Tart Cherry Hand Pies

 

The note inside the package from American Spoon stopped me in my tracks.

“Hope these preserved cherries bring fond memories of your trip to Michigan’s Cherry Festival.”

The timing was perfect, actually. Not only is it National Cherry Month, but the chilly weather (even in California!) and non-stop work schedule made me long for a few days in Traverse City, Michigan, eating cherries and basking in ridiculously long summer days.

 My trip to this part of Michigan in 2010 goes down as one of my favorites ever taken. I heard from so many Michigan natives after that post, many of you from Traverse City, and I can shamelessly tell you that I am jealous of you. That’s right, I’m not afraid to admit it. Jealous of the sunshine during summer, the smiles and conviviality, the lake, and most importantly, those cherries.

Oh, those cherries.

My pantry has a permanent place for dried tart cherries as well as a few jars of preserves, but as luck would have it I was completely out of the preserves when my box from American Spoon arrived. I call this Perfect Timing.

Realizing we only had a few days left to celebrate Cherry Month, Adam whipped up a crust of butter, cream cheese and a little bit of brown sugar. Tucked inside the dough went American Spoon’s Fruit Perfect, they baked and cooled before a Vanilla Bean Glaze was brushed and drizzled on top. I photographed them, using every ounce of my being to hold back devouring them. I double checked my camera’s memory card, realized my shots were good to go, and ate a few without hesitation.

And then I ate more.

Oh Michigan, I really do miss you.

Tart Cherry Hand Pies

For The Dough
4 oz butter
4 oz cream cheese
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar

For The Egg Wash
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk

For The Glaze
1/2 cup powered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1/4 vanilla bean, sliced and seeds scraped out

For The Filling
about 10 oz Fruit Perfect Sour Cherries from American Spoon

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the cold butter and cream cheese until combined. Add the dry ingredients and mix until the dough just comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and unwrap. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to just a little over 1/8″ thick. Cut the dough with 4.5″ cookie or biscuit cutter.
Continue rolling the scraps until all the dough is used. Make sure to keep the dough covered once cut. This recipe will yield 12 dough circles.

To fill the pies, lightly brush the edges of the dough with egg wash, place about 1 teaspoon of Sour Cherries in the center. Fold dough over and press lightly to remove air. With a fork crimp the edges, dipping the fork in flour to prevent sticking. Once you have filled all the pies place in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425˚.

Remove from refrigerator and brush with remaining egg wash and with a sharp knife cut two slices in the top to vent. Bake in preheated oven 20-25 minutes until golden brown and cherry filling is bubbling out. Remove from oven and let cool on a cooling rack. When the pies have cool, brush or drizzle glaze on.  Serve at room temperature.

By the way, have you seen the American Spoon catalog? They live in my permanent collection of beautiful printed catalogs and if you can get your hands on one I really urge you to do so. Breathtakingly beautiful they are.


Winter Citrus, Revisited

This is a story about winter citrus. More specifically, it’s a story about finding a day to play in a photo studio, complete with beautiful props and gorgeous styling. It’s a story dedicated to free form (there are no recipes here!), to abundant light, to taking it slow and easy during the new year, but mostly it’s a story about bright happy little fruit that inspires me.

As we enter another year (and I blog another year longer), I always come to citrus in January. Maybe because citrus represents the best of what the world has to offer. Maybe it’s the fruit’s inherent sparkle, the zing it brings to all things sweet and savory. Maybe because it’s not necessarily fleeting, but like a good strong friend that makes you smile because you know it has your back. Am I anthropromorphizing too much? Indeed I am. But I can’t help it. I guess I’m just tapping into the thousands and thousands of years that we have embraced lemons, limes, and oranges, and they are as much a part of our world as the air that we breathe.

It’s also a story about the things we like to make using citrus.

I develop a certain kind panic when I realize I’m out of lemons in my kitchen. Next to garlic, some sea salt and a few good knives, I feel like I should always have lemons on hand just in case. A quick search of my archives reveals why: lemon cupcakes, lemondrops (the adult cocktail, thankyouvermuch), lemon roasted just-about-anything, vinaigrettes, sparking sodas, my list goes on. Swap the lemon for a pomelo or blood orange and I’ll keep going. I can’t stop. The following ideas and recipes are ways we love to use citrus at home. And like I mentioned before, there are no recipes, and I hope that’s ok with you. Consider these images as starting points for future kitchen excursions. It’s January, we should all take it easy for just a little while longer, don’t ya think?

Mini Lemon Meringue Cupcakes

Yes, I am starting with dessert first. Begin with lemon or vanilla cupcakes, scoop out a tiny bit of the center, pipe in lemon curd and top with Italian meringue. Torch the top ever so slightly. Devour like a madman. Oops, that was me, sorry.

 Raw Vegetable Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

You can feel the crunch now, can’t you? Raw, crisp veggies and a handful of garbanzo beans drizzled with  a vinaigrette made with lemon juice, champagne vinegar, shallots, olive oil, Dijon mustard, a teensy amount of grated lemon peel, a pinch of sugar. It could not be easier. And you know how I feel about pre-made dressings and vinaigrette. Why would you when this is just so easy? Bonus points: you can use this as a dip and on sandwiches and subs.

Lemon Meringue Cake

Hey, this looks familiar, don’t it? That’s right. A buttercake is layered with lemon curd, once again topped with meringue and torched. It was as delicious as it was pretty.

Pink Lemonade

Pink lemonade is your standard lemonade with a splash of cranberry juice for color. It’s how it gets its pink. I’m all for it, but I like to add a small amount of grapefruit juice for tartness and – in the tiniest amount possible – a pinch of sea salt. Too much ruins it, just a tiny bit adds some depth. You must have plenty of ice. Must.

 Oven Roasted Trout

Sliced lemon wedges, sprigs of thyme, sea salt, whole trout. Dinner is served. And as a whole fish kind of guy it’s moments like this when I value a really great relationship with a fishmonger. Although I’m no stranger to getting out there and catching it myself. Lemon and fish is a natural combination but you know what’s a better combo? This dish and my mouth.

Lemon Roasted Chicken

Oh, you beautiful bird, you. The stuff simple and easy dinners are made of. We always roast our chicken with slices of lemon (with larger halved lemons inside the cavity), shallots, salt, pepper, and just about any kind of fresh herb you have on hand. You can make it even better by making a gravy from the lemony pan drippings. And you see those potatoes? They’re roasted red potatoes topped with ricotta and lemon zest. Roast first, give ‘em a squeeze to break them open, top to your heart’s content. Literally a perfect dinner.

Candied Citrus Cake

Something that couldn’t be easier but with fantastic citrus flare. A traditional butter cake with candied lemon, orange, and blood orange slices with spoonfuls of syrup.  To candy the citrus slices, boil and rinse three times to reduce bitterness then simmer in a mixture of equal parts sugar and water for 45 minutes, until translucent. Arrange cooled slices on top of the cake and spoon over the syrup.

Lemon Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream

What? Yet another sweet treat? That’s right. Because we were inspired by citrus sweets while at the studio we didn’t mind going into sugar-overload. Just use common sense, please. These cupcakes use plenty of lemon juice and zest in the cake, with just a very simple vanilla buttercream on top along with some happy sprinkles. Bright and happy, just like I like my desserts.

 How do you like to use citrus?

Many thanks to my gorgeous better half who styles with such grace and flair. Thanks to Found Vintage Rentals for the amazing furniture props. I live for these creative playdates! All photos and prop styling by yours truly.



Banoffee Pie Madness

 

One of the best things of being a food photographer is the access to new tastes, flavors and recipes. Because 100% of what we do at our studio is actually edible, you’ll find me on set most days asking this series of questions to Adam, my food stylist partner:

 

a)     I’ve got the shot. Can you review it and tell me if there’s anything you’d like to change?

b)    Ok, fantastic. Looks great. We’re done. Can I eat this?

 

I can’t really remember a day where I haven’t dug into a casserole or broken off a piece of bread or stolen a cookie. I often tell myself that it’s part of my job and that I actually should know what things taste like. When I photograph a cookbook it’s inevitable that people will ask me what the process was like and if there was a favorite recipe. Why shouldn’t I be prepared?

(sidenote: yes, I actually did taste every single recipe made from Jenny’s upcoming book and let’s just say you should be as excited as I am for it come out)

Recently a rather unfamiliar dessert landed on my shooting surface. Ok, let me back up. Unusual for me. But then again I’m not a Sweets kinda guy, generally. But this item, Banoffee Pie, is an English favorite that we were shooting for Cooking Channel and it really caught my attention.

Let’s see…bananas, check. Cookies, check. Coffee, check. Condensed milk made into caramel? Double check. I knew I was gonna try this. And something told me I was gonna like it.

Holy crap.

How have I gone 41 years without ever taking a bite of this? Adam’s assistants were particularly jazzed, knowing how fun and tasty Banoffee Pie is. But me? I was a Banoffee Virgin, new to the combination of tastes and are all individually my favorites.

Was it over the top? Yes. Was it super sweet? Indeed. Do I crave it all the time now? Hell to the yes.

I danced around the studio with whipped cream on my face and kept saying “Imagine Banoffee This! Imagine Banoffee That!” I think I was reprimanded slightly by my team, told to re-focus and reminded that we had plenty of more recipes to shoot. Our day was far from over.

When I got home I furiously jotted down ideas and notes, then asked my dear sweet partner if we could one day return to the studio, play around with banoffee ingredients, photograph them, them shamelessly eat them until we collapsed.

He obliged.

So what did I discover? Banoffee ingredients make me happy. They work well introduced into a variety of formats. And that I will probably never get tired of bananas + caramel + cookies/crust + whipped cream + coffee.  For reals, y’all.

Add this combination to the top of a cupcake and what do you have? Insanity.  Any cupcake will do but you’ll probably want to introduce a flavor that compliments a traditional banoffee pie. Banana cupcakes, vanilla or espresso could totally work. Top them with chocolate frosting, sprinkle graham cracker crumbs on top, a dollop of whipped cream, a banana coin and a small graham cracker. Drizzle with dulce de leche. Stuff into your face.

 

 

Could graham cracker crumbs, dulce de leche, cream, chocolate and bananas make a delicious parfait? Absolutely. It’s rich, I’m telling you, so you might want to add a scoop of vanilla ice cream :)

 

Yes, I am a stickler for that panino/panini format, I can’t help it. At any rate, spreading banoffee ingredients on bread, tucking some banana slices in there and then pressing on a grill or panini press gives you a sweet, breakfasty type sandwich (although the sensible me shudders at the thought of eating something like this for breakfast). Still, it’s fun, delicious, and even better if you top it with a dollop of whipped cream.

Sigh. Oh, banoffee milkshake, you were my favorite. For some reason all these things in a blender with ice cream just sing. You could get a lil fancy and top with chipped cream, chocolate shaving and a drizzle of caramel if you wanted. Again, vanilla ice cream is a good start, but could you imagine butter pecan or any type of banana ice cream? I think I need to stop dreaming up ways to use these ingredients. I will no longer fit into my pants.

I happen to love Maggie’s Banoffee Pie that she made for us during our Palm Springs retreat when I told her about my new found love for the stuff. If you’re looking for her delicious recipe you can find it here.



Adam’s Scary Apples

spooky-apples

No it’s not Halloween Déjà vu here! Since we get so many requests and comments about these Scary Apples I’ve decided to rerun them for this year’s Halloween. Kind of a greatest hits, right? Enjoy! And Boo!

Full confession: When I was about 4 or 5 years old I was so utterly terrified of Halloween that I once ran from the dinner table to the bedroom where I locked myself inside it for 20 minutes while Trick or Treaters came to the front door of the house. I’m not sure why I did that exactly as I wasn’t normally a timid or shy child; I think my dramatic exit had more to do with the fact that I enjoyed that sense of fright, darkness and mystery that rolls around every October. I like to be scared when I know nothing bad will actually happen.

This explains my interest in fright nights, scary movies, haunted houses, macabre scenarios, you name it. I think there’s a part of all of us that likes that thrill…why else would we visit haunted houses, watch slasher films, and listen to Paris Hilton songs and videos?

Not that I’ve done the latter. Even that’s too scary for me.

When I mentioned to Adam that I wanted to do my first Halloween blog post about a cocktail I tried he quickly informed me that it would neither be a) exciting b) deep enough or c) have enough pizazz. “What’s so exciting about a cocktail, all by itself?”  he asked. I could see his point as there are tons of others who focus on spirits and do a much better job. Besides, this drink wasn’t anything exciting or thrilling but perfect for the grown-ups at any Halloween party. “Give me a few minutes and I’ll help you out” said Adam.

Wow. Was my drink really that lackluster that it needed help? Apparently so.

He grabbed his car keys, ran to the store, came back but not before making a detour to the front yard where he began tugging at one of the trees. My partner isn’t a man of a thousand words (which must be why we’re a great match) but sometimes stoic and methodical. He was up to something I could tell but I didn’t quite know what.  When he returned to the kitchen he ransacked his baking shelf, took out the candy thermometer, a sheet pan and began his kitchen alchemy.

What happened next was pure magic.

I walked back into the kitchen to find the most beautiful candied apples before me.  Black glossy cinnamon-scented candied glass enveloped small apples, twigs became their handles, and a few shockingly red candied apples only made their black counterparts more ominous. It was halloween on a silpat, a spooky forest that completed my cocktail.

drinks-and-apples

I had no choice but to have him bundle up the apples, head to the studio with me where I knew exactly how I wanted to photograph them. They joined my new favorite black wine goblets from Juliska in an eery still life that still gives me the chills when I look at it. Only this time there’s no need to lock myself in my bedroom.

Red & Black Candy Apples

8-10 medium sized apples
8-10 wooden twigs, twimmed
3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 cup of water
several drops of cinnamon flavored oil
1/4 teaspoon of red food coloring
1/4 teaspoon of black food coloring
Clean and dry the apples. Try to remove as much of the wax as possible. If you purchase them from your local farmer’s market then chances are they have not been treated with the food grade wax that makes then shine. Remove any stems or leaves and insert a twig into the end of each apple. To facilitate easier twig entry you can carefully sharpen the end of the twig or use a candy stick to create a guide hole. Set apples aside.

Heat and stir sugar, corn syrup and water in a saucepan until sugar has dissolved. Boil until the syrup reaches 300 degrees on a candy thermometer. Don’t go over 310 degrees or your candy burns and then you’ll be sad.

Remove from heat and stir in flavored oil and food coloring.

Dip one apple completely in the syrup and swirl it so that it becomes coated with the melted sugar candy. Hold the apple above the saucepan to drain off excess. Place apple, with the stick facing up, onto a baking sheet that’s greased or lined with a silpat. Repeat the process with the remaining apples. If your syrup thickens or cools too much, simply reheat briefly before proceeding. Let the apples cool completely before serving.

A note about the black apples: Lighter colored apples (Granny Smith, Golden Delicious) work well in making the red appear bright and glassy; darker apples like red delicious help the black candy appear as dark as possible. Muy spooky!

Also, Adam made one batch with red food coloring and after he had a few red apples he reheated the candy mixture and added black food coloring. Adding black to red will make it darker. He repeated the dipping process. Black food coloring can be found online or at specialty baking stores.

Matt’s Winter Cocktail

I only call this winter because it has the flavors of pomegranate, apple and pear. Other than that it’s really just a sweet excuse to get drunk. The pinch of pumpkin pie spice in the drink gives it a holiday flair but it’s subtle. You can use dry ice to make it spooooky if you make a large batch of it but I don’t recommend putting dry ice into an individual glass if you want to keep your lips. Serves 2.

2 oz Pama Pomegranate Liqueur
2 oz Pear Vodka
4 oz Apple Cider or Juice
tiniest teensiest pinch of Pumpin Pie Spice

Add ingredients and crushed ice to a shaker and blend well. Empty drink and ice into a glass and get your drunk on.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Tomorrow we’re heading to NYC for a few days. It’s what we call our Let’s-Go-To-NYC-And-See-Folks-And-Catch-Up kind of trip. I suppose that’s what’s called networking, right? We try to make the trip a few times a year, although this past year has flown by with work and travel and this is our first visit to the city in 2011. And man oh man are we looking forward to it, even if Irene caused a slight reschedule. I’m no stranger to being uprooted due to hurricanes and hope everyone is safe and well. I’m glad to see my friends are ok.

I realize I haven’t been blogging much lately and for that I apologize. I feel as if the blog has been a wee bit neglected and that saddens me. To be completely honest I’ve been busier with the photography side of my life more than I ever thought I would be. Two cookbook projects, a wonderful holiday shoot for Food Network & Cooking Channel, even a very special photography project for a company you might have heard of have occupied every single minute of my day for the past 6 weeks. And I am so not complaining! I feel blessed to be doing something that I love and fortunate to work with amazingly creative people.

Oh, and I just signed another book deal. But more on that later. It should be fun.

As a way to celebrate a copious amount of completed work we thought we’d make a cake. With New York on my mind I thought back to my last visit in November when I joined my friends from Spice Islands at a taping of The Martha Stewart Show. One of Martha’s guests was Michael Kors, fashion designer and apparently a baker of cakes. Who knew? He made a Pineapple Upside Down Cake, a family recipe from his Grandma Bea and from my very special seat in the front row (Thanks, Martha!) I could smell the cake’s sweet pineappley goodness. Oh my god, I thought, I haven’t had a Pineapple Upside Down Cake since 1978. I was a child and I remember stuffing my face with it. Sweet and warm, sticky and crunchy on the edges, this was the cake I’d make when I needed to make my next cake. Which isn’t that often, ya know. I realize food falls in and out of fashion but I do miss Pineapple Upside Down Cake’s glory days immensely. With the exception of a few places making it for nostalgia’s sake you just don’t really see it. Of course if you do will you please let me know about it?

So Grandma Bea and Michael Kors, thank you for this recipe. It made me miss my mom’s Pineapple Upside Down Cake and also made me feel like I will need no sugar for the rest of the year. Seriously folks, this is one sweet cake. But since this is a family recipe I will not modify it here but let’s just say that next time I might reduce the sugar just a weeeeee bit.

 

Grandma Bea’s Pineapple Upside Cake from Michael Kors The Martha Stewart Show, November 2010

Matt’s notes: I’m pretty sure you could reduce the amount of white sugar in this recipe to 1 cup and still have a delightfully sweet cake. I was trying to run it by Mr. Kors but he hasn’t returned my phone calls yet.

1 (20.5-ounce) can pineapple rings in juice
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 cup lightly packed light-brown sugar
1/3 cup chopped pecans (optional)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
4 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Drain pineapple rings and discard juice. Place pineapple on a paper-towel-lined plate to drain, turning once, for 5 minutes.

Melt 6 tablespoons butter and transfer to a 9-inch round cake pan to evenly coat bottom; sprinkle brown sugar evenly over bottom of cake pan and top with an even layer of pineapple rings and pecans, if using. Set prepared cake pan aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla until well combined; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat remaining 6 tablespoons butter with granulated sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture alternating with egg mixture; beat until batter is just combined.

Pour batter in prepared cake pan and transfer to oven. Cook until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.

Run a small sharp knife around edge of pan to release cake. Place a plate on top of cake pan and invert cake onto plate; serve.

Recipe reprinted from Martha Stewart.




Learning About Pie, Learning About Myself

I woke up like I do any other morning, except for a nagging dream that came to me in my sleep and wouldn’t disappear until I did something about it.

I needed to learn how to make pie.

Now I have no idea where this came from. But the way the whole thing worked out I’m beginning to see that this yearning for pie came from a higher power, or at least from deep inside my subconscious. And it needed to be addressed.

In my dream I became adept at taking summer fruit, putting it into a pie made with love and then handing them to others to enjoy, to share, to eat. I gave them to friends and strangers at picnics, made a few for our summer outings, and had one on the counter for anyone that stopped by and wanted a piece. I suspect this is exactly why people make pies but me? My pie skills were embarrassing. So embarrassing that I shied away from making them for others. How could I make something for others when clearly there are pie makers with generations of experience, expertise and knowledge?

It turns out my adventure – and my feelings of pie self-worthlessness – had absolutely nothing to do with pie and everything to do with me.

I love giving. No, really, I try to live my life with an open heart and give more than I take. But sometimes I feel that even though what I give comes from my heart, it’s wrapped inside digital 1’s and 0’s, delivered from a computer or measured in megapixels, bits, and blogging templates. I sometimes hide behind it, for reasons I cannot explain. Maybe my pie dream was life’s way of telling me to step away from the computer, to wander away from wifi, and share with my hands and my heart.

And maybe it was to learn about myself.

I sent out a quick tweet looking for pie guidance. Friends responded, all pointing to the one and only Kate McDermott from The Art Of Pie, Pie Maker and Teacher who is “Making the world a better place, one pie at a time.” Well hello there, Understatement. What Kate is doing may appear to be pie making on the buttery, flaky surface, but underneath there’s love, compassion, acceptance, and peace swirling around that sweet, fruit filling.

And oh how I needed it.

We arrived at our pie class after a quick sunny drive from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara. Kate splits time between Washington and California, making my pie pilgrimage that much easier. When Kate greeted us at the door it was as I had known her for years, but having plenty of mutual friends tends to do that. In a sense I already knew her and her pies from spending time on her website, but what can’t be translated easily on the internet is heart, spirit, and kindness. Look them up in a dictionary and I’m pretty sure you’ll see photos of Kate.

Adam brought along our required pie making tools, I brought along nervousness, apprehension and doubt. How will I make a pie with a master? Will she be like Lita Nillen, my 5th grade piano teacher whose favorite word was “NO!” which she uttered every time I played the wrong note, which was all too often? Will she be all smiles until I flub something up? More importantly, why was I so concerned, working myself up so much that I almost wanted to leave before I even arrived?

Why?

Before I had a chance to even think about it, Kate looked deep into my eyes and I immediately felt comfortable. Hey, I might be ok and learn something instead of relying on my usual toolkit of bad jokes, self-deprecation and humor.

I’ve made it this far, pie don’t fail me now.

A few hours of mixing, of squeezing butter and lard and flour made me feel at home. My questions were taken to heart, always answered with an explanation that combined love, humor, insight and science. No question was trivial, no concern deemed too silly. I ticked off my mental checklist of questions and realized something strange happens: when you are close friends with chefs, bakers, stylists and famous people like this you sometimes keep things to yourself for fear of nagging your best buds about shop talk. Wait, am I the only one that does this? Please tell me I’m not.

But of course I should know better. Food people are some of the most generous people on the planet. Kate exemplifies this.

A few hours of baking, laughing and some teary-eyed moments revealed pies that sang from the heavens, of angelic fillings and perfect crusts that proved why pies exist: to feed and bring people together. It’s not convenience food, it’s not meant to eat in your car or by yourself. It’s meant to share, to connect, to love, and I will forever thank Kate for helping me see this.

 

 

So what exactly did I learn about pies and myself in my time with Kate? Lest I ever forget some of the most important lessons I’m sharing them here. If you came looking for pie tips, tricks and recipes, well, you’re going to have meet Kate. I insist. But should you decide to take Kate’s class, you might find that the lessons learned aren’t so much about pie as much as they are about you. For that I’m eternally grateful.

When making pie, all ingredients must be chilled. Including you.
Science says that keeping the bowl, the fats and even your flour cold yield the best results. Science also says keeping yourself cool, relaxed and chilled makes everything better. And this was Kate’s #1 Rule and perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned. I’m hoping to incorporate more Chilled Matt in everything I do. I’m sure my body and spirit will thank me.

Put an intention in the bowl. Put an intention is everything you do.
I watched Kate put happy thoughts and an intention into her mixing bowl. It gave everything meaning and purpose and I have no doubt it makes everything taste sweeter. Imagine if we all did everything with some lovin’ and happy thoughts behind it? Imagine if we made every simple act count? I’m sure it requires thought but I can’t think of a single act that could make life sweeter than that.

Worrying about cracks in your dough before you even make a pie is senseless.
Boy, am I guilty of this. I always call this the “what-ifs” as in “what if this photo doesn’t turn out the way I need it to” or “what if I’m late and ruin the surprise” or, well, you know where I’m going with this. Worry and concern in front of a situation that might not yield worry and concern is just futile. Don’t do it. Enjoy each moment and hope for the best. Because… (see next rule)

Just Make Pie.
I could think of a million reasons to not make pie: Would it be good enough? Would my crust be a soggy mess? Or I could just get in the damn kitchen and do it. And this is what Kate means when she says this. Why make it difficult? Just make pie. Do it. It’s only pie.

You’re making the pie. It’s not the other way around.
I witnessed Kate slap dough onto the counter, lovingly yet forcefully pat it into place, and mend gaps and cracks in crusts during the class. She was in charge of her pie, no matter what it was trying to do. There’s a very important lesson to be learned here: a myriad of ingredients, processes, steps and science could be seen as daunting if you let it take over. Just like life. You’re in charge of your own destiny. Plain and simple.

Adjust Your Attitude First, Recipe Second.
I had minor freakouts over textures and shapes and worried they weren’t turning out properly. Kate sensed my nervousness and simply asked me to readjust my outlook. And you know what? A deep breath, a mental repositioning and nice words of encouragement were all I needed to continue or fix something. Had I not listened I would have tried to fix what was inside the bowl without ever looking at what was wrong outside of it.

Irregularity, differences, odd shapes, sizes and varieties all make a single pie taste great.
I was shocked when I asked Kate which apples make a great pie. I was equally shocked when I asked what sizes fit well into pies. “All of them!” she replied, stating that soggy pieces, firm pieces, tart pieces and sweet pieces all have a place together under the crust. They all help to make one delicious pie. And it gave me pause; there’s room for everyone and everything in this world, no matter how different we are. That’s some heavy, tasty stuff, isn’t it?

Words of gratitude, appreciation and love for the one and only Kate McDermott. Thank you for sharing so much with us and with the world. You made it one of the best days of my life and I’m well on my way to learning the gift of pie. And world, if you have a chance to learn with Kate, please do. Follow her on twitter here. Her website is The Art Of Pie.

Coquito For Christmas

Last week while visiting with our banker (yes, there are some things you just have to actually go inside a bank branch, apparently) we got on the topic of food. Naturally. We were trading names of favorite restaurants, talking about the holidays, when our banker mentioned how he couldn’t wait to enjoy his family’s Christmas coquito.

As a Puerto Rican in Los Angeles I could only imagine the lengths he must go through in order to enjoy his food. Because unlike Chicago or New York or even Miami, we fall short when it comes to Puerto Rican food. Miserably short. I’m glad I spent years in Chicago, eating lechón and mofongo regularly and ever since my first trip to Puerto Rico last year I’ve realized how sad it makes me that it’s a bit harder to find here. But enough of the sad story. Back to that coquito!

I’ve never made coquito myself, the creamy sweet coconut concoction that’s a cousin to traditional egg nog.  Egg yolks, cream of coconut, spices, condensed milk and rum are blended then chilled and POW – it’s sweet and powerful! I must confess that I like it a bit more than standard egg nog and have decided that I’ll make it an annual tradition during Christmas starting this year. And I promise to toast my banker each time I make it!

Have a wonderful Christmas everyone!

Coquito adapted from allrecipes.com

3 egg yolks
1 can evaporated milk (12 oz)
1 can cream of coconut (14 oz)
1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
½ cup white rum
½ cup water
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

In a double boiler, combine the egg yolks and evaporated milk. Stir to mix well and keep stirring. Cook until the mixture reaches 160˚F. Kitchen thermometers sure come in handy!

Transfer the egg and milk mixture to a blender and add all of the remaining ingredients. Blend for 30-45 seconds and then pour into a container. Chill for 4 hours to overnight. When ready to serve, pour into small glasses, shot glasses work just perfectly. This stuff is SWEET. Garnish with a sprinkle of nutmeg if you’d like.

How about some images of Christmas trees at our house? This year’s theme was pink and then some! Thanks to Teri Lyn Fisher for the use of her Rollei!

Alice’s New Classic Brownies

Oh.

No, really, oh. Oh as in “Oh my, these brownies”  and “Oh damn, these brownies.”  Oh as “Oh I can’t believe this recipe is so amazing” and “Oh there goes any bit of self control I had.”

Get the picture?

You can roll your eyes a bit when you say “Oh”.  It helps.

Even though I don’t claim to have the world’s largest sweet tooth and go for salty over sweet most days, I can’t help but claim this brownie recipe as one of the best I’ve ever tasted. Because to me, brownies seem like the perfect treat in theory. Chocolately, studded with fun things like nuts or fruit, small and compact and enough to satisfy thanks to their rich nature. But sometimes, well, you can’t help but feel let down sometimes when you bite into a brownie that’s dry, too moist or not moist enough, tastes like a mix or worse, doesn’t resemble a brownie at all.

None of those annoying things happen with this recipe. And I want to give Alice Medrich one big giant hug next time I see her.

This recipe requires some very specific steps when making it. You must follow them, there’s no two ways about it. You must use a metal pan to make them, not glass or pyrex. Why? Because the entire pan goes into an ice bath for cooling after baking. Now, I’m no scientist and I haven’t asked Alice how or why this works, but I’m thinking it affects the texture of the brownie, giving them an absolutely perfect chewy exterior with the dreamy perfect inside you want in a brownie. And these brownies are indeed very chocolatey and fudgelike, but again, the outside is firm and just on the brink of being solid and cracklely. Is that a word? Crackley? Crackly? Crackle-ee? Editors and writers, speak up while I go and bake another batch!


Alice Medrich’s New Classic Brownies

This recipe comes from her 1999 book Cookies and Brownies via the Scharffen Berger site. Yes, read the recipe from beginning to end before making it. You must. And while chopped nuts are optional, I’ve added dried tart Montmorency cherries to the last batch we made with much success. The tart cherries punctuated the rich chocolate flavor well, and since I became addicted to them after last summer’s trip to Traverse City, Michigan and purchased 10 lbs of them, well, you see where I’m going with this.

Ingredients
1 stick of butter (8 tablespoons)
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate (I used Scharffen Berger’s 99% Cacao)
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla (shameless plug: Spice Islands Vanilla, please!)
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup flour
2/3 cup chopped nuts like toasted walnuts or pecans or dried tart cherries
2 eggs

Method
Preheat your oven to 400˚.  Grab an 8-inch square metal baking pan. I repeat, grab an 8-inch square metal baking pan. No glass nor pyrex as it could crack when you get to the ice bath stage.

Line the metal baking pan with foil or parchment so that it comes up all four sides.

Melt the butter together with the chocolate in a double boiler or in a bowl placed above simmering water, not boiling water. Stir to mix, you want it smoooooooth.

With a spatula or wooden spoon, mix in the sugar, vanilla and salt. Add the eggs one at a time and then mix in the flour. Stir the mixture for 1 minute, until smooth. You’ll know it’s ready when it begins to come away from the sides of the bowl.

Add the nuts or dried fruit next, right before placing in the pan to bake.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the edges pull away from the pan.

While the brownies are in the oven, prepare the ice bath by using a large roasting or baking pan, larger than the 8-inch square baking pan that the brownies are in. Fill this large pan with ice cubes and cold water. Once the brownies have baked and are removed from the oven, place them into the ice bath but be careful not to splash any water onto the brownies. You don’t want that to happen. Let them cool in the ice bath and then remove and cut into 16 squares. Prepare to say “Oh!”



Meyer Lemon Cupcakes

Ok, well actually, that would be Meyer Lemon and Ricotta Cupcakes with White Chocolate Buttercream Frosting. Whew! That’s a mouthful indeed, in more ways than one. I want to remind you of the Scharffen Berger Chococolate Adventure Contest, this time it’s all about cupcakes. And since I’m judging this contest next year I want to make sure each and every one of you enters! Visit the official site for rules and information.

In the meantime, here’s my cupcake creation using the adventure ingredients. I chose the flavor of meyer lemon (an all time favorite, hands down) as well as ricotta and white chocolate. They’re rich, slighty tangy with wonderful citrus and white chocolate flavors. And no, don’t ask me how many of these I ate today as I photographed them because I would never tell you (3 1/2 plus a giant spoonful of the frosting).  Hey, since the holidays officially begin today can you blame me?

Meyer Lemon and Ricotta Cupcakes with White Chocolate Buttercream Frosting makes 12

Ingredients:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups sugar
2 egg whites lightly beaten
½ cup part-skim ricotta
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 Meyer lemon, zested and juiced

Frosting:
3 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 Tablespoons heavy cream
4 ounces Scharffen Berger white chocolate, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Garnish:
1 ounce Scharffen Berger white chocolate, shaved

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
3. In a stand mixer or with a hand mixer beat together the sugar and egg until light and
fluffy, about 3 minutes.
4. With the motor or speed on medium-low add the ricotta, melted butter and buttermilk
to the sugar mixture.
5. Begin adding the flour mixture to the sugar mixture in thirds, scraping the bowl down
after each addition until fully incorporated.
6. Gently fold in the lemon extract, zest and juice. Stir.
7. Line each cup with paper liners and fill each about 2/3 of the way with batter.
8. Place cupcakes in the oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes or until light golden
brown and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cupcake.
9. For the frosting, place the sugar and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and begin
beating on low speed until just combined. About 2 minutes.
10. Add the cream and turn the speed to medium-high and continue beating the mixture,
until smooth.
11. Reduce the speed to medium and slowly drizzle in the melted chocolate.
12. Fold in the vanilla until fully incorporated.
13. Once the cupcakes have cooled, place the frosting into a piping bag with a star tip and
pipe a small amount of frosting onto each cupcake.
14. Top each cupcake with a sprinkle of white chocolate shavings and serve.

Butternut Squash Tarte Tatin


Oh this little butternet squash tarte tatin, how much do I love you? Enough to have you three times over the past few weeks, all for the sake of “recipe testing”, you know.

And honestly, this upside-down tart is probably one of the best things I’ve had all season, if I do say so myself.

Sweet butternut squash is roasted and then placed on top of caramel in a baking pan. The whole thing is covered with puff pastry and baked, and when it’s ready you invert the whole thing onto a plate and just go for it. I’ve tried to be nice when eating this but you can’t, it just disappears so fast. It was a hit during our Friendsgiving last Sunday, but in a quick misfire of timing and communication it landed on the table during the meal and not as dessert. You know what? It didn’t matter. It was sweet and buttery, perfect with Gaby’s stuffing and just about everything else that afternoon.

Honestly, I do think you’ll love it.

Butternut Squash Tarte Tatin serves 8

Ingredients
4 cups butternut squash cut into 1-inch cubes
1–2 tablespoons canola oil
a pinch of salt
¼ cup butter
¾ cup sugar
¼ tsp. cinnamon
a dash of nutmeg
1 (about 8-oz) sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed

Instructions
For the squash: heat oven to 400˚F. Toss the squash cubes in 1–2 tablespoons of canola oil, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and roast until tender, about 30-35 minutes, turning once during baking to insure even cooking and browning. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool while you make the caramel.

With the oven still at 400˚F, move the oven rack to the top position.

Melt butter over medium heat in a nonstick skillet, stir in sugar and cook until golden brown, about 6 to 8 minutes, swirling skillet often. Stir in cinnamon and nutmeg; pour caramel into an 8-inch by 8-inch baking pan. Place roasted squash over caramel. Unfold the puff pastry over the squash and fold any excess pastry down the sides of the pan and under. Prick the pastry with a fork all over and place in already hot oven for 30 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate, being careful not to burn yourself. It’s hot! Cut and serve. It’s fantastic with crème fraiche, ice cream or a nice dollop of whipped cream. Or as is. I’m not picky.

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Hope you have a fantastic holiday tomorrow!