Category Archives: Pie

Apricot Abundance

You already know that blueberries are kind of my thing. It’s what I really invest in during the summer. It’s why I bought a chest freezer last year. But this year, I expanded my horizons a little with apricots. I was lucky to get in on a bulk buy of organic apricots that Annette put together – only $35 for a 25 pound box! Isn’t that phenomenal? Regardless of the cost, I was in. I love the challenge that comes with having an abundant harvest on my counter. The clock starts the moment you pick up your box – the race against time before the delicious, ripe fruit starts to turn. There’s an unspoken challenge that faces you. What are you going to do with all these apricots? How can you make the most of it so you can enjoy it when you miss them the most?

So it was with that in mind that I set out to do as many different culinary projects with the box that I could. And since I didn’t have much experience preserving apricots, my mind was a clean slate. A world of possibilites awaited and I vowed not to repeat anything until the following season so as not to miss out on this learning opportunity. So here’s what I did with them:

I made an amazing batch of apricot rosemary jam that was so good, I almost did a repeat. I find myself wanting to make baked goods like biscuits just to have a vehicle for this jam.

I loaded up every tray of my dehydrator with apricot halves and because I’m a nerd, tallied the fruit that I dried. Over 70 apricots! And what a process it was – blanching, peeling, dipping in ascorbic acid, and arranging. Definitely not something you have to do with a box of fruit like blueberries. Duly noted.

I made apricot nectar a la Deborah Madison. (I can only imagine what heavenly creations exist in her latest book, Seasonal Desserts…psst, friends, totally on my wish list.) If you don’t know, I certainly did not, apricot nectar is what you’re left with when you simmer a ton of apricots, stones, and kernels (those are apricot kernels above, which I happily extracted with a hammer outside), strain and puree the goodness with a little bit of local honey.

I used this nectar, which reminds me of the thick fruit juices you usually find in a can in Mexico, for many a cocktail and homemade popsicles. I’m not really a juice person, but this was delicious.

Last, but not least, I preserved some apricots using my favorite method: save-it-for-later-pie filling. And this one I did repeat. I think I’ve shared this process with you before, but let’s review.

Line your pie dish (the one you’ll use later) with freezer paper and fill it with your prepared pie filling, just as you would if you were putting it into a pie crust.

Freeze until it’s a solid mass and gently peel away the paper.

Place the filling in a freezer-safe container or bag and freeze until you’re jonesing for fruit pie in the winter. Just make a fresh crust, pop your frozen filling into the dish, and bake. Granted, I have not tried out my apricot version yet, but if it’s anything like the apple pies I freeze this way, I will not be sorry.

So how about you? What do you suggest I do with my apricots next season? Do you have any awesome apricot recipes that you think I should try?

How I Spent the First Day of Summer

Ok, so technically, this day didn’t get off to a super great start since I was in the dentist for two hours getting a cavity filled and my crown cemented back on, which fell off a few days ago. Yikes! But, once I got out of that chair, I had a lovely day.

I spent most of the day outside working in my yard because the coop tour is just around the corner. I’d love to be all casual about the tour, like my favorite line from It’s a Wonderful Life when some man compliments the pretty blond’s dress and she says, “What? This old thing? I only wear it when I don’t care how I look!” But for me, a girl who yearns to have her garden featured in Sunset someday (er, did I just say that out loud??), this is a big deal. It’s a lot of work. It’s my pride and joy. And people will be coming to see it! My yard will be dressed to the nines, so to speak. But I digress.

I devoured that strawberry – the first ripe strawberry of the season. Really? On the first day of summer? Yes, it was perfect. I also put the rhubarb out of its misery – it just doesn’t like this much heat and direct sun. It was looking all sad and wilty, so I pretty much harvested all of the stalks and put them to use in a delicious rustic tart.

It should be noted that I have a really bad habit of baking when it’s hot out. It’s not my fault really – isn’t pie a classic summer treat? Aren’t there a plethora of fruits to harvest during the summer that would be lovely baked in a pie or cobbler or crisp? Yes, there are! I’ll concede that said baking doesn’t necessarily have to occur in the late afternoon, when turning your oven on raises the already warm temperature of the house up ten degrees. But, that’s just how I roll. It’s like doing hot yoga only with a delicious treat at the end.

I baked this tart in my hot little house while listening to a great little podcast I was introduced to by my bff Radhi. She said, “Stacy, you have to check out this podcast with Joy the Baker and Tracey from Shutterbean. It’s super cute – like two best friends just chattin’ it up. It reminds me of us.” And sure enough, it is and I’m totally hooked. It made my kitchen feel totally cozy – like cooking while your best friends stand around and chat with you in the kitchen. If you can listen to it while cooking, I highly recommend that. It just makes sense.

This tart doesn’t have much sugar, which is super rare for a rhubarb treat, but it’s great! The bright taste and tartness of the rhubarb really come through rather than being drowned in sugary syrup. And because I’m still trying to be dairy-free (I’m really trying), I made this vanilla cashew cream as a garnish instead of whipped cream. I wish I could have taken a picture of this tart without it looking like I was eating a slice of pie with a side of peanut butter or turkey gravy, but I couldn’t. I also know that presentation and looks are really important when it comes to food, but in this case, the taste just has to speak for itself. It’s delicious – scraping the bowl of the food process with a rubber scraper and licking it clean delicious. Here’s hoping the start of your summer has been as good as mine! Cheers!

Rustic Rhubarb Tart with Vanilla Cashew Cream
Adapted from Sunset and How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

1 pie crust
about 3 cups diced rhubarb
1/4 cup whole cane sugar (unrefined & unbleached)
1 Tbsp. packed muscovado brown sugar
1/4 tsp. cardamom
2 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. melted butter

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Roll out the crust as you would for a 9 inch pie and place the crust directly onto a baking sheet. Keep in mind though that this will be a rustic, free-form tart so your circle does not have to be perfect by any means. Mix the diced rhubarb and other dry ingredients in a bowl until well coated.

Cover the crust round with the rhubarb mixture, leaving about a 1 1/2 inch border all around the fruit. I mounded the fruit a bit in the center too. Fold up the edges of the crust around the fruit, pinching them together. Don’t try and cover all the fruit – just the outer rim of it.

Brush the exposed dough with the butter and brush a little onto the fruit as well. Bake until the crust is golden brown, about 20 to 30 minutes. Garnish with vanilla cashew cream.

Vanilla Cashew Cream

Besides being a fantastic sidekick for this tart, this cream is great with pretty much any seasonal fruit.

1/2 cup raw, unsalted cashews
3 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 tsp. vanilla

Grind the cashews into a fine meal in the bowl of your food processor. Then, add the syrup and vanilla and blend until smooth. If needed, with the food processor running, add water, a little at a time, until you have a thick, creamy consistency. Enjoy!

Sunday Supper: Let’s Talk Pie

The date: Sunday, March 6, 2011

The menu: Leek and Spinach Egg Pie, Salad (fruit and mixed greens, courtesy of my lovely dinner guests), and Neighborhood Apple Pie

The inspiration: Smitten Kitchen and the book The Busy Person’s Guide to Perserving Food by Janet Chadwick.

I had dinner guests on Sunday and I don’t have much going on in the garden right now besides eggs. So I figured that an egg pie was just the thing to make for my company. With a few additions from the farmers’ market, leeks and spinach, I was set. I made this recipe from Deb at Smitten Kitchen. Instead of chard, I used three cups of fresh baby spinach. Since I was already planning on making a pie and really didn’t feel like making three crusts,  I went with puff pastry for the crust. This egg tart is amazing – like eating a rich and delicious egg croissant! But, it’s the dessert I really want to talk about. Didn’t I write the same thing last Sunday?

A few years ago, my next door neighbor planted an apple tree and every year, he shares big buckets of apples with me. To show my gratitude, I always make a pie for my neighbors (and one for me) with the apples. Last summer, I got more than one bucket, which I used to make apple butter in addition to multiple pies.

Don’t the little vent holes look like apple seeds?

With a few of those summer apples, I used a techinque to make a pie for later, which I learned from Janet Chadwick’s book. I’m so glad I did! It is a great way to preserve some fruit and simplifies the work of baking a pie. Just make a crust, bake, and serve. And I bet your guests will never know the difference unless you spill your guts like me. Here’s what I did:

1. Prepare the filling for your apple pie according to the recipe you’re following (sliced apples, cinnamon, sugar, lemon juice, etc.).

2. Line a pie plate with parchment paper and pile the filling into the dish.

3. Put in the freezer until the filling is frozen and gently lift the frozen mass from the pie plate using the parchment paper.

4. Wrap the frozen filling with freezer paper and store in a gallon-size freezer bag.

5. When you’re ready to eat a pie, make a pie crust for the same pie plate you used to freeze the filling. Pop the frozen filling into the crust, dot with butter, and cover with the top crust. Prep the pie for baking as you usually would – steam vents on top, brush with milk, sprinkle with sugar. You know the drill.

For added flare, I spread apple butter, which I made with the same apples, on the bottom crust before I put the filling in. I’m not sure if I actually noticed the apple butter, but I’d like to think it made it that much better.

6. Bake as directed in your recipe. I found that I had to bake my pie for an additional 15 – 20 minutes to achieve the fruit bubbling and goldenness in the crust that I was looking for.

7. Enjoy and continue enjoying throughout the week for lunch dessert like me. It gives me a little something to look forward to all morning.

Sunday Supper: Blueberry Rhubarb Crisp

The date: Sunday, February 27, 2011

The menu: Curried yellow split peas, brown basmati rice, braised greens, and blueberry rhubarb crisp

The inspiration: Good Egg blog and the excerpt from Heidi Swanson’s new cookbook that she recently posted on her blog, 101 Cookbooks

I made another Indian-inspired meal on Sunday, but that’s not what I want to talk about. Let’s talk dessert. Normally, I don’t make dessert for my Sunday Suppers unless I have dinner guests, but this Sunday I did. I stopped into Whole Foods for a minute this weekend and was lured to a display near the entrance with beautiful magenta stalks of rhubarb. This would be a total impulse purchase – rhubarb was not on my list. But when I saw that it had been grown in Washington, I was sold.

I know the combination of blueberries and rhubarb doesn’t seem to make sense. After all, they are in their peak during different times of the year. However, if you have frozen bounty, especially blueberries, summer can happen anytime of the year. My friend and fellow blogger, Kate, at Good Egg, put the bee in my bonnet to combine these two fruits, which I love. She recently posted a recipe for Bluebarb Pie. I was originally intending to make an actual pie and will make the recipe as she posted eventually, but this weekend, I took the easy way out and made a crisp instead. I got the crisp inspiration from Heidi at 101 Cookbooks. She posted a pdf teaser of her new cookbook, Super Natural Every Day, which I can’t wait to own, and one of the recipes was for a berry tart.

So, what does a girl do when she wants a pie, but doesn’t feel like making one? She makes pie filling, covers it with a delicious crumb topping, and calls it good. No, not good, delicious! I think the fruit part of my crisp could have used another cup or so of rhubarb and a little less sugar, but I’m not complaining. It was fantastic and I’m lucky I even ate dinner with that warm crisp cooling on the counter.

Blueberry Rhubarb Crisp
Adapted from Good Egg and 101 Cookbooks

The nutmeg in the crisp topping is delicious – compliments the blueberries so well! Also, I’ve been using tapioca as a thickener for pie fillings for awhile now, but sometimes it doesn’t dissolve well. Tapioca flour, however, is genius! I’m so happy to know this tip!

The topping:
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/3 butter, melted and cooled

The pie filling:
4 cups sliced rhubarb
1 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup tapioca flour
half a lemon
small pinch of nutmeg
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish.

To make the topping, combine all the topping ingredients except for the butter. Use a fork to mix in the melted butter. Stick the bowl in the freezer while you put together the filling.

To make the fruit filling, combine the fruit, sugar, tapioca flour, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl. Gently squeeze the lemon into the bowl, stir, and taste. I didn’t do much altering here, but Kate says, “If the filling needs a little brightening, add more lemon juice. If it needs a little sweetening, add another 1/4 cup sugar.”

Transfer the fruit filling to the prepared baking dish. Retrieve the crisp topping from the freezer and crumble it all over the fruit to cover. Make sure you have both small and big crumbles.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the topping is golden and the filling is bubbling. Let cool a little before serving and enjoy!