Rustica.

I’m going to make this one short and sweet, unlike the recipe below, but I’m all about irony and opposites, so who cares.

I’m going to guess that this is going to be my last post for a while. We are headed to Greece (GREECE!!!!!) on Saturday, and you best believe, I won’t be bloggin’ over there. Plus, I swear I haven’t cooked much of anything lately, and I had to dig into a rough draft of this recipe from like, I dunno, a couple of months ago, to have something to share with you today.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve made some stuff – but typically it’s a piece of toasted bread, a fried egg, some cheese, and a couple of slices of avocado (you don’t need a recipe and pictures for that, right?!) or maybe a throw-together version of the best thing in my life food-wise, chilaquiles.

We even went to Portland the other week, and camping/backpacking again (first time since the Lost Coast!) this past weekend, and I could probably share some pictures with you, but I didn’t take that many.

Man, I’m slack.

But if I had a little time on my hands, a little snippet of a morning where I could plan a little, I’d totally make this pie again. If I had any veggies in my fridge, it would totally be the way to use them all up, but I doubt a bunch of celery would be all that good by itself…

I’m hoping you do have a little more time at home this week to make this, because I promise it’s totally worth a little bit of preparation. When I made this thing ages ago (or at least it seems like ages), I made the dough the day before, and when it came time to roll that stuff out and stuff the pie, I added every little piece of veggie that I had left into that thing. Lots of cheese, too. It was marvelous, and we ate it for three days straight, which might be boring to some of you, but to me, it was just delightful each and every time.

And with that, adio! I promise to take pictures in Greece, and maybe make some baklava again, or in the least, something with a good Greek olive oil ;).

Pizza Rustica
adapted from Cooking Light, April 2012; serves 8

time commitment:  2 hours, 30 minutes (about 1 hour active time, includes refrigeration of dough and baking time)

printable version

ingredients
crust
7 3/4 oz all-purpose flour (about 1 3/4 cups), divided
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking powder
1/3 c extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 c water

torta
2 medium red bell peppers
2 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 lb kale, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 T chopped shallots
2 t minced garlic
2 (8-ounce) packages cremini mushrooms, sliced
8 oz part-skim ricotta cheese
2 oz fontina cheese, shredded (about 1/2 cup)
1 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup)
1 T chopped fresh thyme
1/2 t kosher salt
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 large egg white
Cooking spray
1 T fat-free milk

instructions
To prepare crust, weigh or lightly spoon 7.25 ounces flour (about 1 2/3 cups) into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 7.25 ounces flour, 1/2 t salt, and baking powder in a food processor; pulse 2 times to combine. Combine 1/3 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup water in a small bowl. With processor on, slowly add oil mixture through food chute, and process just until dough begins to form a ball (dough will be crumbly). Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead 3 minutes; add enough of the remaining 2 tablespoons flour to prevent dough from sticking to hands. Divide dough into 2 equal portions. Press each portion into a 5-inch circle on plastic wrap. Cover with additional plastic wrap. Chill at least 30 minutes.
To prepare torta, preheat broiler to high. Cut bell peppers in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place pepper halves, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet; flatten with hand. Broil 10 minutes or until blackened. Place in a ziploc bag and seal. Let stand 10 minutes. Peel and coarsely chop.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil; swirl to coat. Add kale to pan; cook 1 minute or until greens begin to wilt. Place kale and bell peppers in a large bowl. Return pan to medium heat. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add shallots and garlic to pan; cook for 1 minute. Add mushrooms; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Place mushroom mixture and kale mixture in a fine sieve; let drain 5 minutes. Place vegetable mixture in a large bowl. Add ricotta and next 7 ingredients (through egg white) to vegetable mixture, stirring to combine.
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Slightly overlap 2 sheets of plastic wrap on a slightly damp surface. Unwrap one dough portion, and place on plastic wrap. Cover dough with 2 additional sheets of overlapping plastic wrap. Roll dough, still covered, into an 11-inch circle. Place the dough in freezer for 5 minutes or until plastic wrap can be easily removed. Remove top sheets of plastic wrap; fit dough, plastic wrap side up, into a 9-inch pie plate coated with cooking spray. Remove remaining plastic wrap. Spoon vegetable mixture into prepared pie plate.
Repeat with remaining dough and then place over vegetable mixture. Remove remaining plastic wrap. Press the edges of dough together. Fold edges under, and flute. Brush top of dough with milk. Cut several slits in top of dough to allow steam to escape.
Bake at 375° for 45 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Cool 30 minutes. Cut into 8 wedges.
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Shelled In

Hello. Hi there. How’s it goin’? It’s nice to see you here. It’s nice to know I can move across the country, start a new job, move again, unpack, unpack some more, and then get my internets hooked up and see your smiling faces. Well, not really see you, but you get my drift, yes?

I’m glad you’re here, and I’m glad I’m here.

I’m also glad to have my kitchen back. As of Sunday night, all boxes are unpacked. Now, this doesn’t mean everything is in its place, but great progress has been made on the home front. I will say that it’s hard to move to a smaller place, but I think we’ll manage just fine here.

I think we’ll eat a lot of good dinners together, and I think that, once we procure another dining room table (and chairs of course. chairs are good here.), we’ll eat a lot of dinners with other people too.

But for now, it’s just the two of us (we can make it if we try; just the two of us). That works out  nicely when I make a dish I don’t enjoy sharing, which happens often. Of course, stuffed shells aren’t exactly a novelty, but considering I had an unopened box of jumbo shells in my pantry that made it’s way here all the way from Chicago, I felt it worthy of a housebreaking meal.

Also, my favorite mother-and-father-in-law mailed me some extra-tasty fine Italian cheeses for my birthday, and I took this as an opportunity to use some of them. Now, you don’t have to go all out and put your best cheese on this dish, but you could if you wanted. In our house, cheese has to get used quickly, or else it risks getting eaten by a certain cheese-lovin’ boy.

But why eat cheese alone with you can eat it with more cheese, the best tomatoes ever, and pasta? No brainer.

Swiss Chard Stuffed Shells
serves 4

time commitment: 1 hour (30 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
20 jumbo shells (~1/2 box)
1 15-oz container part-skim ricotta cheese
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 bunch swiss chard, chopped
salt and pepper
1 28-oz can San Marzano tomato puree
1/3 c Asiago cheese, shredded
1/3 c Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shredded

instructions
preheat oven to 350 F. bring a large pot of water to boil. cook pasta shells according to package directions, being careful not to overcook them. drain and rinse with cold water; pat dry.

meanwhile, make filling. in a medium bowl, combine ricotta cheese through chard. season with salt and pepper.

taking one shell at a time, stuff with filling until overflowing. place in small baking dish (you want them to all be touching one another, not spread out). pour tomato puree atop stuffed shells and top with the two cheeses. bake, covered with foil, for 30 minutes. uncover, and bake another 5 minutes.

Rollin’ Out

I decided I wanted to talk about food for a minute, since – you know – this is a food blog and all. I’ll get to Chapter 6 in a few, and I LOVE keeping people in suspense.

But I keep seeing this huge bag of carrots in my fridge every time I open it, and as a result I can’t stop thinking about this ravioli.

I bought the pasta attachment for my KitchenAid, aka best wedding present ever, quite a few months ago. I used it once, and the pasta got all stuck in the roller section, an floury-eggy mess crusting up all over the place. After trying my damndest to clean it, I finally realized that the particular roller I had was a dud, and so I sent that sucker back and days later, a shiny new attachment showed up at my doorstep.

That one sat in the closet for a few months.

But sometime before Christmas, I kept looking at all the carrots in my fridge (I always seem to have a bag-full, thanks be to the CSA shares that are thankfully almost finished!) and I couldn’t stop thinking about a ravioli recipe I’d clipped. I’d bought the semolina flour weeks ago in anticipation of making pasta again and finally, I decided I could wait no more. Plus, I had some ricotta cheese on the verge of ruin, so the ingredients were there waiting for me.

It’s actually a fun little process, this making ravioli thing. But then again, I get all sorts of excited about making things from scratch, so this is no surprise, right? I can’t put my finger on it, but a certain feeling of pride sweeps up inside you when you can start with a few eggs, some flour, and a little salt, and end up with thin, beautiful strands of dough. And when the dough gets cut into the cutest little circles and loaded with a filling that’s probably good enough to eat by the spoonful, it’s definitely enough to make you sit back and grin about it.

Roasted Carrot & Ricotta Ravioli
Adapted from Food & Wine, October 2010; makes 40

time commitment: 1 – 1.5 hours

printable version

ingredients
filling
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks (3/4 pound)
1 T olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 t unsalted butter
1 T minced shallot
1 T half and half
5 ounces ricotta cheese (~1/2 c)
6 T freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 large egg yolk

ravioli
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon semolina flour, plus more for dusting
3 extra-large eggs
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

sauce to serve with (tomato, melted butter/cheese, etc)

special equipment: pasta machine, either hand-cranked or a KitchenAid attachment; 2 1/2″ cookie cutter

instructions
Preheat oven to 400 F.

Prepare the dough. In a food processor, pulse the flour with the salt, nutmeg and the 1 tablespoon of semolina. Add the eggs and pulse until incorporated. With the machine on, add the olive oil in a thin stream and process just until moistened crumbs form. Turn the crumbs out onto a semolina-dusted work surface and knead just until a smooth dough forms. Wrap the dough in plastic and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, roast the filling: In a baking dish, toss the carrots with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake for about 30 minutes, until tender and lightly browned. Let cool slightly.

In a small skillet, melt the butter. Add the shallot and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 3 minutes.

In a food processor, combine the carrots, shallot and cream and puree until smooth. Transfer the puree to a bowl. Stir in the ricotta, Parmigiano and nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the egg yolk.

Make the ravioli: Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces and cover with plastic wrap. Work with 1 piece at a time: Flatten the dough into a 5-by-4-inch oval, about 1/2 inch thick. Dust lightly with semolina. Roll the dough through a pasta machine at the widest setting. Fold the dough in thirds (like a letter), then run it through the machine at the same setting, folded edge first. Repeat the folding and rolling once more. Roll the dough through at successively narrower settings, two times per setting, until it is thin enough for you to see the outline of your hand through it. Lay the dough out on a work surface lightly dusted with semolina.

Brush any semolina off the dough. On half of the dough, spoon 10 1-teaspoon mounds of filling in two rows of 5, spacing apart by about 2 inches. Cover with the other half of the dough and press down gently to get rid of any air. Using a 2 1/2″ cookie cutter, cut out 10 ravioli. Using the tines of a fork, seal all the way around each circle, and place ravioli on a large rimmed baking sheet lightly dusted with semolina. Repeat with the remaining pasta dough and filling.

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook half of the ravioli over high heat until al dente, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the ravioli to a platter. Repeat with the remaining ravioli and serve. (Ravioli, uncooked, can be frozen at least a month in advance. Freeze them individually on a baking sheet, then toss them into a bag together until needed.)

Serve with warmed tomato sauce, or some melted butter & cheese. Or with the sauce of your liking :).

About that time

So what do you guys think about when November hits? Thanksgiving isn’t the answer I’m looking for here.

Christmas shopping isn’t either. I mean for realz – who shops in November?! I totally wait until December. The middle of December, if I’m lucky. Well, if you’re lucky, if you’re on my list ….

What I think about, is that it’s gettin’ ready to be time to hibernate. It’s almost time to put the bike away (although this is my first Fall/Winter biking to work, so I don’t know how long I’ll make it, really), and time to walk from the train to work so fast that my butt shakes (which really, it doesn’t take much).

Speaking of butts, and of hibernating, it’s about time for a few months of comfort food. To me, that means squash, sweet potatoes, and pasta. Soup never hurt anyone either.

Yes, it’s about that time. And thanks be to the CSA (& Costco), I happened to have all of that lying around this weekend, which was the exact same time I located a recipe from a couple of years back, one I’d absolutely forgotten about.

I’ve been eating this all. week. long. And I haven’t complained a bit.

A vegetarian treat, the squash & potatoes have that perfect amount of sweetness, and a gooey enough consistency to seem saucy. When the dish comes together, you hear that squishy sound – that of the pasta and the rest of the mixture blending together, sauce nuzzling itself into the twists and turns and holes of the pasta – hibernating. It tastes like the week before Thanksgiving, no matter when you eat it, and the cheese and walnuts are a perfect contrast in terms of both taste and texture.

Yes, it’s about that time. Time to eat that last plate of this almost-empty casserole dish. Time to cozy up on the couch, preparing for that everlasting, but somehow not so horrible, season of hibernation. Time to indulge, and to put off that Christmas shopping for a few more weeks. Oh, November – you are too good to hate. It’s about time I give in, I think.

Baked Pasta w/ Squash & Sweet Potatoes
Adapted from Weight Watchers online, 2 years ago; serves 6-8

time commitment: 1 hour, 15 minutes; 45 minutes active time

yes, Weight Watchers! it totally doesn’t taste as healthy as it is. You can probably use any squash/sweet potato combo here (last time I made this, two years ago, I used butternut only).

printable version

ingredients
1 lb delicata squash, peeled and cubed (1″ pieces)
3/4 lb sweet potato, peeled and cubed (1″ pieces)
12 oz uncooked whole wheat penne/rotini
1 1/4 c skim milk
2 T ap flour
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t kosher salt
1/4 t black pepper
1 T fresh thyme, divided
1/2 c part skim ricotto cheese
1/3 c Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/4 c chopped walnuts

instructions
preheat oven to 375 F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. place squash and sweet potato cubes on prepared baking sheet; roast until tender, about 30-45 minutes.

meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. After squash has been roasting for about 10 minutes, cook pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.

in the pot where the pasta was cooked, whisk together milk, flour, garlic, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking frequently; reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring often, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in squash and 2 1/2 teaspoons of thyme; mash until squash is incorporated with the sauce. Add pasta to the sauce; toss to mix and coat.

transfer pasta mixture to baking dish; dot with spoonfuls of ricotta and then sprinkle with Parmesan and walnuts. Bake until top is lightly browned in a few spots, about 15 to 20 minutes; remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 teaspoon of thyme.

This is How I Roll

When I told you I was going pescaterian for a month, you didn’t think I was going to talk about super-healthy dishes for the duration of May, did you?

If you did, and it’s ok if you did, I wanted to layeth the smacketh down relatively early, so as not to further confuse anyone. I do not roll that way. And as a matter of fact, not eating meat does not necessarily = eating healthier, per se. Because, quite frankly, you might find yourself loading up on cows and cows worth of cheese instead, and I do love cheese. It is for that reason that I will never, ever understand why a vegan becomes vegan. But I’m not here to understand everybody, that’s for sure.

I am here to report on my recent feelings about eggplant, however. I’ve never been a big fan of meat imitators. I suppose I should retract that statement, since I like tofu and tofu is, by all accounts, a meat imitator. But veggies such as mushrooms and eggplant that make their way between two pieces of bread and are called “burgers” usually come off resembling mush and downright soggy messes. I’ve also never really liked eggplant parmesan, as it is again, too mushy and not reminiscent of the real thing, chicken parmesan, which is far more chewy, and in a good way, than eggplant.

Of course, the fact that I’m spewing this and that about eggplant and all its ickiness may seem strange since you’ve by now noticed that this recipe is all things eggplant. I never said I wasn’t a hypocrit, people. But to rewind a little, I did say that I’ve never been a fan. Never, until now. Or honestly, until our Seattle trip where I ate the crunchiest eggplant fries (fries!) that were flecked with sea salt and honey (honey!); fries that melted in your mouth and made you forget where you were, what your name was, and certainly that you were in fact, eating eggplant.

Those fries, I will perfect one day, but last Friday was not the day. The ones I made were (surprise!) mushy, cut too thickly, and water-logged (still edible though, with the honey on top).

In this case, you get the best of both worlds. You get the eggplant and the parmesan, and with those you get plenty of other goodness – swiss chard, kale, ricotta, and even mint. And instead of thick, spongy eggplant that’s breaded and fried so the oil gets soaked in too, you get baked, thin rolls that when folded up nice and pretty, look and taste a lot like stuffed shells, or lasagna, or something else equally yummy.

And oh yeah, the sliced mozzarella on top really seals the deal. Like I said, where I cut back in beef, I more than make up for it with cheese. It’s a give and take sorta thing – and somehow, I’m still on top.

Eggplant Parmesan Rolls w/ Swiss Chard, Kale, & Mint
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2010

this is an easily adaptable dish, honest. the original recipe called for chard and mint, and i added some leftover kale i had frozen away. you could also use spinach, which is probably more traditional, and instead of the mint you could use any other herbs. the tomato sauce here is canned, but you could easily make your own or add spices to the sauce if you so choose. do it up!

printable version

ingredients
2 medium eggplants, trimmed, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (or as close as you can get it)
kosher salt
evoo
1 bunch red Swiss chard, center ribs removed and stems removed
1 small bunch Tuscan kale (cavolo nero), about 2 c
2 large eggs
1 15-ounce container part skim ricotta cheese
1 c finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 T chopped fresh mint
freshly ground black pepper
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 8-oz ball fresh water-packed mozzarella, drained, thinly sliced

instructions
spread a layer of paper towels on cutting board or other flat surface. place eggplant slices down (1 layer), and sprinkle liberally with salt. let stand at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. rinse eggplant slices to remove excess salt; dry thoroughly with paper towels.

position oven rack 5 to 6 inches from heat source and preheat broiler. line a large-rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. arrange eggplant slices in single layer on prepared baking sheets (will take 2-3 rounds). brush both sides of eggplant slices with olive oil. broil 1 sheet at a time until eggplant slices are tender and beginning to brown, flipping slices once and watching closely, removing eggplant slices as needed if cooking too quickly, 3 to 4 minutes per side. remove baking sheet from oven, repeat as needed, and cool eggplant while preparing filling.

meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. add chard and kale to pot and boil just until tender, about 2 minutes. Drain; rinse with cold water. Squeeze chard and kale very dry, then chop coarsely. squeeze chard and kale dry again between paper towels. whisk eggs and pinch of coarse salt in medium bowl. Stir in chopped chard, ricotta cheese, 3/4 c Parmesan, mint, and black pepper to taste (I used close to 1 t).

spray a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. spread half of tomato sauce evenly over bottom of dish. divide chard-kale-ricotta filling among eggplant slices, placing about 1 heaping tablespoon filling at short end of each. Starting the short end with the filling, loosely roll up eggplant slices, enclosing filling. Arrange rolls, seam side down, atop sauce in baking dish. spoon remaining tomato sauce over. place mozzarella slices in single layer over rolls. sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. if making in advance, cover with foil and chill until ready to bake.

preheat oven to 350 F. bake eggplant Parmesan rolls, covered with foil, until heated through, about 30 minutes if freshly made or 40 minutes if refrigerated. uncover and bake until brown in spots and sauce is bubbling, 15 to 20 minutes. serve hot.

May’s Carpaccio

I like to consider myself a die-hard carnivore, the kind of person who enjoys her steaks bloody, or “barely dead” as my mom would say. I commend restaurants like Mado because they don’t waste; they use as much of the animal as possible, and they even teach courses on swine butchering and tweet about beef tongue. Plus, it’s not every day I get to try tripe and beef heart and Mado gives me that opportunity; the closest thing to offal I had growing up was fried chicken gizzards, and man, I loved them so.

So yeah, vegetarian I am not, nor could I ever be.

But for this month, I’m going to try. As Hubs will quickly interject, it doesn’t make a lick of sense. Why volunteer to take away part of my life that I cherish? I openly laugh at people participating in Lent (if you are one of them, I’m sorry, but I will still laugh at you), giving up their favorite food and torturing themselves for 40 days. Nonetheless, here I am. Attempting to eat a vegetarian pescaterian diet for an entire month is a sure-fire way to send me, and the Hubs, straight to the crazy house. But keep the straightjackets and padded rooms away for now, please.

Let’s set the record straight, so that no one is confused here: this is not permanent, people. Hell, no! Are you out of your mind? A life without rack of lamb and bacon is a life I do not care to be a part of, please and thank you. I’m only testing myself, and I do have two reasons. For one, we joined a meat and produce CSA this year, and come June we’ll be up to our eyelids in more meat than we can shake a stick at. I figure I’ll appreciate it a lot more after a month of going without.

Okay, that’s a sorta stupid reason, I know. But my second one is more plausible: I want to branch out and become more versatile in my eating and cooking. I love so many vegetarian dishes, yet so rarely do I eat a purely vegetarian meal and this is a way for me to force myself to do so. Plus, it’s Spring and there are so many good veggies on the brink of seasonality that if I can do it for one month, May has to be the easiest because I’m not missing any hearty winter stews and chilis, and it’s not quite burger season – yet.

So with that, lets discuss zucchini – one of those lil’ veggies that’s rip roarin’ and ready to go, right about now. I’ve come to appreciate zucchini, and what better way to serve it than thinly sliced and raw so that it’s freshness is appreciated, celebrated, and not stewed and melded ratatouille-style. Thin-sliced meat (which I’m now missing as I type this…damnit) is often called “carpaccio”, and if you’ve never tried it you are certainly missing out.

While this is assuredly meat-free, serving zucchini in this way lets the true taste and brightness of this “summer squash” stand on its own, with light, delicate flavors of lemon and basil to accent and mounds of fluffy, creamy ricotta cheese to add textural contrast.

My favorite carpaccio ever? Well, no. But for May, or as a side dish any day, it’ll work!

Zucchini Carpaccio
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2010; 4 side servings

this recipe works best if you have a mandoline slicer, but if you don’t you’ll just have to take your time and slice slowly with a regular ol’ knife. I used a mandoline, but realized too late that it was on the wrong setting, and as a result have 1/4″ slices where they should be almost paper thin. no matter how thick or thin the slices are, you’ll still love this as a refreshing side with almost anything.

printable version

ingredients
2 medium regular or 4 baby zucchini, trimmed
Coarse kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 green onion, thinly sliced
2 T fresh lemon juice
2 T good evoo
4 oz good ricotta cheese, more or less to your liking
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped into thin strips

instructions
Using knife or mandoline, cut zucchini into paper-thin rounds. Arrange rounds, slightly overlapping, on large platter. Sprinkle lightly with coarse salt and pepper, then green onions. Whisk lemon juice and oil in small bowl. Drizzle dressing evenly over zucchini. Drop small spoonfuls of cheese all over zucchini. Sprinkle with basil and serve.

One Pie is Never Enough

lemon tart

I’m not sure what led me to make a tart for Battle Strawberry. It was clearly poor planning on my part. Although I should insert here, that I used to be a really good, I mean really really good, planner. I just plan a lot less now than I used to. Ask Chris, and he might tell you that it’s utterly frustrating. But that’s because he pretends to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants-kinda-guy and in the past has gotten away with that by hiding behind my organization. Well now, now he whines because we don’t plan, or at least we don’t plan as good as “we” used to.

Don’t let that confuse you – I will glady admit that one of my best traits is (well, are) multi-tasking, organizing, and planning. That may be one of the many reasons why I love cooking so darn much – if you make anything crazier than pasta you have to think a little about what you’re doing. And menu planning? Good times. Nothing’s more exciting than a trip to the g-store (which by the way I am just dying to hit up the new Whole Foods). Is that lame? Well, whatever. I’ve been lame before, but only a couple of times.


But when I was deciding what to make for the Iron Chef party, I forgot that this week in school was “tart & pie week”. I also forgot that I’d be eating a (frozen) goat cheese & asparagus quiche I made a couple weeks ago for lunch all week. You may be wondering what the real problem is here. tsk tsk. There isn’t one, really. It’s just that almost every meal this week (and snack) is in “pie-form”. I suppose it’s just plain weird is what it is. And it’s a lot of butter… especially before a beach weekend. Yikes!

asparagus quiche


It all started with the strawberry tart on Saturday. [Did I mention this was a second place winner next to the first place pizza I made?!] And Monday, that was really the beginning of the end. We made little key lime mini-pies, and we made our dough for the cherry pie and lemon meringue tarts that we finished on Tuesday. I’ve had the quiche for lunch for the last 4 days, and snacked on the tart for lunch one day (okay, you got me – two days). Fortunately, Chris’ coworkers love my baking class, and they gladly ate the pie and mini-pies.


mini key lime pies


If that wasn’t enough, I made another pie last night. But not to worry – I wasn’t craving pie or anything. My coworker’s boyfriend was in surgery earlier this week, and I got word that key lime pie is his favorite. Well, I’d already sent the minis from class with Chris. I had no choice but to whip one up at home. No choice at all.


Luckily, I do love pie. And they really are easy to throw together. If you’re scurred, you can buy the pre-made shells, but they aren’t gonna be as flaky or as tasty as what you can make at home. You could always go for a graham cracker shell (or any other cookie crumb), which is just the crumb, a little sugar, and melted butter. Easy peezy. But seriously, if you’re making a regular pie crust, just make sure you don’t overmix, hence melt, the fat (butter or shortening) and when you roll out, make sure your rolling pin and surface are well-floured. Other than those minor challenges, you are practically dumping fruit into a pan and baking. The end result: a delightfully flaky, buttery crust underneath a myriad of possibilities – sweet or savory – warm or cold – streusel topping, naked, or pie shell.


Really – what is better than pie?


Strawberry Mascarpone Tart w/ Balsamic-Thyme Glaze

serves 6-8

printable recipe

ingredients
Pâte Brisée shell
1 1/4 cups AP flour (+ flour for rolling)
8 T butter, very cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 t sugar
2-4 t ice water, very cold


filling & glaze
2 lbs strawberries, stemmed and quartered
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 T orange zest, divided
8 oz mascarpone cheese
4 oz ricotta cheese (or 12 oz mascarpone & no ricotta)
1 t lemon juice
1/2 t vanilla
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2-3 T balsamic vinegar


instructions
1. cut butter into cubes and put in freezer until ready to use

2. In food processor (or by hand), mix flour, salt, sugar together. Cut in butter until pea-sized – pulsing. Add in water, by pulsing, until mixture starts to clump together.

3. Remove dough from processor and place on clean surface. Roll into mound and place in fridge covered with plastic wrap for ~30 minutes. You should still see specks of butter in the dough.

4. Combine strawberries, 1/2 of orange zest, sugar. Macerate in fridge for ~30 minutes.

5. Mix cheese, confectioners sugar, other 1/2 of zest, lemon juice, vanilla. Refrigerate until needed.

6. Preheat oven to 375. Take dough out of fridge and let sit ~5 minutes. Flour surface and roll dough into 12 inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. Gently fold in half and onto the roller. Place atop pie plate/tin and unfold onto other half.

7. Prick the bottom of the pie shell with a fork multiple times. Cover with parchment paper or tin foil and place pie weights, dry beans, (or spare change, which is what I use) atop and bake about 15 minutes. Remove weights and paper. Bake bare for another ~20.

8. Drain macerated strawberries, and put juice in small saucepan. Add balsamic vinegar and thyme and bring to boil over med-hi, reduce to syrupy consistency and let cool.

9. Once tart is cooled, spread mascarpone mixture over bottom. Top with strawberries. With brush, spread balsamic glaze atop strawberries.


Classic Key Lime Pie
Adapted from Professional Baking, 5th Edition; serves 6-8



ingredients
shell
4 oz graham cracker crumbs
2 oz sugar
2 oz melted butter


filling
1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
5 oz key lime juice or lime juice (freshly squeezed, but bottled works too)
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
whipped cream, optional


instructions


Preheat to 350. Mix sugar and crumbs in bowl. Add butter and mix with hands until all is wet. Press into sprayed pie plate/tin, and press up the sides. Use another shell to place on top to even out the mixture. Bake alone for 4 minutes.


Mix milk with lightly beaten eggs. Add in juice. If you want color, add food color too. Pour into baked shell and bake for 20-25 minutes, until “jiggly but firm”. Let cool. Add whipped cream, if using.