Archive for September 2014

The Search For Perfection

With all the fruit at the Farmer’s Market, it’s pie making time! Plums, apples, blueberries and more!

Years ago, when I had just moved into my own place, I decided that it was time for me to make a blueberry pie. Well, why not. I had been successfully cooking things since I was 11 or 12 and how could this be any different?

DSC_4218 nx2I got out the new little cookbook I had bought at the grocery store and plunged in. What a disaster. The dough would not co-operate and I was facing failure. This was not good for my ego!

I did the only thing I could and phoned my mother and explained/complained that I was a pastry making failure. Mom to the rescue… she gave me her recipe for pie crust. Mom being the “queen” of pie making, (I’m not kidding, the whole family thought so), I thought I should give it a try. SUCCESS!  Ego now in recovery mode.

Not long after I met my husband, we went to visit my parents. Mom had baked a pie for dessert. He was blown away by her pie, especially the crust. Over the years, whenever I baked a pie, his comments were “this is really great pie crust but your Mom’s pies are still the best”. OK, no hard feelings, I’ll just accept that hers are the best.

I have inherited Mom’s rolling pin. It feels so good holding it and putting my hands where hers were for all those years.

My brother joined us for dinner one day so I decided to bake a pie for dessert. I rolled out my crust using Mom’s rolling pin. They both said this pie was the best I had ever made and it “was just like Mom’s”. Was it THE Rolling Pin magic or Mom channeling through her rolling pin? I can’t argue with that logic and the spell is still working.

**If you would like to make pies like my Mom’s, please go to Making Pie Dough.

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Laurie Colwin’s Tomato Pie

Not too long ago my facebook friend Roz Coreri Paige posted that she had won a contest for her Italian style tomato pie, which brought to mind Laurie Colwin’s Tomato Pie that I have wanted to make for I can’t tell you how long, I just never quite got there!

So I searched through my files and there it was after at least 20 years!  Off we go to the Trout Lake Farmer’s Market in search for some local fantastic outdoor grown tomato beauties.  I could hardly wait to try out Laurie’s recipe!

I adored the essays Laurie wrote for Gourmet Magazine back in the late ‘80’s and ‘90’s and now wish I would have saved them all!

DSC_8620 nx2Here is the recipe I followed:

2 pounds homegrown tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 cups flour 1 stick butter (4 oz.)
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup (or thereabouts) milk
1½ cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Chopped basil, chives or scallions to taste

Make the biscuit-dough crust by blending flour, butter, baking powder and milk either by hand or in a food processor. Roll out half the dough on a floured surface and line a 9-inch pie plate with it. This dough is thicker than a normal pie crust.

Layer the tomatoes on top, scattering with scallions and/or herbs. Sprinkle 1 cup of the cheddar over the tomatoes.

Thin the mayonnaise with lemon juice and drizzle over top, followed by remaining cheddar.

Roll out remaining dough, fit it over the filling and pinch the edges of the dough together to seal them. Cut several steam vents in the top crust and bake the pie at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes. This is one of those dishes that tastes even better as leftovers the next day. Reheat in a 350-degree oven till the cheese is soft and gooey.

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First let me say that the filling is very tasty!  Second…in my opinion, the recipe needs some tweaking, which I was not expecting at first but when actually working on the pie, I started to realize it would, in the end, need a fix.

After speaking with my good friend, Chef Andrea about a couple of things, this is how I will be remaking the tomato pie.

  1. As a long time biscuit maker (the crust is basically biscuit dough), biscuits require salt and if you look at the list of ingredients there is no salt or pepper anywhere. So, I added 1 tsp. salt to the dry ingredients before working in the cold butter. I cut in the cold butter in the processor, placed the mixture in a bowl then stirred in the milk with a fork until it came together as I find it is much too easy to over-mix in the processor. You may find the need of a tablespoon or two more milk to bring everything together but you don’t want a wet dough.
  2. Leaving the skins on the tomatoes made eating the pie unpleasant with all those stringy tomato skins. Cut an “X” into the blossom end of the tomatoes and blanch them for 10 seconds in boiling water, place in an ice-bath until cool and peel, then slice and set aside. (Chef Andrea suggested removing the seeds from the tomatoes before slicing them to reduce the amount of liquid in the pie as there was quite a lot and she even wondered whether to add a sprinkling of thickener such as flour or cornstarch between the tomato layers to help bind the filling together and reduce the excess liquid.)
  3. Roll out the crust as in the original recipe but you will need a larger than half (perhaps 2/3) of the dough for the bottom crust; the dough will be a bit thicker but not a whole lot and it should overhang the pie plate.
  4. I would recommend, dividing up the 1 ½ cups of cheese and keeping aside ½ cup for the final layer before the top crust goes on. Putting a handful of the grated cheese on the bottom before adding half the tomatoes, season the layer of tomatoes, sprinkle with salt and pepper; top with half of the basil and green onions (I liked the addition of both, so used 2 or 3 tablespoons of each) add the remaining tomato slices, top with what remains of the cheese, basil and green onions, sprinkling with a bit more salt and pepper.
  5. Mix together the mayonnaise (not light mayonnaise) and lemon juice. My husband and I thought that adding a pinch or two of cayenne next time would be a good thing!)
  6. Drizzle the mayonnaise mixture over the tomatoes.
  7. Roll out the remaining dough as per the original recipe, so that it fits to the edges of the pie then fold over the top crust, pinch together, crimp with a fork if desired. Don’t forget to cut several steam vents in the top crust. (If you like, you can brush the dough with a bit of melted butter before baking.)  I am going to either brush my pie with the butter or cream for a bit of shine.
  8. Bake the pie in a preheated 400 F oven. This is a bit tricky because I found that it took somewhat longer than this, what you are looking for is a golden crust and bubbling filling. My feeling is that between 30 – 45 minutes. If the crust is getting too dark, simply lay a piece of tin foil loosely over the top and continue baking.
  9. The original recipe doesn’t specify letting the pie stand to cool before cutting. My experience was that after 15 – 20 minutes it was still much too hot and when I cut into it there was a huge amount of liquid that I did not want there. So my suggestion would be to allow to stand to room temperature or just barely warm before cutting.

Note:  I did not reheat the pie so cannot say whether that bit works or not.

After tweaking the recipe, I will definitely make this pie again as it was very tasty and makes a nice summery meal with a big salad and a big glass of wine to toast Laurie Colwin the originator of the pie and a wonderful writer whose writing I still miss.  Laurie passed away suddenly in 1992 leaving a big gap in the world of excellent food writing.

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The Pasta Museum!

While planning our last trip to Rome my husband discovered the“The Museo Nazionale delle Paste Alimentari”! He was very clear that one of THE MAJOR things he wanted to see is this museum! No argument from this “pasta junkie” (no kidding, there is approximately one overhead cupboard in our kitchen stuffed with as many different shapes of pasta I can get my hands on!)…I’ve even hauled pasta home from Italy!

pasta museum 2Guess what? We arrive in Rome, begin checking out opening and closing times of the museums and galleries we are interested in and lo and behold, of all bloody things, “The National Pasta Museum” appears to be closed for renovations???? I mean it’s not quite as bad as arriving in Rome and finding that they’ve got the Coliseum under wraps for renovations but for gawds sake!

I’ve read that for Italians pasta is “an Italian invention the world envies” but I’ll hazard a guess that the very idea that it may have been invented in China will send them into fits, which tells you how much Italians associate pasta with their national pride! This museum celebrates the evolution, production, and execution of pasta in all its deliciousness, particularly the Italian invention of dried pasta, a method that allowed pasta to be stored indefinitely and shipped all over the world. The museum, opened in 1993, covers eight centuries of history of this staple of the Italian diet, housing old machinery, traditional tools, assorted documents from antique prints, drawings, works of modern artists, edicts and documents regarding taxes on pasta over the centuries.

pasta museumBeing denied a visit to this museum, I guess Rome is not yet finished with us! I think we were more disappointed about missing out on that museum than not having enough time to visit Tivoli and the Borghese Gardens and with the continuing reports from Elizabeth Minichelli’s blog, mostly about Rome, I can see no end to wanting to return! If you get to go to the museum before we get back, let me know!!

Address: The Museo Nazionale della Paste Alimintari, Piazza Scanderbeg, 117, behind the Piazza Fontana di Trevi at the foot of the Quirnal Hill.

Visiting Hours: Every day from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm, closed December 25th and January 1. Except for when we were there this past April! Their website states they are temporarily closed for renovation.

**If you are interesting in checking out pasta recipes, click  this recipe button link, scroll the list of categories where the recipes are listed by the seasons, happy hunting!   

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