out the pastry dough, cut some circles, put those circles into muffin tin openings, and cooked them until they browned.  Then I pulled them out, filled them with leftover strawberry mixture, and topped with strawberries.  They wound up being rather unpolished and messy in appearance (rustic!) but I am excited to eat them.

* My friend Yin dreamed of producing a book called Joy of Eating which would be pictures of him eating every recipe in Joy of Cooking.  I hope one day he achieves that dream…

July 26, 2011

Yia Yia Vegetables

by Alexa

This is possibly my favorite food of all time.  When I was younger I used to help my grandmother make these vegetables for family parties,  and while a visit to a Greek restaurant has led me to believe that this dish is technically called “briam”, in my family we have always called them “yia yia vegetables” in her honor.  This is definitely a summer dish, and can be adapted to take advantage of different fresh vegetables you have–the “classic” version in my household included zucchini, green beans, eggplant, and potatoes, but summer squash, okra*, and carrots can also make there way in there.  When it all cooks up, it is something like a ratatouille, with the vegetables cooked until they are soft and swimming in this miraculous tomato/olive oil sauce infused with oregano. In true grandmother style, my yia yia never used a recipe, but just added ingredients intuitively and ended up with something awesome.  One day I tried to write down everything she did…here is what that looked like:

 

Now that she is no longer able to cook, I’m glad I have these notes to follow–I’ve transcribed the recipe below and fleshed out the instructions a little and the versions I’ve made in the past few years have turned out very well.  But hers will always be better.

*A digression about okra…As a kid, I was not a fan.  But I was an extremely polite child and would never dream of hurting Yia Yia’s feelings, so I always pretended to like it. My father knew about this predicament and thought it would be hilarious to tell my grandmother that okra was my favorite thing ever.  Being the sweet person she is, she responded to this information by cooking me special okra dishes–there would literally be a mixed vegetable dish for the family, and then a separate all-okra dish for me.  This went on for years.  The good news is that I eventually grew to love okra, and now it makes me feel all nostalgic.

            

Ingredients

  • About 1 1/2 lbs green beans. Wash and trim ends; put them in a bowl of cold water with a little salt
  • 4 zucchinis.  Wash and cut up into medium pieces (1 inch by 2 inches maybe) Soak in cold water.
  • 5 potatoes. Wash peel, chop and soak in water. (I don’t know what this soaking step is for, exactly, but she always did it, so I include it)
  • 2 large eggplants, cubed. Soak in salted water.
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 28 oz can of whole tomatoes in puree
  • olive oil
  • bunch of scallions, cleaned and chopped
  • several cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • dried oregano
  • vegetable bouillon
  • vinegar (red wine or balsamic)
  • salt
  • pepper

Instructions

Put a large pot on the stove over medium heat (you can use 2 medium pots, if you like–it can make stirring easier) Coat the bottom of the pot with olive oil. Put the onions in first, and cook for a few minutes.  Then add the beans and a little bit of water.  Cover and cook for about 10 minutes (if you wanted to add carrots, I would put them in now, too.)

While this is happening, prepare some vegetable bouillon; 3 cubes dissolved in about 3 cups of boiling water

Add all of the vegetables–scallions, potatoes, zucchini, eggplants, and garlic. Add the bouillon and the canned tomatoes and stir well. (I’ve also sometimes added a small can of tomato paste at tgis point for a richer tomato flavor)

Add a couple good glugs of olive oil. Don’t skimp on this–it’s a Greek recipe!  Add a couple splashes of vinegar, and a generous portion of dried oregano, crushing it between your hands to release all the flavor. (Yia Yia: “If Yia Yia no use oregano, not cooking!”)  Season with salt and pepper.

Cook over low heat, uncovered, until it’s done.  This should take about an hour–some of the liquid should cook of, leaving you with a delightful orange sauce, the vegetables should be a bit mushy, and your potatoes should be cooked through but not disintegrating.  At the very end of the cooking process, give it a taste–add a bit more vinegar, salt, pepper, and oregano if you desire.

This is maybe best at room temperature, but is also good warm or even cold from the fridge.  The only real way to eat this is with some good bread, and some cubes of nice feta cheese–you get a little piece of feta with every bite and use the bread to sop up all the sauce…heaven, I tell you.

July 17, 2011

Vanilla-Chocolate-Strawberry Cupcakes

by Alexa

I’m not really in to the whole cupcake trend that started up a few years ago and seems to be going strong.  Fancy bakery cupcakes always seem weirdly dense to me, and they invariably have too much super-rich frosting.  I mean, I’ll eat them and all, don’t get me wrong,  but I am a much bigger big fan of homemade cupcakes–they’re fun to make, fun to eat, and great to share with a crowd.

I made these cupcakes for a party, cobbling together a few different recipes to create a vanilla cupcake with a strawberry filling and a chocolate frosting.  They were a big hit!

(This recipe was very improvisational, so the quantities of batter, filling, frosting etc are a little inexact.  Just go with it, it will be awesome, I promise)

Step One:  Strawberry filling

  • Approx. 1.5 quarts strawberries, washed and cut into pieces (using frozen would be fine)
  • about 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch

Put the strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice in to a saucepan over medium heat.  The strawberries will soften and release their juices–use a wooden spoon to crush the berries against the side of the pan.  When the berries are mostly a mush, use a ladle to scoop out a bit of the hot strawberry liquid.  In a small bowl, mix the liquid with the cornstarch until you have a smooth paste.  Add the cornstarch mixture back into he strawberry pot, stirring well.  Cook for another 2 or 3 minutes, and then remove the saucepan from the heat and let it cool.

Step Two: Cupcakes

I used one of my favorite cake recipes for the batter–  “Golden Layer Cake” from the 1960 Better Homes and Gardens Dessert Cookbook, a fabulous source for all manner of retro sweets printed by the Meredith Publishing Company.

It is a basic yellow cake, moist and fluffy with a hint of lemon.

I actually doubled the recipe to make 36 cupcakes.  Here is the recipe with the doubled proportions:

  • 1 cup shortening (I used softened butter instead)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel (I used a bit more)
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 cups sifted cake flour (I used all purpose flour.  I’m not actually a fan of the texture cake flour gives cakes)
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups buttermilk (I didn’t have any–I mixed 2 scant cups regular milk and 2 tablespoons lemon juice and let it sour for about 10 minutes)

Preheat oven to 350.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla and lemon zest.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each.  Sift dry ingredients together and add to butter mixture alternately with milk, beating well after each addition and ending with flour.

Line a cupcake pan with paper liners, and fill them a little more than halfway with batter.  Drop a rounded teaspoonful of your cooled strawberry filling into the center of each cupcake.  Cover filling with a little more of your batter. smoothing it with the back of a spoon until all the strawberry is covered.  Put pan in the center rack of the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until they are golden and spring back if you gently press their tops.  (I baked mine in shifts so there was only one pan in the oven at a time)

After cooling in the pan for a moment, I took the cupcakes out and let them cool on a rack while I made some frosting…

Step Three: Chocolate Frosting

I used this recipe for my frosting.  It was good, but not quite chocolatey enough for me, so I threw in a few tablespoons of cocoa powder at the end and mixed it in.  When the cupcakes were cool, I frosted them and decorated them with some strawberry slices, and voila!

strawberry cupcake

July 13, 2011

Stormy Summer Strawberry Salad

by Jen

I just bought a basket for my bike!  It is really nice — there’s a brace that I’ve attached to the front of my bike, and the basket itself attaches to the brace, so I can take it off, carry it around, fill it, and re-attach it.  This afternoon I carried home a carton of milk and 2 lb. of strawberries, and it seemed quite stable.  And it was definitely better than biking home with bags dangling from my handlebars!

Future plans: Bake cupcakes, deliver them to my friends.  This plan is dimly inspired by this guy, though soup sounds too heavy.

It was sunny and hot when I conceived of this salad — quinoa, strawberries, and basil in a lemony dressing — and then started pouring as I was finishing preparing it.  It was tasty, and the juice from the strawberries turns the quinoa a pretty pink color.

Recipe:

  • Cook 1 cup quinoa with 2 cups water and 1/4 tsp salt.  Transfer to a bowl and let cool.
  • Make dressing by whisking together: juice of 1 lemon, zest of 1 lemon, 2 Tbsp cider vinegar, 1 Tbsp olive oil, 2 Tbsp maple syrup, and salt to taste.  Add to quinoa and stir to mix.
  • Add 2 lb. strawberries, chopped into bite-size pieces and 1 handful basil leaves, ripped apart.  Stir to mix.
  • Chill and eat!
July 11, 2011

Carrot-Onion Veggie Burgers

by Jen

I made the mix for these veggie burgers two days ago, but for some reason decided to wait until it was even hotter to fire up the oven and bake them!  I think they turned out well.  The work of mincing and grating and shredding was largely done by my food processor, so the mix was not much trouble to pull together.

Recipe:

  • Heat a little olive oil.  When hot, throw in 1 Tbsp black mustard seeds and some crushed red pepper.  When the mustard seeds pop, add in 1 medium onion, minced.  Cook for 5 minutes or so, until the onion softens.
  • Add 1 lb. carrot, grated.  Cook for another few minutes, until the carrot softens.  Add 4 cloves of garlic, minced.  Stir and cook for about a minute longer — try not to cook the garlic too long.
  • Take the mixture off heat, and stir in: 1 tsp dried thyme; 1 tsp dried basil; 1 can cannelini beans, mashed up a bit; 1 cup shredded cheese; 1/2 cup oats.  Stir and mash together.
  • Season with salt (in my experience, veggie burger mix should taste a little salty — the burgers come out better!) and add a little flour, as needed to make the mixture manageable.
  • Form into patties — I made 9.  I don’t think these would grill, but they would definitely be easy to pan fry — and I suspect they would be wonderful that way.  I baked them (on a greased pan, for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees), in part because it was so hot I didn’t want to stand over the stove.
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