Splurge at Home with a Delicious Maine Lobster Pot Pie

Looking for a gourmet special occasion splurge of a dinner idea?  Here is one from a favorite five-star restaurant.  I absolutely love the Michael Mina chain of restaurants and have visited the San Francisco and Las Vegas locations.  I’m typically in Las Vegas at least once a year on business, so while I’m there I always plan for a dinner at the Michael Mina restaurant in the Bellagio.  Reservations are a must, and I will arrange my week around this dinner (they are closed on Sundays).  Note that this restaurant will blow a sizable hole in your wallet, even if you’re on a typical corporate expense account.  That said, the food, service, and ambiance are out of this world.

property_michaelmina_lasvegas_restaurant_style_creditmichaelmina
The dining room at Michael Mina in Las Vegas from Forbes Travel Guide

According to Zagat’s,

“An amazing dining experience” awaits at this Bellagio offshoot of Michael Mina’s San Francisco New American, where an “expertly prepared” menu starring “excellent” seafood (including a “scrumptious” lobster pot pie) is presented by “professional” servers who go “out of their way to discuss what’s special about every dish”; the “beautiful setting” is an “oasis of calm” amid the bustle of the Strip, bolstering agreement that the “steep” tabs are “worth every penny.”

My favorite entré is their phyllo-crusted sole which sells for $58.  Another tempting menu item was always the lobster pot pie, which at $88 would scare me away as a bit too self-indulgent.  I was thrilled a few years ago when I found the recipe online at the cookstr website and decided to try it at home.  It is one of those recipes that I make when I see whole lobsters on sale at my local market for $9.99 per pound as you need a whole lobster for each individual pie.  I usually find them at this price here in LA for New Year’s and again in the summer.  Note that this recipe is easy to adjust if you just remember use one lobster per pie and adjust the remaining ingredients accordingly.

This recipe is not difficult, but it is a bit time-consuming.  The ingredients are naturally a bit expensive because of the lobster so this is a special event splurge — think Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve dinners.  Be sure to read through the entire recipe in advance as the directions aren’t in the order that you would make the pies and there are a lot of steps.  Specifically, the pâte briséee preparation is in step 22, but this really should be your first action.  You can make the pâte briséee ahead of time or use store-bought phyllo dough.  The recipe suggests using a food processor for this crust, but as I worked on my #piegoals last year, I found that using my stand mixer enabled me to achieve even flakier results.

btb_p-08_lobster-baseAnother way to speed things up is by asking your seafood vendor to steam, clean, and crack the lobsters for you.    This will save you a bit of prep time and you can use the largest shells when you prepare the cream sauce.  I keep a jar of Better than Bouillon lobster base in my refrigerator and add a touch of it to the sauce for an extra rich cream sauce.  One important change that I recommend is to lightly saute all of the vegetables, not just the mushrooms as you prepare to assemble the pies.  Once the pies are assembled, you can sit back and relax while they bake and await the compliments.  Enjoy, and have a fantastic Valentine’s Day!

SaveSave

Advertisement

My First Lattice Pie (and Other Summer Pie Making Adventures)

I recently attended two classes that I signed up for this summer to improve my ability to bake pies from scratch, and I made my very first lattice pie.  I think as a result that I’m on track to achieve my #piegoals this year.  You can read more about the start of my 2017 pie making journey here.

Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I could eat eight.

– Yogi Berra

I’ve baked four pies at home over the last month to reinforce what I’ve learned from those two classes.  Let me first tell you about those experiences.  I have taken a number of classes over the years at Sur La Table and was really excited last fall when a new, more convenient location opened in Westwood Village.  I also had the opportunity to take my first class at The Gourmandise School in Santa Monica, CA.  Both of these classes were taught by professional pastry chefs, and these experiences have really helped me grow my skills this summer.

Photo of a small strawberry rhubarb pie topped with a lattice crust
My first lattice pie made during class at Sur La Table filled with fresh strawberries and rhubarb

The Easy as Pie class at Sur La Table featured a Lattice Top Strawberry Rhubarb pie and a Dark Chocolate Ganache and Salted Caramel Tartlet.  These were two very different fillings and used very different techniques so there was a definite broadening of my skills here.   Specifically around tempering chocolate, making a ganache, and making caramel.  This is a little embarrassing, but I will admit that I had never had a pie with baked strawberries, let alone one with strawberries and rhubarb so it introduced me to a whole new universe of strawberry pie making.  The only type of strawberry pie I experienced growing up here in Southern California was like those served at Marie Callender’s restaurants.  These are more like a fresh strawberry tart with a glaze and whipped cream on top.  I suspect there are regional customs at work here.  If anyone can enlighten me further on this I’d love to understand more.

Fresh peach pies with crumble topping (top) and apple pies (bottom) from class.
Fresh peach pies with crumble topping (top) and apple pies (bottom) from the Gourmandise class.

The class at Gourmandise was titled (most appropriately I might add) 4th of July Pies and had us preparing two fresh fruit pies — one with apples, and a second with peaches.  In addition to making the pie crust entirely by hand, we also made a crumble topping by hand for the peach pies.  I had lots of left-over pie dough after class to play with so I made a fresh cherry pie (pictured at the start of this post) for my family 4th of July gathering.  More on that later.

I learned a lot from the two classes and walked away with loads of tips from each.  In some ways, the instructors contradicted each other just a bit.  For example, at Sur La Table we were encouraged to start with a disc of dough if we wanted a round piece of dough when we finished rolling, or a square if you wanted a square piece when finished.  To me, this made a lot of sense.  At Gourmandise, we started with somewhat triangular wedges (we cut each disc into quarters to begin rolling) which to me made things a bit more difficult.  In both classes, however, we got great tips which enabled us to roll out the dough in such a way that it remained flaky and baked up nicely.  Other differences I think were based on the preferences and experience of the instructor and I just needed to decide for myself.  One example is cutting your butter into cubes instead of starting with whole sticks.  I don’t think you can skip cutting the butter into the cubes if you are using a machine.  A second difference is using an egg wash versus milk.  Either wash will work and provide good results as confirmed in Art of the Pie by Kate McDermott, but I think I have a preference for the nice shine you get from an egg wash.

Image of Strawberry-Rhubarb Pies​ from cooking class at Sur La Table with pre-baked tart shells in the background ready to be filled
Strawberry-Rhubarb Pies from cooking class at Sur La Table

One of the things I loved about the Sur La Table class is that we were able to get hands-on experience with four different methods of preparing dough — strictly by hand, by hand with a pastry cutter, with a food processor, and with a stand mixer.  Before attending class, I was a food processor method aficionado.  Now, I prefer the mixer approach with my KitchenAid stand mixer.  It is nice and neat (unlike the hand methods) and I get an even flakier result that I was getting with the food processor.  We also got to make a sweet tart dough which was delicious with the ganache and caramel tarts.

Overall I was also very pleased with the Gourmandise experience.  For me, they are a great local resource but in my opinion, one of the greatest testaments to the quality of their culinary program is the fact that we had a number of attendees traveling 60+ miles by car to attend, and one attendee who flew in from Austin, TX.  The in-class discussions about different types of flours, fats, and pie pans were really helpful.  We were encouraged to be confident when working with our dough (I was a bit timid) as it can smell fear a mile away .ca16d76a2decc397630fdd082cc78f35-emoji-faces-smiley-faces

This Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie has been brushed with egg wash and is oven ready
This Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie has been brushed with egg wash and is oven ready
Baked Strawberry Rhubarb pie
During baking, the juices from this pie bubbled out all over my baking sheet, and it was still too runny

After attending any class or lesson I believe that you need to put your newly gained knowledge to work.  In this case, it meant making more pies at home.  Following the Sur La Table class, I decided to make a Strawberry Rhubarb pie at home using their recipe.  Although it worked, I had way too much liquid in the pie filling after baking so that was a disappointment.  If I were to make this one again, I would need to use more thickener as the amount in the recipe clearly wasn’t enough.

I still had a bit of pie dough leftover and decided to use it for a small blueberry pie.  Since I had a small amount of dough, I used a small oval baking dish and just under a pint of berries.  After the watery filling with the Strawberry Rhubarb pie, I decided to try tapioca flour as the thickener with the blueberries and it worked but I still had juices overflowing.  I didn’t really follow a recipe, rather I improvised from a recipe in The Art of the Pie using 2 tablespoons of sugar, 2 teaspoons of tapioca flour, a few drops of lemon juice, a pinch of nutmeg and about a teaspoon of Grand Marnier.  This was delicious although the filling bubbled up over the decorative flowers I made as I was short on dough.  Definitely, needs more dough — overlapping flowers would have helped reduce or elminate the overflow..

 

Picture of a homemade cherry pie
My latest pie creation is a fresh cherry pie with a lattice crust

After the class at Gourmandise, I made the cherry pie pictured here and at the top of this post.  I used leftover dough from class and followed the recipe linked to above from Art of the Pie.  This pie was a real crowd pleaser with very positive critical feedback from my uncle.  His feedback was that the dough needed more salt (I agreed).  I took some more of the remaining dough, rolled it out after sprinkling with freshly ground sea salt and used it for a mini pie with a bit of leftover cherry filling and it was fantastic!  By the way, for this lattice pie I rolled my dough into a square before cutting the strips which worked really well.  Notice that this pie did not have juices running over.  I bought a pie bird to help with this problem, but I forgot to use it. OtherFINAL  Fortunately it wasn’t really necessary this time around.

By the way, the book Art of the Pie has been a great resource for me.  I think a hands-on class like one of the two I took is really helpful and provides supervised hands-on experience.  The book, however in my mind really shines when it comes to the recipes.  I wasn’t really blown away by any of the fruit pie recipes from the classes, but when I’ve followed Kate’s recipes at home I’ve had great results (like that fresh cherry pie following this recipe or the fresh apple pie you can read about in the post about my 2017 #piegoals).  This fresh cherry pie was my latest, and tastiest fruit pie ever.  I did not experience any overflow from the juices so it was neat and tidy unlike the two prior baked-at-home pies.

Whew, it has been a busy pie baking summer.  I have plans for a savory summer pie as well as a review of some of my favorite pie making tools that I will share soon.  Be sure to follow the blog or you can follow me on social media to stay up to date.  In the meantime, enjoy the remainder of summer and take advantage of the season’s bounty.  Enjoy life, eat more pie!

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

Celebrate With an Easy Classic Summer Refresher – the Pimm’s Cup

Here in the U.S. we are about to enter the long July 4th holiday weekend, and we also have the Wimbledon tournament starting up. The upcoming start of Wimbledon reminded me of the classic tournament beverage — the Pimm’s Cup.   These drinks are sold all over the grounds of the All England Lawn and Tennis Club and are traditionally garnished with fresh strawberries which are also a mainstay at the tournament. According to an article on the Trip Savvy website, Wimbledon is the largest annual sports catering event in Europe, and in 2015 320,000 glasses of Pimm’s were sold which makes it the second most popular beverage sold on site – 330,000 cups of tea and coffee were sold.

What is Pimm’s, or more specifically Pimm’s No. 1 which is the original formula you might ask? It is a gin-based “tonic” or herbal remedy first developed in 1823 to aid the digestion. This combination of gin and herbs became popular in England, and is often served as a mixed drink in a cup with either lemonade or ginger beer and garnished with assorted fruits. There are many recipes or approaches to making the drink so I will share mine with you here.

The version I prepared for this post used a ginger beer from a company called Q Drinks. This beverage is intended to be a mixer, and has a very spicy ginger taste and lots of carbonation. Other ingredients in the Q ginger beer include agave, coriander, cardamom, lime, and chili peppers. To prepare the cup, I used 1 part Pimms to 3 parts of the ginger beer.
Ingredients for 4 tall glasses as shown:

 

Two key ingredients for my version of the classic Pimm's Cup
Two key ingredients for my version of the classic Pimm’s Cup
  • 4 ounces Pimm’s No. 1
  • 750 ml bottle Q Drinks Ginger Beer, chilled
  • Strawberries (6-8)
  • Orange
  • English cucumber
  • Mint (4-6 sprigs)

Preparation:

  • Cut up a 3-4” piece of the cucumber and place it in a glass or measuring cup with 4 ounces of Pimm’s and a sprig of the mint. Muddle these and set aside to “stew” for a few minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.
  • Halve the strawberries, slice the orange and the cucumber. Aim for a couple of strawberries and a couple of slices of the orange and the cucumber for each cup.
  • Add crushed ice to each of your serving glasses, as well as the fruit and cucumber.
  • Strain the Pimm’s and pour 1 ounce into each glass.
  • Top off with the ginger beer, swizzle and enjoy!

Finding My “Juice-spiration”

After spending time this past Saturday at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, I was inspired to get back to making my own fresh juices at home.  My Omega juicer has been sitting in the cabinet collecting dust for a while despite my love of fresh juice.  At $8 to $9 for a 16-ounce bottle at one of the local juice shops here in L.A., making my own juice is a budget friendly option with added freshness and choice of ingredients as additional benefits.

My maternal grandmother was a woman way ahead of her time when it comes to the juicing craze.  The U.S. juice market today has been estimated to be $5B per year and growing.  If my Nana were still with us, she would be celebrating her 104th birthday next month.  Way back in the day, I think some family members thought she had lost her mind because she purchased a Jack LaLanne juicer.  I think this was back in the 70s, and while I don’t know what it cost back then, my understanding was that it was a relatively expensive item, the benefits of which hadn’t achieved mainstream acceptance yet.  The Jack LaLanne juicers are still available today (you can see them on Amazon) and look pretty much the same except the older models probably had more metal parts instead of plastic.

For those who aren’t familiar with LaLanne, he was a TV personality and fitness guru who was well known here in the U.S.  He remained incredibly fit throughout his life and passed away in 2011 at the ripe old age of 96.  My grandmother used that juicer primarily to make carrot juice, and when she passed away and I inherited that juicer the one juice in my repertoire was — you guessed it, carrot juice.

I used that old Jack LaLanne juicer until it gave out, and have bought two juicers since then.  My current juicer is the Omega VRT 350 which is categorized as a slow-masticating juicer.  Some of the advantages when compared with centrifugal machines like the Jack LaLanne model include:

  • Less heat production preserving more of the natural enzymes in the juice
  • Reduced risk of oxidation due to slower operating speed
  • Delivers 35% more juice and maintains up to 65% more of the nutrients

The bullet points above are from a book titled The Juice Solution by Erin Quon and Briana Stockton.  When I bought juicer number two, I decided that I needed to expand my juicing horizons.  This is one of the books on juicing I’ve sought out for recipes and inspiration, but my first love and favorite go-to resource remains The Big Book of Juices: More Than 400 Natural Blends for Health and Vitality Every Day by Natalie Savona.  While the names of her juices are kinda goofy, she offers a broad range (405 to be exact) of fruit and vegetable juice recipes, as well as recipes for smoothies and quenchers.  I love this book so much I’ve also bought it as a gift for family members with an interest in juicing.

The juice featured in this post is Savona’s Gut Soother.  This juice features a blend of pears, carrots, pineapple and ginger root.  It is rich in beta-carotene, folic acid, and vitamin C to name a few of the key nutrients.

Once I washed and cut my produce, feeding it into the juicer was fairly quick and easy — the final results were delicious.

In addition to the Big Book of Juices and The Juice Solution, I would mention a beautiful juicing book by Julie Morris titled Superfood Juices.  The downside of this book is that the recipes often feature ingredients that are harder to come by.  My task is to pick a few recipes with more accessible ingredients and give them a whirl.

Where are you finding your juice-spiration, and what are your favorite combinations?

 

Pie For Dinner — Another Way to Achieve My #piegoals?

As I was thinking about my blogging schedule, I was very aware that I’m overdue for a #piegoals update.  The significance of this fact is that it was high time for me to get in the kitchen and do the work needed to make progress towards my goals.  As much as I love pie,   baking a dessert pie on a regular basis can be damaging to one’s waistline as I addressed in a prior post.  You can read all about how I minimized the damage here.  That said, I need to work on my skills so baking full-size pies is a necessity.  One idea for how to do this was to bake a pot pie for dinner, so I’ll share more on that experience as well as a quick tool and book review.

Dexas dough cutter with fluted wheel

First, in preparation for a year of pie baking, I invested in a couple of new tools that I put to work as I prepared my first pie of the new year.  A relatively inexpensive tool which worked nicely is the Dexas Dough Prep Set which I picked up at Bed Bath and Beyond for $14.99.  The set includes a handle and four interchangeable plastic blades which can be used for pastry, pies, and pizza.  I used the fluted wheel to trim the edges of my dough once I rolled it out.  It was very easy to change out the wheel and to use it.  Also, the handle was very comfortable in my hand.  This wheel enabled me to quickly and easily cut attractive, even fluted edges.  Previously I had just been cutting my edges with a knife, and they were not all that neat or attractive.  The second new tool I used is an Emile Henry square baker which I fell in love with while shopping at Williams-Sonoma.  I’ll share more about how this worked out later in the post.

With that bit of background, after discovering the ability to borrow e-books from my local library, I decided to check out a book titled Dinner Pies: From Shepherd’s Pies and Pot Pies to Tarts, Turnovers, Quiches, Hand Pies, and More, with 100 Delectable and Foolproof Recipes by Ken Haedrich.  This book appealed to me as I liked the idea of a savory winter pie given our recent cold (by LA standards) rainy weather.

After reading the introductory chapters, I browsed the various pie recipes on a cold wet afternoon and decided upon the Shrimp Pot Pie.  The recipe was for a single crust pie, with the author’s intent being that you would make individual pot pies.  I decided against this as I did not have deep enough individual pans, and I only had two of them.  The recipe called for Haedrich’s Go-to Pie Crust which uses a combination of shortening and butter with a touch of vinegar to ensure flakiness.  One of the things I really liked about the crust recipe is that the author encourages using a food processor to make the crust, and provides very good instructions for doing so.  The recipe for this crust is provided on the Amazon page that I linked to above and I would say that this is a good all around pie crust recipe.

The recipe for the pie filling was simple, but honestly, this is an area where I experienced a bit of disappointment.  The combination of shrimp and vegetables was good — the problem was the sauce which called for a combination of heavy cream and half and half.  The only seasoning for the sauce was a bit of parsley, pimenton, thyme, salt, and pepper.  As a result, the sauce was really rich but also very bland.  To create more flavor, I added a bit of lobster flavored Better than Bouillon from my refrigerator which really helped.  In retrospect, a reduction with a stock perhaps made from the shrimp shells and less of the heavy dairy might have provided a better result.  I know the author’s intent was to keep things simple, but why not have flavor and fewer calories?

The finished filling, ready to be topped with crust

After adjusting the flavor of the sauce, I followed the directions to allow the filling to cool in the hopes of keeping the sauce from boiling over or reducing too much while baking.  Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to work very well for me.  As you can see in the finished photos, after baking a great deal of the sauce escaped and pooled atop the crust.  I suspect that with a two crust pie the sealed edges would have minimized this problem.

Pot pie is ready to go in the oven

I did attempt to get cute with the top of the pie and made some fish cut-outs for decoration.  I cut these out freehand as I did not have fish-shaped cookie cutters.  In retrospect, I should have applied the eggwash before putting on my fish decorations.

In the end, while the recipe ended up fine in the taste department, it was disappointing in overall appearance.  My biggest problem was the sauce pool on top.  It may have been helpful to use a pan that was not quite as deep as my pretty new Emile Henry baker, and to try and seal the edges of the crust tightly against the side of the pan.  To do that, I should have cut my crust larger.

By the way, after baking the pot pie I had some dough leftover so I decided to use it to make some turkey chorizo empanadas which were quite yummy.  The turkey chorizo was made in house by my local market.  I briefly sauteed about a half cup each of chopped onion and red bell pepper then added to the pan 1/2 pound of turkey chorizo breaking it up as it cooked.  Because the meat was already heavily spiced, I just added a bit of salt to taste.  I let that cool for a few minutes before stuffing the dough.  Then I sealed the edges with a fork, pricked the tops and brushed them with the leftover eggwash.  I then baked them in a pre-heated 350° F oven for 30 minutes until nicely browned.

My verdict on this cookbook is still out, but I plan to try a few more recipes before it’s time to return it.  There were several vegetable based pies of interest and one on Haedrich’s website for a Collard Tart au Gratin that I really want to try as I love collard greens.

I hope to provide my next update sooner, and in the meantime would love to hear any suggestions for pie recipes to try or technique suggestions.

 

Need an Easy Festive Punch for Your New Years Celebration?

fullsizeoutput_7acThis is a quick post about an easy, festive punch that is perfect for the holiday season.  I’ve made this  Pomegranate-Champagne Punch from Bon Appétit magazine for the last several years with great success.  If you are familiar with their recipe rating system, this one is a “four-forker” which is the highest rating given based on reader feedback.  It is easy to make, popular with my guests, and it looks really pretty.  I’ve made a few variations, so don’t feel that you need to follow this recipe to the letter.

hp_instagramgallery_02_smallThe recipe calls for two bottles of champagne, but you can certainly use prosecco instead.  I have used the La Marca prosecco, available at Costco, in the past with very good results.  There are some even more budget-friendly options you can try as using an expensive champagne or prosecco would be total overkill for punch.

Another change you can make is to substitute vodka for the white rum.  I didn’t realize that I was out of rum and made this change.  It worked out just fine. In addition to serving the punch in a bowl as depicted above, you can mix the syrup, juice, and rum or vodka and mix them in a pitcher.  You can then pour and garnish your drinks individually.  I have prepared the punch in one of those drink dispensers with the spigot, but that is my least preferred approach as the garnishes don’t make their way into the individual servings.  By the way, I normally use fluted champagne glasses, but decided my martini glasses weren’t getting enough action.

Sweet Potato Cornbread Muffins

Whew, the days leading up to Christmas have been quite hectic, but now it is over and a good time was had by all.  This holiday season was particularly crazed, and I’m hoping to sit down and write more about it soon.  I’ve learned some things in the process that I probably should share, but for now, let me share one of the recipes from my Christmas day family brunch buffet.

I typically host a Christmas brunch for my local family members which usually includes somewhere between 12 to 18 guests.  Last year was the first in more than 20 years that I didn’t host brunch as I was in the hospital recovering from emergency brain surgery.  Hosting my regular brunch this year was one of my goals while in rehab, and although everything didn’t go as planned, it went.  I found it difficult to prepare the menu, the house, and all of the assorted details — and take photos for the blog on top of it all so forgive me for having a limited number of photos.

 

sweet-potato-1666707_1920
Sweet potatoes provide extra texture and flavor while minimizing amount of sugar needed

 

51khewi2aal-_sx387_bo1204203200_

As I planned the menu, I decided upon two breads for our Christmas table.  One was a typical yeast dinner roll from a recipe in the classic Fanny Farmer cookbook.  My second was based on a recipe for a sweet potato cornbread loaf in an award-winning cookbook that I haven’t used enough titled In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley.  The sweet potatoes are a unique ingredient which provides additional texture and natural flavor.  As a result, very little sugar is needed.

I modified the recipe to make muffins instead of a loaf.  As shown here, you’ll end up with 12 to 14 muffins.  Pre-heat the oven to 375º.  The ingredients are as follows:

  • 1 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal (I used Bob’s Red Mill from my local Whole Foods)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup full fat sour cream
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup cooked, mashed and peeled sweet potato.  I cooked mine in the microwave on the potato setting and then let it sit for a while to cool which made it soft and spoonable.  I cut the potato in half and scooped it out of the skin.  I used about 3/4 of one large sweet potato.
  1. Line your muffin pan with paper muffin cups
  2. Combine the cornmeal and sugar in a large bowl, then sift in the remaining dry ingredients.  Stir lightly to combine.
  3. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs, then whisk in the sour cream, vanilla, and melted butter.
  4. Stir in the mashed sweet potato, then add the cornmeal mixture stirring just enough to moisten the dry ingredients.
  5. Fill the muffin cups, and put them in the oven to bake.  Test with a toothpick after 15 minutes, but they should be done in 15-20 minutes.

You can serve these warm with plain or honey flavored butter.  Enjoy!

One Way to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth Without Wrecking Your Diet

fullsizeoutput_790

Humor me for a moment…I started out the month filled with hopeful thoughts of baking more pies in an effort to up my “pie game.” Inspired by the awesome pie porn from the prolific @jojoromancer on Instagram, I even went out (OK, really my fingers just used the keyboard) and bought the recently published book from @katemcdermott titled Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings, and Life. I made a delicious pumpkin pie recipe from this book for Thanksgiving and actually did put in a little extra effort to make my first braided pie crust. I know, it is just a baby step, but as the saying goes, a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.

 

So earlier this week, I had a craving for something sweet. My mind turned to pie, but as I was home alone, baking a whole pie during the holiday season when the risk of serious weight gain is already high wasn’t a great idea. Having a whole freshly baked pie at my disposal could quite possibly lead to diet mayhem, but I came up with a diet friendly solution.

I remembered seeing in my freezer a little zip lock pouch. In that pouch was a generous amount of crisp topping that I had made as summer was coming to a close. There is an easy but delicious recipe in The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market Cookbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Impeccable Produce Plus 130 Seasonal Recipes for a Nectarine and Blackberry Crisp. The cookbook author recommended making extra topping to freeze and use later, so my thought was why not use it to make an individual size portion of apple crisp? In the time that it took to peel and slice a single large apple, my crisp was ready to bake. Compare that with the time required to make a pie crust from scratch, as well as peeling and slicing 3 pounds of apples   — Food Network estimates the total prep and bake time for their apple pie recipe at 3.5 hours.

 

fullsizeoutput_792
Individual apple crisps ready to bake in minutes

 

A variation of the crisp recipe can be found on blogger Tori Avery’s website. I will provide the topping recipe here and would estimate that a single recipe will likely yield four to six individual servings.

Topping Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans, almonds or walnuts (I used walnuts)
  • 6 tbsp chilled unsalted butter cut into 1-inch pieces

To prepare the topping, simply place the ingredients in your food processor and gently pulse to get a nice crumbly mixture. Package the topping up in a ziplock bag and freeze for future use.

pg1855-1372When the urge hits you, pre-heat your oven to 375° F, and get out your individual serving pans. I have a couple of old ones from Staub, which are pictured above as I prepared to put them into the oven. Mine are shallow and five inches in diameter — the closest thing I was able to find online were these from Le Creuset.   Put your pan(s) onto a baking sheet to catch any drips and facilitate putting them in and taking them out of the oven.

fullsizeoutput_793For two small crisps, I was able to use one large apple. If you have smaller apples then you will want to use two. In a small bowl squeeze approximately two teaspoons of fresh lemon juice. Peel your apple, and slice it fairly thin. Toss the apple slices with your lemon juice to prevent browning and then line your pans with the slices. Sprinkle each pan of apples with approximately one half teaspoon of cornstarch and one teaspoon (or more to your taste) of brown sugar. A dash of cinnamon is an optional add-on.    Dot each with a half tablespoon of butter cut into small pieces. Now you can sprinkle on the frozen topping and pop your pans into the oven. Bake for approximately 35 minutes until the apples are tender, the juices are bubbling, and the top is a nice brown. Let your crisp cool for a few minutes and then enjoy!

By the way, this crisp topping is extremely versatile.  I have typically made it during the summer months with blueberries, peaches, nectarines or plums.  Now that I’ve made this with apples, I can see some cool weather possibilities.  Apples are usually readily accessible and could be paired with cranberries or currants.  Pears are another idea that came to mind.  Let me know your ideas for quick, satisfying dessert options that won’t wreck your diet.

Have a safe, happy holiday season.  I wish you all the best in the New Year ahead!

Bonus Blog Post: Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers December 2016

I’ve been baking bread from Rose’s Bread Bible for many years, and over the years a number of her recipes have become staples for me. One of my staples was our first recipe from the bake-along for blueberry muffins. You can find the review of that recipe here.

main_variation_default_view_1_425x425Another go-to recipe of Rose’s is one that I bake every year during the holiday season for gift giving. It is a sure-fire crowd pleaser. Rose’s Cranberry-Banana-Walnut Quick Bread is as quick and easy to make as the name implies. I typically double the recipe and bake it in small (6” X 2.5”) disposable loaf pans that I buy at Sur La Table. You can buy these individually for $.75 US each. A double recipe will make five loaves (filling the pans almost to the top) and you may have a bit left for a muffin or two.  When baking, I place the filled loaf pans on a cookie sheet so they are well supported and I can easily transport them to and from the oven.  I bake these loaves for approximately 45 minutes at 350°.  Muffins will take approximately 20 minutes.  Naturally, they will bake a little more quickly if you bake using convection mode.

The flavor of this bread is a nice juxtaposition of sweet bananas and tart cranberries, and while the flavor combo is a bit more complex, it is no more difficult to make than your typical banana nut bread.  One important note is that Rose recommends that you cut your cranberries in half before adding them to the batter.  Being the lazy girl that I am, I just put them in the food processor and pulse for a moment.  This normally works well, but this time around I used previously frozen and thawed berries.  After thawing and pulsing, I had a bit of liquid in the bowl.  Although I drained the berries, I still ended up with a bit of discoloration in the finished bread.  For this reason, I would not recommend using thawed cranberries.  Use fresh berries, or pulse them and fold into the batter while they are still frozen.

By the way, I failed to mention that the baked mini-loaves freeze very well.  I typically bake these (and a favorite pound cake recipe) early in the month and then I put them in ziplock bags and freeze them.  As I am making my holiday rounds and know that I will see a recipient I pull one out of the freezer.

_dsc0220

While Rose has never published the recipe outside of the book, there is a version of the recipe on food.com that is close.  If you are looking for a giftable recipe, this may be the one for you.  I have often given these packaged in a gift bag along with a Christmas card and Starbucks gift card.  That way the recipient can get a hot beverage to accompany their sweet treat.  Don’t be surprised if the feedback you receive is that it was so good the recipient ate it all in one sitting.

If you try this recipe, I’m eager to hear about your results.  Also, if you have other baked “gift-ables”that you make, I’d love to hear about them!

Monthly Blog Post: Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers November 2016

I am going to keep this post very net and to the point since our recipe this month was for ginger scones. If you have been following the blog for a while, you may recall that our June recipe was for flaky scones which I prepared with cheese and chives. Click here for the complete review of that recipe. Also Rose’s recipe for the ginger scones has previously been published and you can find it recipe at this link (see variation at the end).

The key difference with this recipe is that it uses lightly whipped heavy cream which creates a lighter scone. I decided to make this recipe as a contribution to the Thanksgiving dinner at my brother’s house.

These scones were sweet and spicy due to the combination of powdered and crystallized ginger, and they were a big hit with my uncle. My aunt had taken a few home– my uncle ate them all and had her text me to let me know that he really liked them and he wanted more. The combination of heavy cream and turbinado made a nice crunchy, sparkling crust. Instead of cutting them into wedges I used a biscuit cutter. 

I expect that I will be making more of these for Christmas.

P.S. — I forgot to add the lemon zest but these were great without it