The pickle man

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Louisiana Strawberry Pie

It's been a while since I posted... we've been a little busy with someone's first birthday around here!
But more about that later.

First, because strawberry season is so lamentably brief, I wanted to post my strawberry pie recipe.

This is definitely my favorite pie (well, that or the chocolate angel mousse pie...) BUT I can definitely say it is my favorite fruit pie.

And the fruit... I went by Sal Petitto's strawberry farm earlier today and picked up these beauties:
Isn't that amazing?
I could eat the whole flat... but they are even better when reincarnated as PIE.

So, you start with 3 pints (no skimping!)  Which means in my house, I started with 4 pints because I have a helper who likes to snack on the produce:
He came by this habit naturally.

Slice the tops off of the 3 pints and put the (prettier) half into a pre-baked, cooled pie shell.  I cut mine in half for a more realistic "bite-sized" berry, but whole is fine, too.

A note on pie shells:  for years, I've been perfectly happy with the pie crusts that come in the red box (Pillsbury).  I do like to roll out my own, but I was OK with the pre-made stuff.  But then, I got ambitious.  And I made a lot of really bad pie dough.

And then I found this:

Her directions are amazing.  And it works!  Flaky pie dough!

Apparently, I was mashing up my butter too much.  You are supposed to have really big bits.
But any cooled pre-baked pie shell will work - it's the strawberries that steal the show!

Anyway, take your subpar berries (slightly squished, not quite ripe - whatever isn't absolute perfection), slice them up, and put them in a saucepan.
Add 1 cup of sugar and the juice of one medium sized lemon.  Cook until bubbling and "growing" - it will make your kitchen smell like amazing strawberry jam (and may have inspired me to try that next).

THEN in a small bowl, combine 2 1/2 Tablespoons corn starch and 2 tablespoons COLD water.  Stir until you have a paste.  Pour the paste into the bubbling strawberries.  This will prevent your cornstarch from forming unsightly lumps.

Simmer for 2-3 minutes, until the mixture is clear and jelly-like.
Pour the hot mixture over the berries in the shell.
Chill for an hour or so (longer is fine).

And when you are ready to serve (or deliver to a friend!), whip 1 cup of heavy whipping cream on high, adding 1 Tablespoon of sugar toward the end. (You don't want the cream to be too sweet or it will overpower the berries.)  Top the pie with the whipped cream...
and serve! (Here, on a lovely styrofoam plate, to go to Michael's grandmother).

Condensed recipe (adapted from Cotton Country, originally by Mrs. Bishop Johnston III - we're related, so I hope she doesn't mind me stealing and adapting her recipe)

3 pints fresh strawberries
2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons corn starch
1 cup sugar
1-2 tsp lemon juice (fresh!)
1 cup cream, whipped, with 1 Tbs sugar
1 pie shell, baked

Line a baked pastry shell with 1/2 of the fresh strawberries.  Chop the rest and simmer with sugar and lemon juice for 8-10 minutes.  Combine cornstarch and 2 Tablespoons cold water.  Add to the mixture.  Cook until thickened and clear.  Pour over the berries in shell and chill in the refrigerator.  Top with sweetened whipped cream.

(Michael's Aunt Connie makes an almost identical pie BUT Aunt Connie adds 1/4 tsp of almond extract to her bubbling berries.  I tried it and was not a fan, but my mother-in-law says it is not the same without it... you decide!)

OH and if you have leftover pie dough, roll it out, smear some butter on it, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, and slice into yummy little cookies
Bake at 375 until the pastry is brown.  These are the raw ones.  The cooked ones didn't hang out long enough to be photographed.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Roasted Broccoli with lemon and garlic - Dixon's favorite vegetable

This broccoli is delicious :)

It's very similar to my recipe for Brussel Sprouts, but the flavors are changed slightly to match better with the broccoli.

Recipe adapted from Ina Garten.

First, cut one medium head of broccoli into 2 inch strips.

Toss them on an aluminum foil lined baking sheet (yea, easy clean-up) with some olive oil (about 1 Tablespoon) and Kosher salt (1 tsp or more).  Then slice 2 garlic cloves and toss them on the baking sheet, too.
Bake at 425 for 6-7 minutes (until lightly brown in some places, but not completely limp - you want some crunch!)

Then... and this is where it gets good... zest 1/2 of a lemon (I actually recommend leaving the lemon whole for the zesting procedure, but you only want zest from 1/2 of it).  Sprinkle the lemon zest and about 1 tsp of fresh lemon juice on the broccoli... then add about 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese.


Oh, and what was I saying about the baby not liking bananas?  Apparently, if you leave the peel on, he thinks they are quite fun :)

Too much healthiness for you lately?  Don't worry - Sal's strawberries are in season, and I'm working on perfecting my strawberry pie before I share with all of you :)

AND there will be an adorable birthday cake on this post this weekend!  Chocolate... with chocolate covered strawberries... Yes, someone really cute is turning ONE!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Salmon with butter, lemon, and fresh herbs (20 minutes)

So, for once last week, I decided to be a little healthy.  And quick.  This is one of the least labor-intensive dinners I make.  Plus, it's healthy, delicious, and Dixon adores it.  He will run up to the butcher counter in front of me and ask if they have any salmon.

 Of course, he still calls it pink chicken occasionally, so I do get some weird looks.

(Why pink chicken? He went through that age where he didn't like trying new foods, and so we tried to make salmon more familiar by comparing it to something he liked - chicken.  Of course, now we sound a little weird when he goes to restaurants and asks if they have pink chicken).

Place your salmon skin side down on a baking sheet (this beauty is called a Wonder Baker - it's aptly named.  Another great mother-in-law present).

Sprinkle salt and pepper.
Slice a lemon and put the slices on it.
Press some fresh herbs into the salmon (you can also use dried).  Here, I used fresh oregano because it was all I could find in the garden, other than rosemary, which I thought would overpower the fish.
My favorite: fresh dill.  But that won't be green for another few weeks.

Next, pinch off some pieces of butter (or cut them up if you don't want to get your hands sticky).  I just use 1 Tablespoon - it doesn't take a lot.

Bake at 325 for 15 minutes or so (cooking times will vary depending on the size and thickness of your fish) until the fish flakes with a fork.
And if you really want to be healthy, serve it with some steamed broccoli!  Yeah, swimsuit season.  I'm ready (not).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Macaroni and Cheese: Comfort in a time of Research Papers

It's that time of year loathed by every English teacher I know... the kids submitted their research papers last week.  Since mine get dual-enrollment credit (i.e., high school and college credit at the same time), they had to write 1500 word wonders.  I have 82 students.  And as I look at the numbers I just typed, I am suddenly glad that I can't do that multiplication in my head.  It would depress me.  And yet they are the ones who have the nerve to complain!

Inevitably, they submit the papers just as the weather gets unbearably beautiful in north Louisiana.  Days are warm, nights are cool.

And this is soooo short-lived! I want to be outside with my boys... where, of course, flowers are blooming.

And oak trees.
And grass.
And everything else that I'm allergic to.

I have never graded research papers without a large box of Kleenex and a Z-pack.

So when my husband begged for homemade mac and cheese, I smiled.  Comfort food with enough flavors that I can taste it even with a head cold.

First, cook one pound of macaroni, but not too much.  About 4-5 minutes should do it - you want it to stay firm (or else you will have mush and cheese instead of mac and cheese).  Rinse with cold water to prevent it from sticking.  Place 1/3 of the cooked pasta in the bottom of a buttered casserole.

Cover it with 1/3 of the cheese...
And then 1/3 of the sauce (You make the sauce by melting 3 Tablespoons of butter in a saucepan, stirring in 3 tablespoons of flour, and hot milk (scalded - cooked in the microwave for 2 minutes).  Cook until thick.

Repeat!  Until it's finished.  Then top with breadcrumbs - this kind :)
Dot with more butter if you are really in need of comfort. 

Put it in the oven for 45 minutes, and go outside (into the pollen induced wonderland) to take pictures of your baby (or at least that's what I did). 
Even with a runny nose, he's pretty darned cute :)

And when you come back inside, this will be ready! 

Can you say, "I need to go running!" 

Recipe, adapted from The Old Farmer's Almanac Everyday recipes (although whoever makes this everyday is probably not grading research papers). 

1 pound macaroni, cooked 4-5 minutes in boiling, salted water. It should still be firm!
3 Tbs butter
3 Tbs flour
3 cups milk (whole for richer mac and cheese)
salt and pepper to taste
4 cups (1 pound) sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
more butter to dot on top :)

In a saucepan, melt the butter.  Stir with flour until combined.  Cook 3-4 minutes. Add the milk, salt, and pepper.  Simmer until thick (about 10 minutes).  In a buttered casserole, layer the macaroni, cheese, and sauce.  Top with breadcrumbs.  Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

It's (Chicken Pot) Pi(e) Day!

Did you know today was Pi Day?  As in 3.14 = pi (or March 14).  In case any of you doubted my utter nerdiness :)

Like that - pi! on a pie! (got the idea from a pie posted by a friend on facebook)

In celebration, I made chicken pot pie.

This recipe is a loose adaptation of the one featured in Southern Living Magazine in February.  I say loose because I read the recipe while I was waiting in the pediatrician's office (the baby is sick) and then cooked based on what I remembered and what I had on hand.

I know that pie part was puff pastry shells, never a bad place to start.
I took the puff pastry shells out of the fridge to defrost (45 minutes).  Meanwhile, I roasted some chicken and potatoes in the oven (after sprinkling them with salt, pepper, and olive oil).
I used Yukon golds.  Southern Living recommends a frozen hash brown product.

I could have eaten the potatoes off this plate.

By then, the puff pastry was ready, so I draped it into a deep dish pie plate.

Then I put in a bunch of stuff in the freezer/ fridge.  I started with 3 carrots I shredded using a box grater.  This was the most labor intensive part of the process, so buy pre-shredded or chop (if you are in a hurry).  I also threw in a few (2) chopped green onions.  You could use yellow onions or (as per Souther Living) leeks.  I had green onions in the fridge, so I used those. 

And I threw in a handful of frozen green peas.  I did not bother to defrost. 

Then I shredded the chicken with a fork and threw that in, along with the potatoes. 
I know, he doesn't look that sick, but he was!

Then I made a stovetop cream sauce.  If you don't feel like doing that (or you loved the 1970s!) substitute a can of Cream of ___ condensed soup - celery, mushroom, chicken, you decide.

To make the stovetop cream sauce, melt 3 tablespoons of butter, stir in 3 tablespoons of flour, and cook over medium-high heat for 5-6 minutes, stirring.  Whisk in chicken broth - 1 1/2 cups or a can.

Season the sauce with poultry seasoning.  Pour on top of the yummy-ness inside the puff pastry.
Put the other puff pastry crust on top (you may need to roll it a little to make it big enough).

Put a clever design in the top and push a fork around the edges to make it pretty :)
Optional: brush with a beaten egg white.

Bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes.


Condensed recipe:
2 puff pastry sheets, defrosted
2 medium chicken breasts
2 small Yukon gold potatoes, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
3 carrots, shredded
2 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup frozen green peas
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups chicken stock or canned broth
1 Tablespoon poultry seasoning (or sage, thyme, garlic, etc)
1 beaten egg white (optional)

Defrost and roll out the puff pastry sheets.
Bake the chicken and diced potatoes on a cookie sheet at 375 for 40 minutes (while the defrosting is going on).  You can substitute grocery rotisserie chicken and frozen hash browns for this step.

Put one puff pastry sheet in the bottom of a pie crust.  Layer in the cooked chicken, potatoes, green onions, peas, and carrots.

Make a sauce by melting 3 tablespoons of butter, adding the flour, and cooking 5 minutes.  Whisk in the chicken broth and poultry seasonings.  Pour over the pie crust.

Top with the other puff pastry shell.  Brush with a beaten egg white.  Cut slits in the shell.  Bake at 350 for 45 - 55 minutes (until brown).

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What we are reading

In addition to cooking (and running, so I can justify all the food), I love to read.  And I love to read to my boys.  So I wanted to include an occasional post about what we are reading.

Right now I am re-reading Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and LOVING it.  Usually, I go for lighter fare, but this is what the students are reading and I always re-read with them.  If I don't, it's difficult to answer their questions - my memory isn't what it used to be.

But oh, something about Heathcliff - tortured soul - always makes my heart ache for him.  I've really just started, so the beginning part where everyone is so mean to him - something in my mother's heart wants to adopt him!

And with the boys tonight, we read Harold and the Purple Crayon.  It's older, but it is a classic for a reason.  Plus, it's a great calming book - I love anything where the title character goes to sleep on the last page.  It gives me hope that my little men will do likewise.

So, that's what we are reading!

The Best Cheese Grits Ever (lump free)

This morning, before going back to New Orleans, my brother had to change the brake pads on his car.  So he came over to get some help.

And I made cheese grits for the boys.

I absolutely adore these grits.  I adapted the recipe from Celebrations on the Bayou - the cookbook from my town's junior league, created by my mom and her friends when they were my age.  It's the cookbook I use the most often because every time I ask my mom about a great recipe I remember, this book is where she points.  Plus, I was 9 when it was published and I'm listed in the back as an official taster - the first time my name appeared in an actual book :)

So, to make the grits...

You need a liquid to grit ratio of 4:1.  The directions on the back of the box just tell you to use water, but if you use more flavorful liquids, you get more flavorful grits.  Chicken stock is a great add in for lunch or dinner grits, but for these morning ones, I wanted creaminess.  So I used half water and half skim milk.

Bring 2 cups of water and 2 cups of milk to a rolling boil.  Add a pinch of Kosher salt.

Slowly pour in the grits, whisking constantly.  This is the key to non-lumpy grits.  If you don't stir as you pour, no amount of squishing lumps with a spoon against the side will help.  I know.  I've tried.

Reduce the heat and put a lid on the grits. Let them simmer away for 5 minutes.  Stir occasionally.

Meanwhile, grate the cheese.

I used a half pound (8 ounces) of extra sharp cheddar and 6 ounces of a processed, Dutch Garden's cheese product called "Garlic Loaf."

The original recipe calls for Kraft Jalapeno processed cheese.  As much as I don't generally like over-processed foods (Velveta literally makes me cringe), I have a special affection for this stuff.  My mother put it in everything.

Then Kraft stopped making it.  My town was devastated.  The grocery store finally posted a sign in the cheese bin they got so many questions about it during Thanksgiving.  But seriously, Spinach Madeline, cheese grits, pea goo (my grandmother's favorite) - they all called for the Kraft roll of cheese.  

Garlic Loaf is the best approximation I've found.  You can also use any other creamy cheese and some extra garlic.

When the grits are finished, add a 1/2 stick of butter, the cheeses, a generous pinch of red pepper, paprika, and Lea and Perrin's Worcestershire sauce.

I only use 1-2 teaspoons, but the original recipe calls for a Tablespoon.  It's very strong, but most of the men I know from here could drink the bottle.

Stir until combined, and then serve!

Serving suggestions:
I like mine in a big cup.

My husband makes sandwiches with toast or biscuits, a layer of grits, and then scrambled eggs.  It wouldn't be Easter without these grits and ham, but they are also great with grilled meat, or under shrimp (my recipe for Shrimp and grits).

The recipe:
2 cups water
2 cups milk
1 pinch salt
1 cup quick (but NOT instant) grits
1/2 stick salted butter
8 oz cheddar cheese, grated
6 oz garlic processed cheese, cubed
1/4 to 1/2 tsp red pepper
1/4 tsp Paprika
1-2 tsp Worchestershire

Bring the liquids to a boil.  Slowly pour in the grits, whisking constantly.  Cook, covered, for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the butter, cheeses, and seasonings.  Stir unil combined.
You can pour these into a greased casserole and reheat them at 350 until warm (this is what we do for Easter).

Oh, and my brother eats a lot.  So I made a lot of grits.  You can definitely half this recipe.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Banana Pudding

When I solicited cooking suggestions last week, my little brother suggested I teach him how to make banana pudding.

Which got me thinking... aren't babies supposed to love bananas?

Mine does not.  But I keep buying them in hopes that he one day will.  So far, all I have is a bunch of overripe bananas... and so, banana pudding!

So, first separate 4 eggs.  Put the yolks in a saucepan

Add 2 1/2 cups milk, 2/3 cup sugar, 1 tsp vanilla extract, a pinch of salt, and 2 Tablespoons corn starch.
Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes or so, whisking frequently, until the custard is thick.

In a baking dish (I like round and orange) layer 'Nilla wafers and sliced bananas.

Although he does not care for bananas, the baby does adore 'Nilla wafers.  So I gave him one.  He was pretty excited about it.

Once that's done, pour the cooked custard over the cookies and bananas.

Then, in the bowl of the electric mixer, whip the egg whites with 5 tablespoons of sugar until they form a meringue.

Put the meringue on top of the pudding.

Bake in a slow (300 degree) oven for 20 minutes or so.  Just the tips are supposed to get brown, but my whole meringue got brown.  But it was still delicious!

Scoop up and serve to those you love!

Oh, and if you like firmer pudding, put it in the fridge first.  But in my house, we like it warm!

4 whole eggs separated
2/3 cup granulated sugar
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
3-4 bananas sliced
'Nilla wafer cookies

Separate the eggs. Beat 4 eggs yolks slightly. Add to the egg yolks 2/3 cups sugar, a pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons cornstarch. Add this to 3 cups milk. Place in saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. Add vanilla extract.

Layer vanilla wafers and bananas in 8 inch square baking dish. Stand vanilla wafers up around sides of dish. Pour pudding over vanilla wafers and bananas.

Beat egg whites until frothy and add 5 tablespoons granulated sugar. Beat until stiff. Spread on top of pudding and bake in slow oven 300 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown on tips.