Rosé. Raspberries. Buttercream. You need these cupcakes in your life.
Farms, Factories and Families
My great grandmother called me the other day to tell me that her older sister, Frances, was in a book. The book, called Farms, Factories and Families is a compilation of stories told by Italian women who emigrated to Connecticut.
The book reads like a card deck of short stories and life lessons that make you appreciate those family members who struggled every day to build a better life for their children and grandchildren. Having heard so many of my great grandmother’s stories about her childhood I was surprised to read a story I had not heard before. The story about my great grandma and her sister waking up before sunrise to bake bread for their family made me appreciate how lucky I am to have grown up in the United States and how fortunate I am to have been given such great opportunities to further my education.
Check it out, it’s worth a read.
Perfect Pie Dough
I used to think that the only people who could make good pies were my Nané, competitive fair pie bakers, and, of course, chefs. Despite meticulous adherence to classic pie dough recipes, every time I made pie dough it would crack and crumble and more would end up on the floor than in the pie plate. After years of unsuccessful attempts (ok, I usually only tried once per year around apple picking season), I threw in the towel and swore off pie baking. Why spend a morning getting frustrated by dough that was too stiff, too soft, too crumbly, or too buttery (can anything be too buttery?) when I could opt for the quick, simple, and tasty cousin of the pie: fruit crisp. I love crisp so much I would make it with any type of leftover spring and fall fruit: apples, peaches, pears, plums, you name it I’ve tried it.
My pie boycott was full steam ahead until three weeks ago. I had a birthday party to attend and did not want to go empty handed. I contemplated baking a cake, but people can be fussy about cake. When one of my friends gave me her leftover fresh picked strawberries and rhubarb, I knew that my pie boycott was over… Sure I could make a crisp, but a pie would be prettier. And hopefully tastier. So I scoured the internet in search of a recipe for the perfect pie dough. And I am happy to say that I found it! Not only was this pie dough easy to make, but it rolled like a champion. Arrivederci dry, brittle pie dough, ciao smooth, buttery, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth pie dough that makes you want to bake a new type of pie every week. Seriously, it even stays together when you cut the pie, take it out of the pie plate, and place it on a dish – amazing!
For this recipe you will need some special baking equipment: a rolling pin, a food processor, a zester, and a silicone baking mat.
Perfect Pie Dough
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 8 ounces cold cream cheese (cut into small pieces)
- 1 cup cold butter (2 sticks) (cut into small pieces)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 to 4 teaspoons sugar (depending on how sweet you want the dough)
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar (if you don’t have apple cider vinegar use white vinegar)
- 2 to 4 teaspoons cold water
Step 1: Sift the flour into a medium size bowl. Add the salt and sugar to the food processor. Stir 10 times, gently combining the dry ingredients.
Step 2: Add the cream cheese and cold butter chunks to the dry ingredients. Toss gently, coating the cream cheese and butter chunks with flour.
Step 3: Pour the flo
ur/salt/sugar/butter/cream cheese mixture into the food processor. Pulse 5 to 7 times for 1 second intervals, until the butter and cream cheese are in small pieces. *Be careful not to over mix here!
Step 4: Add the vinegar and 2 teaspoons cold water to the food processor. Pulse 2 to 5 times. The dough should start to form into a ball. If the dough does not form a ball, add another teaspoon of cold water, and pulse 2 or 3 times.
Step 5: Once the dough forms a ball, remove (carefully) from the food processor. Divide the dough into two parts. Roll each piece of dough into a ball and flatten gently to resemble a disc. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Step 6: When the dough has chilled, remove the dough from the fridge. Place one piece on silicone baking mat. Gently coatthe rolling pin with flour and roll the dough into a circle, 2 inches wider than the pie dish you are using (i.e. if you are using a 9 inch pie plate, roll the dough so it is 11 inches in diameter so that you have extra dough to join the crusts together and make and edge).
Step 7: Place first piece of dough in your pie plate. Poke the dough about 10 times with a fork. Add your filling. Repeat step 6 with the second piece of dough, and get creative! This dough is super easy to work with and works great if you want to make a decorative top like a lattice top.
Blueberry Cinnamon-Streusel Coffee Cake
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt (if you are using unsalted butter)
1 ½ cups flour
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
6 tbsp melted butter
8 oz blueberry jam (I like Stonewall kitchen Maine Blueberry jam – which you can find on sale for $3.99 when they have their holiday stock up sales)
¾ cup butter (softened, not melted)
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp baking powder
3 large eggs
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tsp cinnamon
¾ cup sour cream (or 6oz plain greek yogurt)
1 ¼ cups milk (anything from skim to whole)
3 ¾ cups flour
1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13″ pan.
2) Make the topping by whisking together the sugar, salt, flour, and cinnamon. Add the melted butter, stirring until well combined. Set the topping aside.
3) To make the cake: In a large bowl, beat together the butter, salt, sugars, baking powder, vanilla, lemon zest, and cinnamon until well combined and smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sour cream or yogurt and milk until well combined. Add the flour to the butter/sugar mixture alternately with the milk/sour cream mixture, beating gently to combine. Pour/spread half of the batter (a scant 3 cups) into the prepared pan, spreading all the way to the edges. Spread the blueberry jam evenly atop the batter. Pour/spread the remaining batter atop the filling.
4) Sprinkle the topping over the batter in the pan.
5) Bake the cake about 55-60 minutes until it’s a dark golden brown around the edges, medium-golden with no light patches showing on top, and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
This recipe is my variation of King Arthur Flour’s “Cinnamon-Streusel Coffee Cake”
Pinterest Success Story – Quinoa Burgers
My great grandmother was not the first volunteer to try this Pinterest-inspired vegetarian dinner. Let’s just say quinoa is not in her 94 year old vocabulary.
I found these three recipes on Pinterest. Happily, they were all successes!
These vegetarian quinoa burgers are tasty, packed with protein, and best of all easy to make. They are great on top of salad or in a pita with baby spinach, tomato, and garlic mayo.
Ingredients: (makes approximately 10 burgers)
- 2 cups cooked quinoa
- 3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup low-fat small curd cottage cheese
- 1 medium carrot, finely grated (OR 1 cup shredded zucchini, squeezed)
- 3 eggs
- 3 tbsp flour
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 1/4 tsp minced garlic
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 tsp ground cumin
- 1/8 tsp salt
- Olive oil for frying
- In a large bowl combine the cooked quinoa, cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, carrot (or zucchini), eggs, flour, green onions, garlic, pepper, cumin and salt. Mixture will be slightly sticky.
- Heat a frying pan over medium low heat. Add 2 – 4 tbsp olive oil. Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, drop quinoa mixture into heated pan. Lightly flatten to 1/2 inch thick. Fry until golden brown (about 5 minutes on each side).
- In order to ensure the burgers do not fall apart, make sure the bottom of the pan is coated with olive oil and use a thin spatula to flip the burgers over.
Per burger: 132 Calories, 8g Protein, 5g Fat, 12g Carbs (2g Fiber); 0g Sugar; 200mg Sodium.
Crispy Parmesan Green Bean Fries
- 4 cups fresh green beans (wash and snip the ends off)
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (grated)
- 1/2 tsp Garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp Salt (or to taste)
- 1/4 tsp Pepper (or to taste)
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray.
- Place green beans on prepared baking sheet, making sure they are evenly spread out and none are laying on top of each other (this is necessary to ensure crispness!) Mix cheese, garlic powder, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle seasonings evenly over green beans. Place baking sheet with green beans in pre-heated oven and bake for 10-15 minutes (until golden brown and crispy). Enjoy immediately.
Garlic Mayo Dip (for Green Bean Fries)
This garlic mayo is great with Crispy Parmesan Green Bean Fries and home made sweet potato fries. It is also great on burgers and sandwiches.
- 1/2 cup Mayonaise
- 2 Garlic cloves
- 1 tsp Lemon juice
- Put all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together.
- Serve immediately.
Sweet and Sour Pickles
- 2 English hothouse cucumbers (1 1/2 pounds total), washed, unpeeled, very thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp Coarse kosher salt
- 1/2 cup Distilled white vinegar
- 1/4 cup Finely chopped fresh dill
- 3 tbsp Sugar
- 1/2 tsp Freshly ground black pepper
- Place cucumber slices in colander. Sprinkle with salt; toss to coat. Let stand 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile, for the dressing, in a large bowl, stir vinegar, dill, sugar, and pepper until sugar is dissolved.
- Drain cucumbers and pat dry. Add cucumber slices to bowl with dressing and stir to blend.
- Refrigerate at least 15 minutes (no longer than 2 hours).
- Serve cold.
Made only twice a year (Christmas and Easter), these chocolate and almond cookies do not disappoint. The key ingredients are chocolate, roasted almonds, orange zest, and “vinacotta” (a syrupy liquid made from raisins).
Recipe will be posted soon! I need to track down the original from my great grandmother.
These almond and lemon filled cookies are a favorite of my great grandma’s around the holiday time. Think crispy fried dough with lemon almond sugary goodness.
- 1 lb almonds (ground fine in food processor with pinch of water)
- 1/2 lb sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 lemon (zest and juice)
- 1/4 tsp clove
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- In a medium sauce pan, add sugar, 1/2 cup water, and lemon juice. Turn heat to medium-low, stirring the mixture until the sugar is dissolved.
- 1lb flour
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Enough water to get the dough to form
- In large bowl, add flour. Make a well in the middle and add oil.
- Work dough with hands. Add water (1 tbsp at a time) and continue working dough, adding water as needed, until dough forms a ball.
- Almond Filling (above)
- Dough (above)
- 1 egg, beaten
- Olive oil and vegetable oil to fry
- Take a small piece of dough. Using a pasta machine, work dough through the machine starting on #10 working down to #1 (thinnest setting). The dough will stretch and lengthen into a long strip.
- Take long strip of flattened dough and place on floured surface.
- Brush side of dough facing up with egg.
- Using a teaspoon, drop spoonfuls of almond mixture in middle of dough about 1/2 inch apart.
- Fold dough over filling, sealing edges by pressing with fingers.
- Using ravioli cutter, cut dough around filling into semi-circles. Repeat until all of the dough and almond paste has been used.
- Line a large bowl with paper towels and set aside.
- Fill medium sauce pan 1/3 of the way full with mixture of 50% olive oil 50% vegetable oil. Heat pan on medium-high heat. When oil becomes hot, reduce heat to medium / medium-low heat. Fry cookies 4-5 at a time until golden brown. Cookies will sink to bottom at first, and rise to top once they begin to cook. Once golden brown remove cookies from oil using a spider or slotted spoon and place in bowl lined with paper towls. Sprinkle with sugar. Repeat until all of the cookies have been fried.
This dish is based on a recipe I found in Martha Stewart (March 2013). I have added a few additional ingredients (lemon and garlic) and eliminated others (I’m not a rosemary person). This dish is great served over spaghetti, or served over a simple salad of arugula and micro greens and paired with oven roasted yukon gold potatoes.
1 1/2 lbs pork loin, cut cross wise into 6 thin slices
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
1 lemon, sliced
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 cup dry white wine
Pound pork slices until approximately 3/8 inches thick. Season with salt and pepper, and dredge in flour, shaking off excess. Transfer to baking rack and let stand about 10 minutes. **
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in large non-stick saute pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and melt, swirling to coat bottom of pan. Add 3 pork slices in a single layer and cook, flipping once, until both sides are golden brown and pork is cooked through (about 4-5 minutes total). Transfer cooked pork to serving plater and cover with foil. Repeat with 3 remaining pork slices.
Once all of the pork is cooked (and placed on the serving platter), add garlic, capers, and sage to the pan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring until fragrant (about 30 seconds). Add lemon slices and wine and cook until liquid is reduced by half. Stir in remaining tablespoon of butter and melt. Pour sauce over pork.
**If you opt to serve the pork over pasta — before starting to cook the pork, fill a pasta pot 1/2 full of water and turn on high heat. When water comes to a boil, salt, and add 1 pound of spaghetti. Reduce to medium-high heat. Cook spaghetti 7-8 minutes until cooked al dente.
This dish is something I came up with last weekend while I was playing “clean out the fridge.” It’s hearty, delicious, and may take the cake as the perfect rainy day comfort food. Note: for those of you who aren’t huge fans of eggplant, give this dish a try! The eggplant is subtle and the tomato and cheese are the real stars.
- 1 eggplant
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan, divided
- Dash of sea salt and fresh ground pepper
- 2-4 tbsp kalamata olive oil (enough to generously coat bottom of large sauté pan)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 8 oz tomato sauce
- 6 oz grape tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
- 1 scallion, chopped
- 1/2 lb pasta
Recipe: Cooking Time (about 40 minutes)
- Peel skin off eggplant (you can do this using a knife or a vegetable peeler) and cut into 1 inch by 1 inch cubes. In a medium-size bowl mix flour, 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese, sea salt and fresh grated pepper. Dredge eggplant in flour mixture, shaking off excess. Place dredged eggplant in a separate medium size bowl.
- Heat water in large pasta pot over high heat. Once water comes to a boil, salt and add 1/2 pound of pasta (I usually use ziti rigate, rigatoni, or the curly q ones I used in this photo). Lower heat to medium-high, cook pasta 7-10 minutes until al dente. Drain, add 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil (so that it does not stick together) and set aside in a covered bowl.
- While your pasta water is heating up… heat 2-3 tablespoons olive oil in large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add eggplant – making sure not to overcrowd. Turn the eggplant every few minutes so that it cooks evenly. Add additional tablespoon of oil if the pan looks dry. Cook eggplant until it turns light golden brown (about 10-15 minutes total).
- At this point, there should only be a small amount of oil left in the pan (enough to sauté your garlic, onion, and grape tomatoes). Turn heat to medium-low. Add garlic, onion, grape tomatoes, and red pepper flakes to the pan. Stir occasionally. Cook 5-10 minutes until onions are golden brown and grape tomatoes are soft.
- Turn heat to low. Add tomato sauce and cannellini beans to pan, stirring to mix all of the ingredients together. Add pepper to taste. Cook 5 minutes.
- Pour cooked pasta into sauté pan and combine.
- Pour pasta and eggplant mixture onto a serving platter. Sprinkle parmesan cheese and fresh chives over the top and serve.
Nane’s Famous Apple Pie
My Nane is a clever woman. She loves having company. At 94, she still cooks dinner every Sunday for the family. As us grandchildren and great-grandchildren have grown older and gone away for college, it’s hard for all of us to attend every Sunday dinner. But that doesn’t stop my Nane from trying. She has this subtle way of reminding you that you’ve been absent a few too many Sundays in a row. The phone rings. “Hi Nane!” “Hello, [grandchild X]. I’m making X desert for Sunday…” And before you know it, you are figuring out a way to get home for Sunday dinner. It’s at 6:00pm. Don’t be late!
It’s become quite the family joke. Nane knows everyone’s favorite desert. And she knows that making someone’s favorite desert sends the homing beacon.
For my grandfather, the homing beacon is lemon merengue pie. For her neighbor, the signal is apple cake. For my aunt and uncle in Florida, it’s blueberry cookies. For me, it’s home made pumpkin pie. And not just any pumpkin pie, the kind made from a real pumpkin! But for my mom, and most of the family, the homing beacon is apple pie.
There is just no comparison to Nane’s apple pie. No bakery or diner apple pie comes close. This apple pie is the queen of all apple pies.
Recipe to follow!