Blackberry Pie

I think I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

For the crust, you will need:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup solid vegetable shortening, chilled
5 tablespoons ice water

For the filling, you will need:
2 pints blackberries (1 1/2 pounds)
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar and salt. Add the shortening and, using a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut it into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the ice water and stir with a fork until the dough is moistened. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gather it into a ball. Knead the dough 2 or 3 times, just until it comes together. Divide in half; flatten each piece into a disk. Wrap each disk in plastic and refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375°. Let the dough stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. Working on a lightly floured surface, roll out one disk of dough to a 12-inch round. Transfer to a 9-inch glass pie plate. Roll out the remaining dough to an 11-inch round.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, stir the blackberries with the sugar, flour and lemon juice, lightly mashing a few berries; scrape into the prepared pie crust and sprinkle the butter cubes on top.

Brush the overhanging pastry with water and carefully set the top crust over the berry filling. Press the edges of the dough together and trim the overhang to 1 inch. Fold the edge under itself and crimp decoratively. Cut 4 slits in the top crust.

Bake the pie in the center of the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the bottom crust is golden and the fruit is bubbling. If necessary, cover the edge with foil for the last few minutes of baking. Let the pie cool for at least 4 hours before serving.
Adapted from YumSugar.

Chocolate Chip Shakes

If you were to ask Alyssa what her favorite beverage is, I'm betting a million to one that she would answer Starbucks' Double Chocolaty Chip Frappuccino. Actually, she refers to it as "frozen hot chocolate," so you'd win that bet on a technicality. As the days have gotten hotter and hotter, she requests "girl time" visits to Starbucks with a frequency that may eventually land me on our local Starbucks VIP list, if such a list exists.

When I spoke to her on the phone this week, she requested a trip this weekend, as she generally does. As a home cook, I was surprised to find myself offering for the very first time to learn to make them for her instead. Duh.

By the way, I would never feed this already-climbing-the-walls eight year old a coffee drink. This is a cream-based Frappuccino that wires her up enough with its unapologetic chocolaty-ness.

You will need:

1 cup of milk
2 tablespoons of sugar
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons chocolate syrup
2 cups of ice
1/8 tsp vanilla
I found this to work perfectly and even managed to blend it well with an immersion (hand) blender, since our standard upright blender broke a few months back. Feel free to experiment and play around with the proportions until it's just right. This gave us 3 juice-glass sized servings.
Prefer your Frap with some whipped cream? You'll need:

1 cup heavy cream, very cold
2-3 tablespoons sugar

Beat, beat, beat, until stiff, about 4 minutes. Plop by the spoonful atop the shakes and drizzle with chocolate syrup, if you can handle more chocolate.

Please an eight year old today.

Or a thirty year old.

August Daring Baker's Challenge: Ice Cream Petits Four

I found my first Daring Baker's challenge to be...well, challenging.

I do realize that's the whole point. I knew what I was getting into, if only from the examples I've seen around the blogosphere. And truth be told, if participating in these challenges is going to teach me anything, the biggest lesson I'll learn is time management.

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event, and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alaska or in Ice Cream Petits Four. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop.”

Ok, ice cream. It was about to be another in a string of 95+ degree days, and apart from that, it's definitely a new skill, which is why I set out to join this group in the first place.

Though we were given free reign on the type of ice cream to make, I didn't want to attempt spreading my creative wings too far this time around, given that it was my first challenge. My head swirled with ideas: coconut-lime ice cream, blackberry-lemon, chocolate and pretzel, etc. Instead I played it safe (or so I thought), with a classic chocolate-vanilla stracciatella (literal translation from Italian: torn apart).

Stracciatella is an Italian version of American chocolate chip ice cream (my favorite). Near the end of the freezing process, you simply drizzle ribbons of hot, melted dark chocolate over the frozen custard, and nearly immediately break it up, creating broken chips of dark chocolate running through the ice cream.

Nearly immediately. Remember I said that.

Infusing the milk with vanilla went well (vanilla beans on sale at World Market through September - 2 for $2.99!).

The custard process went well.

I was pleased with the taste, pleased with the way it was setting up in the ice bath. It went into the freezer at 7:00; I finally left the kitchen around 12:15. Because I don't have an ice cream maker - an appliance I'd have never deemed necessary until I attempted the process manually - I attacked the freezing ice cream with a hand mixer every 30 minutes in between. Two to three hours to until ready to eat, David Lebovitz? This is the first time you've ever led me astray.

At 11:45 in an otherwise sleeping house, I melted 5 ounces of dark chocolate over a double boiler, and pulled my almost-set ice cream out of the freezer. I drizzled the chocolate over the top, neglecting to break up the larger blobs (mistake #1), and set it back in the freezer for about 10 minutes (mistake #2).

When I pulled it out again, the chocolate was hard as a rock, but I proceeded to assail it with my hand mixer regardless (mistake #3). Chocolate flew everywhere as the whirling beaters struck the hardened blobs, splattering my countertops with dark, sticky lumps. Panicked that I might soon fling chocolate within reach of the sleepily curious dogs at my feet, I gave up on the mixer and pulled the bigger chunks out with my fingers. I started to chop them on a cutting board, but the clonk of my knife meeting frozen chocolate was not a sound suited for midnight. So I brought out the cheese grater and grated the blobs until my fingers were dripping with body heat-melted chocolate.

I then gave up completely, took one final picture of the mess I'd created:

And flopped into bed.

In the morning, the stuff actually looked pretty good. I fluffed it up a bit with a fork, and let it melt just a little bit later in the evening so I could have a go at it one more time with the hand mixer.

The melting before the last freeze turned out to be the key: even though Josh eschewed the mixer and volunteered to stir it by hand, it re-froze creamy and smooth, and I had to stop everyone in the house from progressively chipping away at my ice cream supply. It turned out to be precious stuff, after everything I had to do to get it there.

Making the pound cake went smoothly. Aside from the 19 tablespoons of butter (the browned butter added a lot of depth to the taste of the batter, but honestly I could not taste it in the final product), the process wasn't much unlike any other cake I've made in the past. Plus, I found myself a sous chef for challenges to come.

Frankly, I can't be bothered to write much about the cake, assembly or glazing - even though the glazing turned out to be a huge nightmare - lest this saga continue much longer. In the end, I wound up with 12 cute iced petits four, which was decidedly less than the number of lopsided, melty rectangles Josh and Alyssa ate off the pan (the first picture in this post, of a petit four cut in half, is without ice cream. It separated from its other half and I was dumb enough to use that one as the display picture).

If I were to make this recipe again, it should come as no surprise that I'd more than likely make a full-size cake, and I will utilize store-bought ice cream - impressed though everyone was that the ice cream was both delicious and made without a machine.

Here's a link to the recipes and the original post (and some examples that turned out better than mine did).

Pear-Gorgonzola Puff Pastry

Alyssa and I went to Target a few weeks back for school clothes and groceries, and whatever else struck our collective fancy. I picked up a box of puff pastry as it was on sale, and since I haven't cooked with it since my mom introduced me to pesto with her Puff Pastry Pesto Parmesan Pinwheels (dig the alliteration).

Knowing no strangers, when the checkout girl asked me "what do you do with this stuff?" as she scanned the puff pastry, Alyssa piped up "have you been to" I stifled a laugh - I have 5 followers. "No, I haven't," Target Girl replied. "Well, that's her cooking website. You should see it." I should hire her for a guerilla marketing campaign when I start my bakery.

You will need:

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed in the refrigerator
4 ounces crumbled gorgonzola cheese
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 pears, peeled and sliced thinly
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons honey, plus more for drizzling

Preheat oven to 375°F. Unfold the puff pastry onto parchment paper. Using an overturned 9-inch bowl and a sharp knife, cut out a circle of dough. Press a 6-inch bowl into the center of your round, stopping 3/4 of the way down so that the outer and inner portions are still attached at the bottom. This will allow the outer ring to rise around the center. Pierce the inner section of the round all over with a fork.

Squeeze lemon juice all over the sliced pears to prevent browning. Combine the butter and honey in a small bowl and microwave for 30 seconds, or until the butter is almost melted. Stir to combine and complete the melting (careful not to burn your honey - it's disgusting). Brush all over the dough; sprinkle with salt. Top with overlapping pear slices, making sure to stay within the inner section of the round.

Drizzle the leftover honey-butter on top of the apples. Top with gorgonzola cheese.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until the pears are tender and the pastry is nicely browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Adapted fiercely from The Crisper Whisperer.

Gorgonzola on Foodista


Please enjoy another guest post on an Italian favorite, bracciole (bra-johl) from someone who's perfected it: my brother Craig. Bracciole is basically a slow-cooked/braised meat roll that's excellent served alongside pasta.


While my sister is out and about exploring new things on her end of the blog, my contributions always represent the good ol' standbys, the food you can make without needing to refer to a recipe list. Not that I'm in a rut, but it's the easiest thing for me to whip up when I get a text message from Vic asking me to contribute something WITHOUT an expense account or reimbursement. So until one of those things comes into fruition, she can do all the fancy uncharted territory dishes and I'll do what my poor college student lifestyle with way too much student loan debt can make me.

This is of course a meal that costs about nineteen dollars, but tastes like a million. It does, I promise. Bracciole! Now the spell check is wanting me to replace that with bronchioles, which is part of the lung. I can only hope that you don't eat this so fast that you get some food down the wrong pipe and get some bracciole in your bronchiole.

First, get these things:

Thin thin steaks, like top round steaks or “specialty”cuts from your grocery store saying they're thin
Parmesan cheese
Garlic, about three cloves worth, super chopped
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
Your own homemade tomato sauce. Ragu will not be tolerated (note: Ragu will be tolerated - homemade is best, of course, but do what you want. Craig is just pretentious).
Butcher's string
A knife
A cutting board
A pan

To begin, make the steaks as thin as possible without seeing through them. If they're over 1/8” thick, pound the tar out of them. Here is a good comparison between stock height and post-flattening.

Lay them out and trim them into square-ish forms. The scraps can either be pan-fried for snacking on or can go into the sauce to bring out it's awesome meatiness. Now, this is the easy part: add the salt, pepper, cheese and some garlic to each one. Don't be prissy about it.

And the hard part: roll them up without losing as much of that stuff as possible. In comes the string – tie a surgeons knot (two loops) in the center, then finish off with a regular knot. Follow that with one on each side, about an inch or so inside the ends.

Heat up your pan and your sauce and throw the meat rolls into the pan with hot oil, a couple at a time. All you need to do is brown them all around.

Once they've been dealt with, throw them in the pot of red sauce. Let them sit for no less than two hours, if not until tomorrow.

Restaurant Detox: Part One

I stared at my July bank account statment in complete shock, adding the numbers up in my head as I scrolled down the list of transactions from familiar names - restaurant names.

Taco Bell - $12.38
Unique Flavors Cafe - $16.06
Hardees - $13.42
Hard Rock Cafe - $23.74
Sweet CeCe's - $2.39
Calypso Cafe - $18.40
Jackson's Bistro - $22.43
South Street Smokehouse - $23.70
PM - $31.71
Calypso Cafe - $12.61
Unique Flavors Cafe - $7.87

Gah! On top of my regular grocery budget - you know, the excessive one that keeps my pantry bursting at its seams - I'd spent an additional $185 on restaurant meals. How did I allow that to happen? Do I do that every month? How many pairs of shoes would $185 buy me? How in God's name did I spend almost $13 at Taco Bell?

Flummoxed, I rifled through my bank statements for June and May and found the same ridiculous truth: I spend way too much money on restaurant meals, always on top of my grocery budget. The worst realization is that for many of my July restaurant meals, Josh and I went Dutch. How much food was I eating? How much was I drinking?

I vowed to myself that during the entire month of August, I would not buy a single meal at a restaurant. If somebody wanted to foot the bill, I'd let them treat, but I would not plunk down my evil debit card once at a restaurant, cafe, creperie, bistro, bakery, greasy spoon, or bar.

So far, I've stuck to it. I bought $28 worth of groceries last night and our first big shopping trip of the month will be this Friday (payday). I cooked for Missy's birthday instead of meeting her out for dinner, Josh's parents took us out for Chinese buffet on Sunday, my boss is taking me to lunch on Wednesday, and I've gone home for lunch every day aside from that.

But the month is still young. I'm obviously loyal to certain establishments - they know me at Unique Flavors. My friend Ashley has invited me out for Zumba and frozen yogurt on Monday. I've mentally made an exception for $2 worth of frozen yogurt, as a reward for both reaching the halfway point and attending my first Zumba class.

Perhaps I'll find a couple pairs of shoes so worth having given up restaurants for a month that I might even keep it up through September...provided somebody wants to buy me a cupcake for my birthday. In the meantime, I'll think some more about the opportunity cost of a month's worth of meals out, versus the shoes, concert tickets, extra car payments, night of bowling, magazine subscriptions, day trip out of town, great bottles of wine, new blender, etc. I could have been buying instead.

Hummus, Revisited

Back in May, I attempted homemade hummus for the first time. As I mentioned, the bones were there, but the recipe was just terrible. The jalapenos were overpowering, the turmeric was unnecessary, and more hummus was thrown away than was consumed.

Never one to walk away from a concept, I tried it again. Thanks to the Foodie Bride's revelation that her hummus turned out "almost mousse-like," I gave it another shot last night. And it was perfect. Perfectly smooth, perfectly seasoned (with a few tweaks from the original recipe), and I didn't feel like somebody had taken a shot to my mouth after I ate a bite. Please try this, if you enjoy hummus even in the slightest. There's nothing like homemade and you'll never buy it again.

You will need:

4 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup water
7 tbsp Tahini
4 tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 15-oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1-2 teaspoons kosher salt (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Dash of cayenne
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped or torn

Combine the lemon juice and water in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the Tahini and olive oil together.

Add the chickpeas, garlic, salt, cumin, and cayenne to the bowl of a food processor and process until almost fully ground, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the bowl. With the food processor running, stream in the lemon and water and process for another couple of minutes. Scrape down the bowl, and again with the food processor running, stream in the Tahini and oil mixture and process until smooth.

After tasting the hummus at this point (having followed the original recipe), I found myself adding more and more tahini, olive oil and lemon juice to get the consistency and taste I wanted. Feel free to play around with it.

Transfer the hummus to a bowl, cover and refrigerate for an hour. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and a drizzle of olive oil. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Adapted slightly from The Foodie Bride.

Corn and Black Bean Salad

Today is the hottest day of the year. It's 102 degrees outside, and apparently that makes it the hottest day in Nashville since 2007. To that I say "screw the oven."

Well...that was my intention. But our grill is out of propane, so that didn't happen. But, I still rebelled against my oven-broiled chicken with a cold salad!

This recipe mushes up two recipes from two of my favorite bloggers. One part of it is Ree Drummond's corn and avocado salsa, and the other is Smitten Kitchen's black bean and pepper salad. From Ree, I took the corn, avocado, cilantro and hot pepper. From SK, I took the black beans, red pepper, and honey-lime vinaigrette.

I love this served very cold straight out of the refrigerator. It takes time for the ingredients to marry, so I'd suggest leaving it in the fridge for a solid hour - two if you can stand to wait.

For the salad, you will need:

2 ears fresh corn, scraped from the cob, or 1 can canned corn (I like no salt added canned corn), drained
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1-2 avocados, diced
1/2 a red onion, diced
1/2 a jalapeno, diced, ribs and seeds removed (unless you like it hot)
1 bell pepper, diced (color of your choice)
Handful chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

For the vinaigrette, you will need:

Juice of one lime
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons honey
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 clove garlic, minced

Combine corn, beans, avocados, onion, jalapeno, bell pepper in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, whisk vinaigrette ingredients together, taking care to add the olive oil last in a slow stream to emulsify the vinaigrette. Pour over corn-black bean mixture, toss to coat and adjust seasonings to taste. Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours before serving.