Pies/Tarts/Pastries

Going Green

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Kiwi Lime TartHappy St. Patrick’s Day! Here in D.C., where we are celebrating another snow day (6 inches, sigh), we are going green with a cool and tangy kiwi-lime tart. It will complete our tribute to the Celts, aka dinner, which will feature a glorious fabada asturiana–the Spanish cassoulet that hails from Spain’s northern and very Celtic region of Asturias. Rebecca scored some actual Spanish faba beans in New York, and we have a jamón bone, sawed into three pieces, to throw into the soup pot this afternoon. Photos to come!

Pie in the Sky

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Thanks, indeed for a beautiful, crisp and clear fall day for the first Thanksgiving at Kate’s first home. This year’s gathering of international and food-obsessed guests was reflected in the menu that blended traditional elements with the tastes of Mexico and the British Isles.

Here’s the menu:

 

  • Squash on Toast.  Amelia took this a step higher by making her own baguettes.
  • Crab and Artichoke Dip
  • Roast Turkey with Chipotle and Apple
  • Chestnut and Tart Apple Dressing
  • Potato-Tomatillo Gratin. A cooking class two days before Thanksgiving, and taught by the charming Eliza Gonzalez, inspired this dish. We took the potato filling from stuffed jalapenos — combining potatoes, garlic, tomatillos and ricotta cheese — and turned it into a gratin for the table (and potato pancakes the next day).
  • Braised Cabbage, with apples and clove.
  • Roasted Beets with Garlic and Cream.
  • Bread Sauce, another British Christmas favorite that was new to the table, a simple sauce heady with clove.
  • Cranberry Salsa with Chilies and Cilantro.
  • Green Bean Casserole. Yup, the delicious, old-school dish we know from childhood, complete with crispy canned onions on top.
  • Little Balls of Happiness (Julia Child’s Oignons Glacés a Blanc).
  • Mocha-Pecan Pie, now our gang’s traditional dessert.
  • Apple Tart. Listening to an NPR special on Julia Child gave us the idea to make an apple tart with souped-up apple flavor. She put fresh apples on homemade applesauce. We laid them over apple butter and brushed them with apple jelly. A tasting of the Genepi liqueur brought from a friend’s home region in France provide the inspiration for a glaze touched with that herbal Alpine liqueur.
  • Cranberry and Pear Hand Pies with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.

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A Taste of Things to Come

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Thanksgiving preparations are well under way. The scent of Mocha-Pecan Pies and Cointreau-Apple Tart fill the kitchen. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Key Lime Pie, Anyone?

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In appreciation of Nora Ephron, who, well before she became known for writing and directing quintessential chick flicks like When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, was one of the first authors to weave recipes into a novel. Her semi-autobiographical Heartburn uses recipes to reflect the thoughts of her main character, a food writer, who at one point is in search of the best mashed potatoes.  (No wonder she also took on Julie & Julia.)

Time to whip up her key lime pie, which plays a key role in the climatic scene of marital discord.

Frozen Key Lime Pie
recipe courtesy of Nora Ephron, via Heartburn

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs, (about 15 crackers)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
6 large egg yolks
1 cup freshly squeezed key lime juice
2 cans (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon finely grated Key lime zest

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine the cracker crumbs and butter in a medium bowl, and mix until moist. Evenly press mixture into a 9-inch pie plate, and bake until lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Remove from oven, and transfer to a wire rack until completely cooled.
In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the yolks and lime juice together until combined. Set bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is foamy and registers 160 degrees.on an instant-read thermometer, about 6 minutes. Remove bowl from heat, and whisk in condensed milk and zest until well combined. Pour into cooled pie shell and smooth top with a rubber spatula. Freeze until firm, 3 hours.
Remove pie from freezer 5 minutes before serving. Serve immediately.

Gang Activity

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Easter was a group effort this year in DC, with friends gathering at the communal table and sharing their best celebratory dishes to serve with a cognac-marinated leg of lamb. We were too hungry to get a lot of photos… but can absolutely testify to the tastiness of everything.

The menu:

Slow-Roasted Leg of Lamb. Marinated in cognac, garlic, marjoram, thyme and onions, the main course was an improvization based on recipes for Spanish lamb and Greek slow-roasted lamb from MoVida Rustica and Gourmet Magazine, respectively.

Whipped Celeriac and Potatoes with Caramelized Onion and Leeks. While the potatoes and celery root boiled, we caramelized onion and leeks in lots of butter for last-minute incorporation into the whipped root vegetables.

Asparagus, Feta and Couscous Salad. Mateja kept the Mediterranean theme going with this fresh and light salad, modifying the dish with the addition of chopped red onion, more asparagus, plum and balsamic vinegar, and a blend of dried herbs.

Carrot Salad wth Parsley and Mint. Elizabeth treated us to this crisp and delicious salad, perky with white wine vinegar dressing.

Kathryn’s Homemade Biscuits. We rewarmed these tasty risen biscuits right before serving. Recipe from King Arthur Flour’s Baker’s Companion.

Roasted Tomatoes with Sumac and Marjoram. The twist here: The tomatoes were tossed in a specialty olive oil from New Zealand that exuded buttery goodness.

Feta-Phyllo Torte. This savory pastry from the New York Times never fails to impress. We substitute ricotta for the cottage cheese and load it up with thyme and marjoram, in addition to the dill.

Green Deviled Eggs. Inspired by Dr. Seuss, these greenish eggs packed a spicy punch.

Potica. As per tradition, Mateja brought her famous Slovenian walnut bread. (A recipe for the Croatian version is here.)

Strawberry Marscapone Tart. A Gourmet confection with a lightly sweetened layer of marscapone cheese, whipping cream and vanilla covered by glazed fresh berries.

Raspberry Frangipane Tart. Gourmet provided the recipe for the frangipane base, which, once baked and cooled, was covered with glazed raspberries.

Beyond Pumpkin Pie

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This year’s Thanksgiving feast chez Kate focused on new combinations of  traditional ingredients. Case in point: to liven up the pumpkin portion of the meal, Kate served up fresh-baked Slow-Rising Pumpkin-Thyme Dinner Rolls. Warm from the oven, they were a lovely way to start the dinner, spread with some Cheddar-Cava Spread and a glass of sparkling Chevalier Cremant de Bourgogne.

Alongside the Roasted Turkey.

Pumpkin made a final appearance in the form of Ginger-Pumpkin Cheese Tart, spiced up with a cheesecake-style filling, fresh ginger and gingersnap crust, along with the can’t-do-without Mocha Pecan Pie. Simplify the latter recipe a bit by using the pie crust recipe of your choice and basic whipped cream; the filling itself shines by cutting the usual toothache-inducing sweetness of pecan pie through addition of espresso and cocoa.

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Fresh Im-Pear-Ative

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It must have been giddiness from high-country air or overindulgence on pork from the weekend-long, West Virginia hog roast that put it into my head that I should cart home a couple of bushels of pears from the Turner family tree. Aged on its literal last limb, the 20-foot tree was in full-on production glory. I just could not let all that fruit go to waste.

Back to reality and my small kitchen, I now face a mountain of ripening pears. If I had any sense, I’d make pear butter and call it a day. Instead, I am off and rolling on multiple recipes where pears are the star—though, to date, hardly in sufficient quantity to whittle down the mass I have.

First up, a brioche cake: buttery yeast dough topped with fruit, spices and a little cream cheese topping. Not too sweet or time-consuming (except for the first dough rise), this cake is a satisfying breakfast treat, different from the usual morning Danish and a nice showcase for fruit. It is best the day it is made, but my workmates had few complaints when I brought it into the office the following morning.

For the cake, and deviating slightly from this St. Louis Post-Dispatch recipe, I caramelized the chopped pears with a tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon of brown sugar and a strong teaspoon of ground ginger (along with the cardamom) and spooned the fruit mixture on top of the dough—instead of covering it with raw pears.

A frangipane tart topped with sliced pears (tossed first with a little rum and granulated sugar) comprised the next baking foray. The tart, its almond filling setting off the crispy fruit, made for a fine close to Amelia’s recent vegetarian feast.

Of course, I have not even made a dent in the cornucopia of fruit in my fridge… I am thinking a savory dish (pork and pears?) might be in order next. There are only so many pear-themed desserts I can foist upon my friends. Right?

My Thai Pie

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I cannot get enough of big, classic South Asian flavor combinations, especially those that build on coconut, citrus and chile. So when a local pie-baking contest came up, with a category for most creative, I set to work on  pulling together a new dessert that capitalized on the rich, layered flavor combinations of my favorite Thai soup, tom kha gai.

The end result: a butter-enriched coconut chess pie infused with lime, ginger and jalapeño.  While not a winner according to the judges, my willing tasters over the weeks preceding the contest seemed to think my tom kha pie was pretty good.

Almond Joy

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Frangipane, according to my Larousse Gastronomique. is a pastry cream made with butter, eggs and almonds, with multiple variations in ranges of complications. It was named for a 16th-century marquis who had a thing for almonds.

I call it another word for love.

Covered with fresh stone fruit–in today’s case, nectarines–frangipane is a luscious foil for the last, best gasp of the summer harvest, quick enough for a steamy August day and decadent (and impressive) enough to feed a neighborhood pot luck. At the same time, it is hearty enough to ease us into and transition through the bittersweet (at least for me) season of fall.

Starting with the Gourmet recipe for an apricot fangipane tart, I made frangipane (a half cup of butter whipped with 1/3 cup of sugar, a couple of eggs, a cup of almond flour and a hit of vanilla), then spread it into an unbaked paté brisée (shortbread) tart shell and topped with sliced, fresh nectarines. Forty minutes in the oven (350 degrees) and a quick caramelization turn under the broiler: TART! Easy, pretty, delicious. It might be the end of summer, but it isn’t the end of flavorful, fruity foods.

Riding the Storm Out

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A weekend in D.C. for my birthday was in the plans; a hurricane was not. With event after event cancelled, including Kate’s planned entry in the D.C. State Fair pie contest, and threatened by the potential wrath of Irene, there were only two things to do: put the gumbo pot on and mix up the hurricanes. It was all Southern and NOLA cooking for the duration.

The chopping, stirring and slow simmering of Hurricane Gumbo allowed us to stay glued to coverage of the approaching storm. Gumbo is as hotly contested in the Bayou as barbecue is back home in Kansas City. (How dark the roux? Seafood, chicken or sausage? Okra haters or lovers in the house?) Combing through the cookbooks, we combined ideas for our own version featuring shrimp and Andouille sausage.

Hurricanes were poured, using a recipe from Pat O’Brien’s in New Orleans, just as the rain and winds started picking up. These babies can pack a punch, true to their name. The next-door neighbor was slayed by one, but the cooks managed to slog through the rest of the batch.


The beautiful chess pie intended for the State Fair kept us going as the winds began to howl and the trees bent toward the ground. Chess pie is an oft-forgotten Southern favorite with a filling that has a consistency reminiscent of pecan pie. Ah, but this chessie has some spectacular twists, to be revealed at a later date.

The idea of Bananas Foster was also tossed around, as it always is. (For some reason, the classic New Orleans recipe of flambéed bananas in a rum sauce poured over ice cream turns up repeatedly in Kate’s life). Although with the fridge on the fritz and power outages a possibility, ice cream seemed a risk.  A brilliant solution emerged with Bananas Foster Waffles (of course, based on Brennan’s recipe) for Sunday brunch, served on homemade almond waffles with fresh kielbasa from Stachowski Brand Charcuterie on the side (thanks, guys for getting to the Columbia Heights Community Market on Saturday) and Bellinis made wtih fresh, market peaches and sparkling rosé. We sat down to a birthday toast as the sun emerged in a clear blue sky. The worst of Irene had passed us by.