Huckleberry harvesting

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I found this unpublished post this morning, and why not? I’ll post it now. Prime huckleberry picking is in August, so plan ahead. I’m not eager to share our perfect spot, but you’re welcome to bribe me. Who knows, in the right mood, I may share.

While campering near Mt St Helens last summer, huckleberries were the motivating factor for our destination. We had heard about huckleberry fields filled with crowds of eager pickers, car lined roads to navigate, so we weren’t holding out hope that we would be successful in our goal of coming home with enough berries for a pie. But miracles do happen, and we arrived at a spot where the only other creatures in the vicinity were the black bears that live in the nearby forest (well, we didn’t actually see any… but I’m sure they were keeping a close eye on us).

Silence. We spent two days and a night here. Alone. And pick huckleberries we did! These are small, tasty berries, much smaller than a blueberry and take hours to fill a tiny container.

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Thankful for Pie

With great honor, I am the elected family pie baker. And with Thanksgiving just days away, I’m on the hunt for my 2014 creations. Pumpkin is off the list this year, due to the simple fact that the ‘pumpkin spice everything’ craze has left me cold and nauseous.

Following are a few favorites being considered to grace the Thanksgiving table this year (I need to choose two):

French Apple Tart…

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Chocolate Pecan…

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Mississippi Mud…

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Lemon…

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Chocolate Cream…

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What’s your favorite pie?

Sweet Hood Strawberries

Hood Strawberries

We have the best strawberries here in Oregon! Pretty sure we can attribute this to the climate… lots of rain, cool nights and warm sunny days. These are perfect conditions for growing the sweetest strawberries (the weeds in my yard seem to thrive in them as well). The berries stay on the vine and ripen slowly, allowing the sugars to surge before harvest. But these lovelies don’t last long after they’re harvested, which means you won’t see them in stores across the country. They’re very difficult to ship. I guess you’ll just have to visit Oregon to try them!

The window for Oregon strawberries (especially my favorite variety… Hoods), is so short. Sometimes I blink, and miss their quick visit. On a sunny afternoon last week, I coerced my teen into taking a drive out to a local farm with me. She had just finished high school exams for the year. I thought it might be a good way to bring her stress down a notch. An hour in the sun, talking and laughing, and before we knew it, our thoughts were lighter, and our buckets were full of these sweet red gems.

Then there was this pie…

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This recipe is scribbled in a very overcrowded notebook with my other 15K or so favorites. It feels right to finally archive it here.

Strawberry Pie (recipe from my pie-baking Mother)

1 9-inch pre-baked pie crust (see detailed instructions below)
4 cups of fresh, sweet strawberries, hulled and washed immediately before use

Add about 3 cups of whole strawberries, (or however many will fit) in one layer on the bottom of the pre-baked pie crust.

In a small saucepan, bring to boil:
1 cup of crushed strawberries
3/4-1 cup granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water

1. Boil the above ingredients for 2 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened. Add 1 Tablespoon butter. Mix and let cool.

2. Pour the glaze over the whole berries in the pie crust. Refrigerate for about 2 hours. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Pie Crust (makes 1 9-inch crust)
1 cup flour
1/4 cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup shortening
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/8-1/4 cup ice cold water

1. Add the flour, salt and sugar to the bowl of a food processor and blend for a few seconds. Add unsalted butter pieces and pulse 4 times. Add shortening and pulse 4 more times. The mixture will look like coarse cornmeal and the butter and shortening bits no larger than peas. Add cold water and blend just until dough begins to stick together. Do not over blend.

2. Remove the dough and place it in a mound on a piece of plastic wrap. Flatten into a 4-inch disk, wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour before rolling out.

3. Sprinkle a little flour on a flat, clean work surface and on top of the disk of dough you intend to roll out. (My favorite rolling surface is a pastry cloth, but I also have a Silpat that works pretty well too). Using a rolling pin, apply light pressure while rolling outwards from the center of the dough. You have a big enough piece of dough when you place the pie dish over the dough and the dough extends by at least 2 inches all the way around.

4. When the dough has reached the right size, gently roll it onto the rolling pin. Place it into a pie plate, and simply unroll. Do not stretch the dough. Finish the edges by pressing against the edges with your finger tips or a fork.

To pre-bake the dough:

Once your crust is in the pie dish, freeze it for at least a half hour, until well chilled. This is an important step in pre-baking. Otherwise the crust will slip down the sides.
Preheat your oven to 350°F. line the chilled pie crust with parchment paper, wax paper, or aluminum foil. Fill at least two-thirds full with pie weights – dry beans, rice, or stainless-steel pie weights. Bake with weights for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, cool a few minutes and carefully remove pie weights. Poke small holes in the bottom of the pie crust with a fork and return to oven (without the weights) and cook for an additional 10 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Cool completely before filling.

Oh my, sweet potato pie!

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Raise your hand if you’ve never had sweet potato pie. Much like pumpkin in its consistency, sweet potato pie is custard-like and creamy, but the spices in this recipe create a dessert that is nothing short of heavenly. Trust me on the coriander… I hesitated on that one too.

In my family, no one likes to break tradition (except yours truly), and this pie seemed to set off some alarms. Or maybe it was the color, or the thought of a soggy crust (which this does NOT have)… either way, I got to take most of it home from our family Christmas gathering. Yeah! More for us!

Sweet Potato Pie
(thank you to Joy the Baker (and her Dad) for sharing the filling recipe)

1- 9″ pie crust (chilled)

2 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
2- 5oz cans evaporated milk (1 1/4 cups evaporated milk)
3 large eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla

Boil three sweet potatoes, with their peeling on, in a covered pot over medium heat, until the sweet potatoes are very soft and tender. Test with a sharp knife. If there is any resistance, boil until a knife penetrates the potatoes smoothly. Remove potatoes from the water and let them cool. When they’re cool enough to handle, peel potatoes, cut into chunks and place in a large bowl or food processor. Mash potatoes thoroughly until completely smooth.

Measure two cups of the sweet potato mash and place it into a medium sized pan with the packed brown sugar, all of the spices, salt, the 1/2 stick butter, and one 5 oz can of evaporated milk. Cook on low for about 5 minutes, whipping with a wire whisk until butter and brown sugar are completely melted, and the mixture is blended, smooth and just beginning to bubble. Remove from heat and let cool in the pan.

In a medium sized bowl, beat the three eggs with a fork. Add the second 5oz can of evaporated milk, granulated sugar and vanilla to the eggs, and continue beating until creamy. Pour the cooled sweet potato mixture into the egg mixture. Blend thoroughly with a whisk and refrigerate mixture overnight or use immediately.

Pour into a 9-inch prepared crust.

Place a cookie sheet into the oven. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place pie directly onto preheated cookie sheet, and bake for 10 minutes to set the crust, and to keep it from getting soggy.  Turn the oven down to 325 degrees F. and bake for another hour. The crust should be brown and the sweet potato mixture will be puffed up, but still slightly wiggly in the center. After 1 hour, remove pie and place onto a wire rack to cool. The pie will firm up more as it cools.

Serve room temperature with whipped cream.

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Calling in the experts

Have you ever survived a kitchen remodel? No? Me either. But I’m hoping to.

Several weeks ago, we decided to replace our kitchen counters. A slab of granite was chosen. Estimates were gathered. The date for templating (that’s what the stonecutters call the time when everything is measured and there are no changes allowed to the existing area from that point on) was scheduled.

Removal of the counters brought to our attention the extremely poor quality of our existing cabinets. Placing granite on these cabinets would not make sense.

Change of plans!

Templating was cancelled. New appliances chosen. A new sink and a new faucet purchased. Plans for new cabinets drawn. Paint samples are being mulled over. Oh, and a new slab of granite has been placed on hold.

Now, two weeks before Thanksgiving, we’re in full remodel mode, phase one.

Here’s what our kitchen looked like before demolition started…

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I have to admit, it is pretty fun to plan a new kitchen. I’ve spent many hours on Houzz bookmarking many fabulous ideas. If you haven’t checked out this site, you must!

Here’s the basic color scheme I’ve narrowed down.

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Keeping the walls, cabinets, appliances and counters neutral, would then allow me to throw in a splash of color. Like this yummy ‘spring grass’ green…

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Working in the our kitchen in its current state is a little like cooking at a campsite… most of our supplies are in boxes around the perimeter of the kitchen. Our makeshift countertops now consist of plywood. The sink is propped up on a couple additional pieces of wood, and the old faucet is still in place, so at least we’re not washing dishes in the bathtub… yet.

Did you know Thanksgiving is only two weeks away? Did I mention this already? Fortunately, I will not be hosting this year. I will, however be making the pies.

In my search for ideas, I found these tasty looking pastries…

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French Pear & Almond Tart by David Lebovitz

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Pear and Almond Tart from Bon Appetit, February 2005

I’ve also had the urge to make a sweet potato pie.

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Sweet Potato Pie (from Martha Stewart, channeling Danny Glover)

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Sweet Potato Pie (from Joy the Baker’s Dad)

I could skip my traditional pumpkin pie for one slice of sweet potato.

Tell me, what’s your favorite, must-have Thanksgiving Day pie?

Mini Cherry Pies

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Projects from last weekend included creating some new portable food photography surfaces. Finding the tongue and groove boards I had my heart set on proved way more challenging than expected, but once I’d gathered all the materials, putting these together was relatively easy. I won’t bore you with the details in this post, because I have way more interesting things to share. Smaller, but much more significant things to share…

…such as these cutie patootie little pies!

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I’ve seen these around the internet, on Pinterest and on a few blogs, but could not find a complete recipe for them, so I did some research and adapted my own version. I did not expect to have so much fun making these little things. Putting these together took me back to childhood days and an Easy Bake oven, (without the part where I wonder why they won’t bake from the warmth of a light bulb).

The first thing you’ll need to do is remove the pits from about 4 cups of fresh cherries. Don’t let this seemingly daunting task discourage you. I’m sure there are many kitchen gadgets on the market that make this really easy, but since I had already done my share of running around town in search of supplies related to the creation of photography surfaces (the ones I’m not going to bore you with right now), I wanted to use what I had. Here’s the method I used:

How To Pit Cherries

1. Use a sharp knife to cut a cross on the bottom of the cherry.

2. Make sure your cuts go all the way down to the pit.

3. Flip the cherry over and hold it firmly in your hand. Grab a chopstick and insert it into the top of the cherry (where the stem was), and push the pit out through the cut end.

4. The pit should pop right out. So satisfying! And fun!

I’m filing this under ‘Things my Grandmother never told me’.

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For the dough, I used a slight adaptation of the basic pie dough recipe in Martha Stewart’s Pies & Tarts, circa 1985. I’ve used this for many tart bases over the years, and it always creates a flaky, delicious crust that never disappoints. It’s slightly sweet, buttery and firm enough to hold up well in desserts that stand up unaided in their shells, such as tarts and small pies.

I found that this plastic container top (around 6 inches), which was a good size for the bottom crusts. The dough should have a bit of an overhang after it’s pushed down into the wells of a cupcake pan. A slightly smaller biscuit cutter worked well for the top dough.

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After the cherries were pitted, I cut them in half and placed them into a large bowl. In a small bowl, I measured out about 1/2 cup of sugar, 2 Tablespoons of cornstarch and a teaspoon of cinnamon, and mixed them well. Then I squeezed some fresh lemon juice onto the cherries, and combined the sugar mixture and cherries together and let the ingredients mingle for a few minutes before scooping the cherry filling into 10 pie shell bottoms.

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The real fun starts when you get to cut and decorate the tops. My favorites were the lattice tops. I also used mini dough cutters in various shapes to cut out hearts and stars. My daughter is not a fan of cherries, so she made her own peach mini-pie. You could use blueberries, blackberries, apples, or any other favorite filling. I’m thinking nearly any recipe for a 9″ pie would could work divided between the 10 little pie shells.

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THE RECIPES:

Mini Cherry Pies
Makes 10

Ingredients

One Pate Brisee recipe (see below), Chilled
4 cups sweet cherries, pitted and halved
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 egg for egg wash (beaten with a pinch of salt)
Additional sugar for sprinkling

Directions

Remove a disc of chilled dough from the fridge, roll out, and use a 5-inch circular cutter to cut out 10 circles. Press the dough circles into the wells of cupcake pans and allow the access dough to hang slightly over the top.

Place the pitted, halved cherries into a bowl and squeeze 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice over the top and stir to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon, then blend with the cherries until the pieces are evenly coated. Allow this mixture to sit and create juices for a few minutes before distributing it between 10 pie shells.

Remove the second disc from the fridge and cut tops and shapes out and place them over the mini pies. Crimp edges. If your designs don’t include cutouts, make sure to cut a few slits on top so the filling can vent. Chill the pies at this point for about 30 minutes. This is a good time to start cleaning up the giant mess your kitchen has become.

Preheat oven to 425°F. When you are ready to bake, brush tops of the pies with the egg wash and sprinkle with a little sugar. Bake for 10 minutes, turn and bake for another 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 325°F and bake another 10 minutes, or until the filling is bubbly and the crust is a golden brown.

Cool the pans on a rack before removing pies. I carefully removed the pies while they were still warm since the filling bubbled up over the top a bit. I didn’t want the pies to stick. Go around the edges with a butter knife first and the pies should pop right out with a little gentle twist.

Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. If you need to reheat them, about 20-30 seconds on high in the microwave works well. Warm pie. Cold ice cream. It doesn’t get much better!

Pate Brisee (Basic Pie Crust)
adapted from Martha Stewart’s recipe
Makes 10 double crust mini cupcake sized pies

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

Directions

Place the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process for a few seconds just to combine. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 seconds. With the machine running, add the ice water in a slow, steady stream, through the feed tube, just until the dough holds together. Do not process for longer than 30 seconds.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface and divide into two. Place each half onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Flatten and form two discs. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight before using.

Chocolate Pie

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This is one of the first cream pies I’ve ever made. Unless I count the grasshopper pie from high school home economics. Gasp!

Depending on what’s in season, my favorites are blueberry, strawberry, peach, and pecan. But today, because chocolate is always in season, and there’s a very long week of have-to’s — hours of driving my daughter to school and dance classes, work, meetings, cooking dinners, washing dishes, doing laundry and dog walking — a chocolate cream pie is chilling in the fridge to keep us happy.

Remember, dark chocolate is a superfood! Have you thought of having cocoa-enriched chocolate pie as part of a healthy skin routine? According to Medical News Today, German researchers found high-flavonoid cocoa increases hydration, decreases skin roughness and scaling, and helps to support women’s skin against UV damage. (Sorry guys…I’m sure the benefits for men are similar, but the research was on chocolate loving women.) The research found that women who consumed high-flavonoid cocoa every day had smoother, moister skin after just three months. That’s a study I’d have gladly volunteered for!

This pie requires a pre-baked crust, which has always challenged me. The crust always ends up slumping down in the plate or folding into itself. I tried something new this time, and it worked splendidly. It involved a package of dried black beans. Here’s how you can pre-bake the crust without having it change shape:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. When the pie crust is chilled, line it with aluminum foil (or you could use parchment paper). Fill about 2/3 full with pie weights (I used dried beans, but rice or actual stainless steel pie weights also work). Bake the crust with the weights for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, cool slightly, remove the weights by pulling the foil liner out. Using a fork, poke holes in the bottom of the crust and return it to the oven, this time without the weights, and bake for another 10 minutes or until it’s golden brown. Cool completely before adding the filling.

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Chocolate Cream Pie

  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chocolate shavings
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Combine above ingredients in a large saucepan; cook over medium heat, whisking until thickened, 7-8 minutes. Whisk in chopped bittersweet chocolate and unsalted butter. Pour into a pre-baked 9-inch piecrust. Chill until firm, 4-5 hours. Top the pie with whipped cream and the chocolate shavings.