pumpkin pie overhead

Spicy Pumpkin Pie

In anticipation of Thanksgiving, I’ve been doing some serious pumpkin pie research. Mostly because I’ve only eaten it once, and had (not surprisingly) never made it before. For these reasons, I was delighted that my first attempt was a resounding success. Custard pies used to scare me, but after making a ton of Indian Pudding and Grapenut Pudding this year, a crust-encased pumpkin pie felt like a snap, and the aroma coming out of my oven more than made up for the mess I made putting the pie together.

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peanut butter pie

No-Bake Peanut Butter Pie

In honor of John’s birthday on Friday, I decided to finally make the peanut butter pie that’s been sitting in my “recipes to make” folder (an actual manilla folder, not a virtual one) for 2 years. With its dense chocolate cookie crust and cold, creamy peanut butter mousse-like filling, I knew John (hater of cake but lover of peanut butter) would approve.

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Tomato Mozzarella Basil Tart

This Tomato Mozzarella Basil Tart holds a special place in my blogger-heart, because when I saw it on Annie’s Eats back in September of 2009, it was one of the first times I thought “Wow!  That looks delicious.  Maybe I should try that myself…”

Many similar moments later, both online and in the kitchen, I decided I wanted to start my own blog…so for that I celebrate this tart, and the fact that it also inspired me to purchase a removable-bottom tart pan.

I rarely use it, but having it in my pan arsenal makes me feel fancy. 

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Graham Cracker Pudding Cake


No special occasion in my family would be complete without my Nana Alice’s Pudding Pie, with its graham cracker crust and layers of vanilla pudding, chocolate pudding, whipped topping, and chocolate jimmies.  It is cold, creamy and delicious.

This Graham Cracker Pudding Cake pays humble homage to Pudding Pie.  Graham crackers line the bottom of a baking dish and are covered with pudding.  The layers are repeated until a final layer of graham crackers is covered in a smooth and shiny chocolate ganache icing.

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Potluck Pumpkin Pie Bites

Every year my work hosts a potluck luncheon in November.  I love a good potluck, so this is right up my alley.

My first year I made pumpkin spice cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and handmade chocolate leaves for garnish.  Last year I made a pumpkin trifle with layers of spice cake, pumpkin pudding, toffee pieces, and whipped cream. 

In keeping with the pumpkin tradition, for this year my mind immediately went to the Pumpkin Pie Bites I saw on Bakerella’s site last fall. 

Beyond cute, and autumn in your mouth.

There were some other very tasty desserts, too.  Homemade submissions included Ulla’s artisan bread, Laura’s pumpkin bars, Sam’s carrot cake, Chuck’s raspberry blondies, and Marilyn’s frosted brownies.

And in particular, Matt knocked my socks off with his homemade filled donuts – in raspberry or prune.  They were actually a Polish pastry called “paczki”, but Matt was kind enough to just let us call them “donuts”.

After filling my plate with Sarah’s lasagna, Holli’s baked beans, Jenn’s macaroni and cheese, Sam’s lo mein, and Tracy’s sweet potatoes with apples…I still had room for a selection of these.  Now you know why I went into an immediate food coma yesterday.

SO WORTH IT.

Do you have a potluck staple?  Do you have a potluck enemy?  Mine is pretty much anything with mayo.  Mayo and I are not friends.

Click for the full recipe!

“Pie in the Sky” Thanksgiving Fundraiser

This year I am very excited to participate in the Community Servings “Pie in the Sky” annual Thanksgiving fundraiser.

Community Servings is a wonderful organization that provides free home-delivered meals and nutrition programs to Eastern Massachusetts residents in need – specifically homebound individuals and families struggling with HIV/AIDS, cancer or another life-threatening illnesses that has caused them to be too sick to shop or cook for themselves.

Now in its 18th year, “Pie in the Sky” gives caring neighbors the opportunity to purchase a pie that has been artfully baked by one of Boston’s best restaurants, bakeries, caterers and hotels for your Thanksgiving table.  These businesses donate thousands of pies each year, that volunteers like me then sell for $25 each.  Your $25 provides a week’s worth of hearty home-delivered meals to a Community Servings’ client…and a tasty Thanksgiving treat to you!

Last night Jessica O. and I went to the Pie Seller Kickoff Party at Rocca in the South End to pick up our volunteer materials and sample some delicious cocktails. I had the Burnt Orange and Cranberry Pie martini.  Who isn’t a sucker for drinks in a mason jar?

Jessica tried the Maker’s Maple Walnut Old Fashioned.  I tried a sip, but man…I just don’t like whiskey.

The posters for the campaign are charming and eye-catching.  We were all given buttons featuring the trademark slice of pumpkin pie and the slogan “The Secret Ingredient Is You”. 

Here’s how it all works:

  1. Purchase your pie!  You can choose from apple, pecan, pumpkin, sweet potato, or diabetic apple.  You can also choose to donate a pie, or purchase a special Raffle Apple Pie for $75.  This pie enters you to win a variety of great raffle prizes.  The link to the prizes isn’t working right now, but I will provide the details ASAP.
  2. Local restaurants, bakeries, caterers and hotels get busy baking your pies.
  3. The thousands of pies are picked up by volunteers and brought to be organized at “Pie Central” in Boston (see below).
  4. The pies are then shipped to over 50 local distribution points in Boston and the surrounding suburbs to be picked up by you the day before Thanksgiving, or delivered by me if you are in my family.
  5. You get to enjoy a delicious pie in your mouth and belly on Thanksgiving, but also a warm feeling in your heart because your contribution is helping feed those in need.

Here is a view of “Pie Central” from last year’s event:

I will be putting the “Pie in the Sky” logo on the right hand side of my blog for the next few weeks that will take you right to my fundraising page with Community Servings.  I know money is tight these days and we all participate in many charity opportunities throughout the year, so I appreciate you even taking the time to read this.

I take it for granted sometimes that if something bad ever happened to me or someone close to me, there would be an army of friends and family to swoop in and provide the most basic of essentials….food, clothing, shelter, kindness, and support.  Community Servings makes sure those of us that don’t have that army are still provided with nourishing and delicious meals, human contact, and the knowledge that others care.

Click here to read a wonderful little feature on a Community Servings driver, Bobcat Smith.

Opportunities really are everywhere to make a positive difference in someone else’s life.

The secret ingredient is you!

Thanks, everyone!

Homemade Pop-Tarts

John and I took a joint trip to Brooklyn over the long holiday weekend.  Many of our closest friends, including John’s brother, have moved there over the past year and are sorely missed.  It seems like one of us always has a trip there in the works, so it was great to go down together and get everyone under the same (bar) roof.  The weather was gorgeous and we had a terrific time.

I wanted to use the visit as an opportunity to bake something for our fantastic and accommodating hosts, Matt and Melissa, but I was rushing (as usual) so it had to be quick and easily portable.  I decided on shortcut homemade Pop-Tarts…and by shortcut I mean made with store-bought refrigerated pie dough.  I know this is a sin (I KNOW) but in the interest of  full disclosure I’m going to always tell the truth here…the good, the bad, and the shortcut.  Plus, I like to think making something halfway is better than making nothing at all.

Right?

Whatever.

I was actually really surprised to learn that Kellog’s introduced Pop-Tarts in 1964, which is much earlier than I thought.  They stole the idea from Post, who had introduced their own version 6 months earlier, but Kellog’s did a better job naming their product (the Post version was called “Country Squares”) and promoting it.  This included a talking toaster mascot named Milton.  Milton didn’t last past the 70’s, but Pop-Tarts have not followed suit.  For something so dry and artificially flavored, Pop-Tarts are wildly popular.  They are Kellog’s best-selling product, meaning they out-sell all the cereals and other brands under the Kellog’s name, such as Keebler, Cheez-It, and Morningstar Farms.

I really have to wonder who is buying all these Pop-Tarts…

For my semi-homemade version I unrolled the refrigerated dough and got out some strawberry and blueberry preserves, colored sprinkles, egg wash, and a pizza cutter.  After that these things pretty much make themselves.  I stuck with fruit fillings but you could also use something like Nutella or chocolate chips mixed with a little peanut butter.  I also skipped making an actual glaze.  I just used an egg wash and sprinkles.  The glaze would have made them look more like “real” Pop-Tarts, but I wouldn’t have had time to let it dry. 

Here are the 3 stages of the shortcut homemade toaster pastry:

Here are the poorly-lit finished lovelies – the sprinkles indicated the filling flavor:

When you are done you will have a sad bouquet made out of the leftover pieces of dough:

Homemade Pop-Tarts

Ingredients
Pastry dough for double crust
1 cup fruit preserves
1 egg
1 tbsp milk
1/4 cup sprinkles or sanding sugar

  • Preheat the oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Roll out the dough and cut into an even number of equally sized rectangles.  I used a pizza cutter and it worked perfectly.
  • Spoon the preserves into a thin, even layer onto half of the dough rectangles.  Leave a 1 inch border around the edge.
  • Whisk the egg and milk together, and use a pastry brush to coat the edge around the preserves.
  • Place remaining dough rectangles on top of the preserves and press lightly to seal.
  • Dip the tines of a fork into the egg mixture and press around the edges of the pastry.
  • Brush the tops with the remaining egg mixture and lightly coat with sprinkles.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes, until lightly golden.

Before the weekend was up, Kayte and Melissa made sure we got in a visit to Four and Twenty Blackbirds (previously mentioned here).  Stay tuned for this visit’s pie selection!

Strawberry-Almond Cream Tart

I bought a tart pan over a year ago after I saw a recipe for a Tomato Mozzarella Basil Tart on Annie’s Eats.  I am still going to make the tart (I AM) but in the meantime, I decided it was time to break it in with something sweet.

Something with strawberries.

I know they are out of season now, but when they were in season my stuffy 3rd floor kitchen was too hot to breathe in, never mind cook in.

I decided on a Strawberry-Almond Cream Tart because I also love almonds.

Strawberries are a member of the rose family, and are arguably the world’s most popular berry.  I was delighted to learn that all the different varieties grown all over the world can trace their ancestry back to the marriage of the Virginia strawberry and Chile strawberry in Europe 250 years ago.  I love the idea that these 2 varieties fell in love far from home and produced the large, firm, sweet strawberries we think of today.

All 50 states grow strawberries, which is a testament to their adaptability.  California grows the most, around 75% of the US supply.  Because they are so delicate and highly perishable, strawberries cannot be machine-harvested and are almost always picked by hand.  They are snooty like that.  They also are unique in that their seeds are on the outside, and do not serve to grow new plants. Strawberry plants multiply by sending out runners along the ground when the fruit is developing, and these runners develop roots and form new plants.

Originally strawberries were called strewberries because of how they grew.  The berries appeared to be “strewn” among the leaves.  Its official species name is Fragaria, and the French, Italian and Spanish word for strawberry is fraise, which means fragrant.

And they are!  Fragrant and delicious.  Stirring strawberries into non-fat vanilla yogurt and adding a sprinkle of Fiber One is one of my favorite sweet snacks.

Okay, let’s make a tart!

Beautiful pressed crust made from shortbread cookie crumbs and honey – thank you KitchenAid.

Vanilla almond creamy pudding filling.  Yes, I see those little lumps.  No, I do not care.

Layered strawberry slices ready for their red currant glaze.

The sun literally shone on the finished tart.  The glaze really makes it look heavenly.  I am  glad my lobster chair also made an appearance…those lobsters don’t get enough camera time.

This is a Cooking Light recipe, but they also have another version of this same dessert using honey graham cracker crumbs and cream cheese in the filling.  I think next time I will try the graham crackers in the crust, but also use less almond extract in the filling, and instead add ground almonds to the crust itself. 

Strawberry-Almond Cream Tart
Adapted from the Cooking Light Holiday Cookbook

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups shortbread cookie crumbs
3 tbsp honey
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 cups skim milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
3 1/2 cups small strawberries, sliced
1/3 cup red currant jelly
1 tbsp water

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a 10 1/2  inch round removable-bottom tart pan (mine was an inch or so smaller but it was fine).
  • Break the shortbread cookies into crumbs either in a food processor or by hand.  Add the honey and pulse or mix until combined. Press crumb mixture into the bottom and 3/4 inch up the side of the tart pan.  Bake for 8 minutes until lightly browned.  Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
  • (First make sure your egg is beaten and within close reach of the stove top)  Combine sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan.  Slowly add milk and stir with a whisk until well blended.  Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat.  Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  • Stir around 1/4  of hot milk mixture into the beaten egg, and add that to remaining milk mixture, still stirring constantly.  Cook an additional 2 minutes until thick and bubbly.  Still stirring. 
  • Remove from heat, and stir in lemon juice and extracts.  Pour mixture into a bowl, and cool for 20 minutes.  Still stirring…but now just occasionally. 
  • Pour mixture into prepared crust and arrange the strawberries however creativity moves you. 
  • Combine red currant jelly and water in a small saucepan, and cook mixture over medium heat until jelly melts, stirring occasionally.  Drizzle melted jelly over strawberries and allow jelly to cool.

8 delicious servings at 250 calories each is pretty darn good!

If I am going to talk about strawberries I should also give a shout out to my fabulous big sister Courtney.  Every year she picks a million berries and makes jam for the whole family.  We used to save a jar and have it with our Christmas breakfast.  Here we are in the early 80’s.   

 

Look closely and you will see there are actual strawberries on her dress, so she can’t be mad at me for posting this.  I mean…I’m the one with the excess chub and a seemingly deformed right hand.

And Mom is the one who allowed us to be posed in front of that “mountains and daffodils” backdrop.

Okay, one more strawberry photo to bring it home.

YUM!

Hostess Fruit Pies

There’s a whole classification of snacks that I think of as “convenience store food” – namely things I bought on walks to Lil’ Peach in Wakefield when I was a kid and $3 could buy a modest feast of processed junk my mother never would have purchased at Market Basket.  My dream shopping list would have included Bugles, Cheetos, Bubble Tape, grape tonic, slush puppies, candy cigarettes, Corn Nuts…and Hostess Fruit Pies.

You are, of course, familiar with this last one. 

Disgusting, right?  They are basically hard glazed donut crusts filled with artificial fruit flavored gel, and have been around as part of the Hostess family of “desserts” since at least the early 70’s.  Flavors have varied over the years.  The official current selection includes apple, cherry, pineapple, lemon, blackberry, strawberry, peach, and “French apple” (I have no idea what that means but I am picturing the same thing as regular apple, only with the label in cursive and maybe a creamier filling).  There seems to be a difference in flavor availability based on geographical location.  People go nuts trying to track these things down.  I am serious.  There are entire message board threads.

With my adult eyes I can now see what was clearly the best feature of the Hostess Fruit Pie – its mascot from 1973 to 2006.  It (he, really) was an actual fruit pie in a top hat with a cape and wand, and was aptly titled “Fruit Pie the Magician”. 

It never makes sense to me when a food company features the product itself in ads…as in, “Hello, I am a fruit pie only talking and wearing clothing and I want you to eat me.  I sacrifice myself for your eating pleasure!”  It’s especially disturbing in the Perdue chicken ads.  I’d like to see part 2 of those ads, when things get messy.

Fruit Pie the Magician was described by Hostess as the magician who “loves to entertain friends with his wacky magic tricks.  His favorite magic trick is to make Hostess fruit pies appear out of the air.  You always have to keep an eye on the magician or else he may play a trick on you.”  What is there to watch out for if his favorite trick is producing pies in his own likeness for you to eat?  I don’t know what happened in 2006 that made Hostess perform the final trick of making Fruit Pie disappear, but I decided I wanted to make my own version of a hand held pie at home with no trace of the high fructose corn syrup, lard, and artificial flavors of the snack pies of my youth.

Here is what I came up with:

I went with blueberry.  Hostess actually stopped making their pies in blueberry, so these had no real taste-test competition, but they were delicious.  My wonderful step-dad (and enormous blueberry pie fan) Arthur received these as a thank you for helping me with my air conditioner, computer, and probably (definitely) a few other things.  I went to Vermont with some friends for Fourth of July and brought along another batch of blueberry, but also a few with a peach/raspberry filling.  They were also buttery, fruity and delicious.

Making them is easy.  You just need pie dough, fruit, and a little sugar and cornstarch.  Sanding sugar is optional.  Take advantage of summer’s berry crop at your local farmer’s market and make your own.  I bet you could even use jam and make a version that looks more like a “toaster pastry”. 

I should also probably state for the record that I still eat and enjoy Corn Nuts…I just buy the bulk kind at Whole Foods.