Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tomato Pie

When I was a kid, I used to hate tomatoes.  I would only eat them in my mother's spaghetti sauce or in pizza, transformed into the tomato sauce that really just served as a platform for cheese and sausage.  I would infuriate my father by picking them out of a dish and arranging them around the side of my plate so that there was a ring of red clumps standing triumphantly at the end of the meal.  I can still see the shaking of his head in embarrassment when the waiter came and took the plate away.  I don't think I started enjoying tomatoes until college.  While others were exploring new hobbies and social scenes, I was expanding my horizons in vegetables.  

Which led me to this recipe I found in my church cookbook.  Tomato Pie.  Could something sound more perfect for the end-of-summer bounty of tomatoes?  The beauty of local cookbooks is that you know the recipes are solid enough to have someone put their name by it knowing that the audience enjoying the recipes will see them on a regular basis and can challenge them should something go wrong.  The sometimes challenging side of local cookbooks is that the recipes are often classics that have been adjusted throughout the years -- changes that may not have made it to the cookbook.  Eventually recipes are memorized and the original recipe card long forgotten until one thinks to add it to a compilation cookbook at which point the changes aren't listed.  I've learned that one should always be encouraged to adjust, improvise and be ready for some quick thinking when it comes to making something from one of these homegrown works.  This recipe, for instance, just said to 'prebake the crust.'  I tend to need explicit directions when it comes to recipes so this led me to a frenzy of trying to figure out how long does it take to 'prebake' a crust?  What temperature should the oven be at for this step.  Do I use beans/rice/pie weights? And so on.  Googling really helps in these instances.

Once any kinks are worked out, and the adjustments fine tuned to your family's taste, you know they will be solid addition to your recipe cache.  After all, even if a cookbook hasn't been through the months' of recipe testing that the mass produced cookbooks have, they have been through a lifetime of enjoyment for some family you know and therefore as legit as Martha Stewart's.  

Tomato Pie
Adapted from the Beth Eden Lutheran Church Cookbook, Volume 1 
Note - the amount of mayonnaise and cheddar cheese below are adjusted to what I think would work since the original amounts were not enough to cover the entire 9 inch pie - hence the thinness of my topping in the photos.  I imagine greek yogurt, cottage cheese, or some other base would work as well with the shredded cheese.

1 (9-inch) refrigerated pie crust, unbaked
3 large tomatoes, peeled; sliced*
Salt & pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Partially bake pie crust and let cool (I did this for ten minutes, uncovered, using pie weights, but would probably recommend 12 - 15).  Layer tomatoes in bottom of pie crust.  Sprinkle tomatoes with salt, pepper and basil.  In a small bowl combine the mayonnaise and cheese.  Spread mixture evenly over tomato slices, sealing edges of pie crust.  Bake for 45 minutes or until the crust is a golden brown and the top of the pie seems set.  Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

*The original recipe called for 4 large tomatoes but I quickly realized I would only need three of the big ones I bought.  I used the boil-for-thirty-seconds-then-dump-in-ice-water method to peel them.  I also seeded them to try to get as much moisture out of them as I could.  As I cut them I put them in a strainer to let any extra moisture out.  I was very concerned about a soggy crust and although my crust wasn't as flakey as I would've liked -- I chalk this up to the cooking time needing to be longer than the original 30 minutes the recipe called for.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Bacon, Fig and Blue Cheese Salad

As I make my way up the five flights of stairs every evening I like to play the "whose apartment would I want to have dinner in" game judging by the smells coming out of each one.  I often smell curries on the third floor and fish (in the good way, cooked and yummy) on the fourth floor.  Every once in a while I'll catch a whiff of chocolate or cookies and even bread one random Sunday.  I think the fact I've only smelled bread once is directly related to how small my kitchen is and therefore how small everyone else's kitchen is.  I barely have enough room to put two bowls on a kitchen surface much less flour, knead and roll something onto a surface.

Living on the fifth floor means that you can cook anything you like without offending any neighbors (except the one other poor soul on the fifth floor -- but after an evening playing mediator between the superintendent and this neighbor's temper after painters locked them out of their apartment, I think they owe me one).  However, that also means you can't woo your neighbors from being 'just neighbors' to 'more than neighbors' with enticing aromas.  Smells, similar to heat, tend to rise and therefore, they will never know the wondrous concoctions I am making in Apartment 1E.  

With one exception.  Bacon.  When I fry bacon, I am pretty sure that not only do my clothes smell like bacon for a week but so does the rest of the buildings'.  This could be because I am frying up the entire package of thick, maple glazed bacon and not just a slice or two.  Therefore, it tends to linger.  And the caveat is that, with this recipe, the bacon goes in a salad, full of healthy things like spinach and figs (a new favorite of mine).  So you CAN have your bacon and eat it too.  At least in #1E.  

Bacon, Fig and Blue Cheese Salad
Adapted from #76 here 
This recipe is all about your personal taste so adjust as you see fit.

5 fresh figs
4 dried figs
4-6 (or 8, I'm not judging) slices of bacon
3 tablespoons blue cheese
6 cups of spinach
balsamic vinegar, the nicer the variety the better

Chop the fresh figs and dice the dried figs.  Cook the bacon and reserve some of the fat.  Crumble the bacon once it has cooled.  Put the greens in a salad bowl and drizzle with the leftover bacon fat and balsamic vinegar. Add both the fresh and diced figs, crumbled bacon and blue cheese.  Toss until combined.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Nutella Cupcakes

As we enter September, I am very aware of the cyclical nature of New York City.  I am now entering my second year as a NYC resident and I am seeing the same festivals, events, and trends that came around last September.  The New York Film Festival is only a few weeks away.  The San Gennaro Festival is at the end of the month.  New York Fashion Week was this week.  As I did last year, I will be attending all but one of these.  I sit Fashion Week out because a) the other two involve movies and food which I can afford and b) let’s be honest, fashion week?  Only if I could sit next to Suri and we could trade sarcastic quips.

I’ve been waiting for the perfect moment to post about these cupcakes.  I made them earlier in the year for a friend’s baby shower and I should apologize now for keeping them to myself for so long.  I figure celebrating my one-year in NYC (albeit a month late) will be a good enough reason. 

Similar to my Rolo Cupcakes, these have the following characteristics:  they are guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser; they will create a sugar coma that will make you want to steal the insulin of the nearest diabetic cat; and they will make you feel like you are an equal to those bakeries that charge $5 a cupcake.  But don’t do that.  These should be shared and doled out with some love and a smile.  Otherwise, that sugar coma would become a serious health hazard.
What are the odds that a Nutella commercial would come on as I take pictures of Nutella cupcakes?  This is the one where the mom is giving her kids a 'healthy breakfast' of bread and Nutella.  Or, as I like to call it, introducing the concept of denial to her children.

Nutella Cupcakes
Adapted from My Baking Addiction
For the Cake
1 18.25 ounce package Devil's Food Cake mix
1 5.9 ounce package instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup warm water
1 tsp vanilla
1 13-ounce jar of Nutella

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners. Using the paddle attachment of a mixer, beat together the cake and pudding mixes, sour cream, oil, eggs, water and vanilla until smooth. Evenly divide the batter amongst the tins. Bake for 18-22 minutes until top is springy to the touch. Cool the cupcakes thoroughly on the wire rack.  Cut a small hole in the middle of each cupcake, being sure not to go all the way through to the bottom.  I used a strawberry corer for this part.  Spoon a little bit of Nutella into each hole and smooth it down so it is even across the top.

For the Nutella Buttercream Frosting
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 13-ounce jar of Nutella
pinch of fine grain salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1.5 pounds confectioners’ sugar, sifted
6-8 tablespoons heavy cream or milk

Using a stand mixer, cream butter and Nutella until combined, about 5 minutes.  Slowly add the confectioner’s sugar and continue mixing until blended.  Add salt, vanilla and 3 tablespoons of heavy cream or milk.  Mix on low speed until moistened.  Add another tablespoon as you mix until you reach the desired consistency.  Beat at high speed until frosting is smooth and fluffy, about three minutes.  Pipe buttercream frosting onto cooled cakes and top with a hazelnut candy bar or cookie.  

Monday, September 03, 2012

Cranberry and Edamame Snack Mix

Hellooooo September!  Robbie and I spent the Labor Day weekend in a charming, small town on Lake Michigan for a friend’s wedding.  We stayed at a quaint inn steps from the shore and got to watch the end of summer approach from a different angle.  Instead of the crowded, sun burnt surroundings of my summer vacations in North Myrtle Beach, this town does it differently.  There were gated cottage communities (think Dirty Dancing-like), walks on calm beaches with minimal crowds, the evening passing of the town’s ferry, views of the harbor’s lighthouse, and, my favorite, nearly-0% humidity.  Now if only I could find a place like that on the East Coast . . .
(Sunset and ferry.  No, the ferry is not on fire.  Fun Fact - because we were on the Western edge of the Eastern Time Zone, the sun set around 9 o'clock.)
We had about a two-hour drive upon landing in Grand Rapids which, incredibly, had fewer non-stop options from NYC airports than I would have thought.  So, in addition to reading material, chargers for all five of my electronic devices that I insist on taking even though I only end up using one, and three search-and-find books, I also like to have snacks. They keep me calm during flights – not necessarily eating them, but just knowing they are there within arm’s reach. And, unless you want to pay heart-stopping prices at the Hudson News in the airport, I recommend you make your own.  Like this delicious four-ingredient snack mix of sorts.
I warn you though, it is quite addictive.  As you can see, I didn’t even get it in the super-cute glass jar I was going to store it in because the spoon and the baking sheet served as enough of a medium to enjoy it.  ALL of it. 

Cranberry and Edamame Mix
Adapted from Shutterbean

1 ½ cup frozen, shelled edamame
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 ½ teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
coarse salt

Thaw the edamame.  Heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and spread the thawed edamame on a baking sheet.  Drizzle with the olive oil, tossing with a spoon to coat as many of the edamame beans as you can.  Sprinkle with salt.  Roast in oven for 20 – 22 minutes until the edamame is crisp.  Let cool.  Toss with the cranberries and, if they make it to the end of the day, they can be stored in an air tight container.