Sunday, February 21, 2010

Pear Lovers Pear Pie

The first challenging pie I ever tried to make was pear.

It was my second pie. And my third, fourth, and fifth. Maybe sixth too, I can't remember. And I was never even really happy with it.

I didn't know all the things I know now. I believed that I couldn't par bake with a top crust. I had never even heard of using tapioca as a thickener. I simply didn't know how to prevent a soggy bottom.

To top it off, all the recipes I found were for “apple-tasting” pear pie. And it didn't make much sense to me to try so hard to make a pear pie if it was just going to taste like apple, which came out better with a lot less effort if I just used apples. So I hit a point where I couldn't improve it anymore and moved on.

But in a year of pie baking I had learned a lot. So I thought about trying again this year. I was pretty sure I knew how to get it to thicken up right this time. But I put it off for awhile because it still seemed pretty silly to put so much effort into a pear pie if it was just going to taste like apple.

I looked thru different recipes but they all seemed to be similar to the first one I tried or be combination pies that included a lot of other things I expected might overpower the pears and what I wanted was a pear pie that tasted like pear.

Finally, it dawned on me that the reason so many pear pies taste like apple is because they are flavored just like an apple pie. Cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon, and butter. I decided it would be better to make a pie that was seasoned to bring out and accent the pear flavor, instead of overpowering it. So I thought probably just cinnamon and vanilla would be best.

Attempt #1

(This attempt was pretty much futile. I knew I needed to thicken this pie with tapioca, but I was out and feeling too lazy to go get it, so I went without. Talk about setting yourself up.)

6 cups Bosc pears, peeled and sliced (about 6 pears)

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup sugar

¼ cup flour

Mix together sugar, cinnamon, flour. Toss with pear slices. Sprinkle vanilla over top, and mix to better combine the flavor.

Roll-out and par bake bottom crust until inside starts to turn golden.

Fill with pear mixture.

Cover with top crust.

Bake at 425 for 20 min, then lower to 375 and continue baking until thick and bubbly.

Results: I could tell during the baking process that the filling was not thickening as much as I had hoped, and the final product did have a soggier-then-desirable bottom crust. The filling wasn't too loose and liquidy though.

On the bright side, I was pretty happy with the flavor. It certainly tasted like pear.

Attempt #2 – Final version

6 cups peeled and cubed Bosc pear (about 6 pears) (peeling is optional)

½ cup sugar

2 Tbsp instant tapioca

1 Tbsp flour

1 ½ tsp cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla extract

Milk to glaze top crust

Roll out bottom crust and line pie plate. Refrigerate for 15 min before baking.

Poke holes throughout crust with a fork. Line with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake at 375 for 15 min. Remove foil and weights, continue baking until the inside starts to turn golden.

Meanwhile, toss pear cubes with tapioca, sugar, flour, cinnamon, and vanilla. I prefer cubes to slices when baking with tapioca because the pearls will blend in better then it does with slices. Let the mixture sit for at least 15min before baking to soften the tapioca.

This much sugar produces a mildly sweet pie. If you prefer a sweeter pie, use a whole cup.

Fill par baked crust with pear mixture. It's best to work quickly once fruit is in the crust so it stays crisp.

Roll out top crust.

I find a good strategy for when you want to par bake the bottom but still have a top crust is to cut out shapes and then lay them decoratively over the filling. This method doesn't require sealing the two crust halves at the edge.

In this case I cut out circles. Placed them on a plate to re-chill in the fridge before covering the pie; this makes them easier to work with.

I arranged the circles in a decorative pattern over the fruit, sealing overlapping edges with a little milk.

Brush milk over the top of the pie. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. (I've really been starting to get fancy, huh).

Make decorative venting slits in top.

Bake at 425 degrees on the bottom oven rack for 20 min. Lower to 375 and continue baking until filling is thick and bubbling, about 30 more min.


This pie came out fabulous. The filling was perfectly thickened and the bottom crust didn't get soggy. I made some minor adjustment to the filling spices and I was happy with the flavor. I really love how it actually tastes like pears!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I Miss Pizza Luce: Baked Potato Pizza

Let me share an important lesson I have learned in life:

You Can't Replace Food

When you move or a favorite restaurant closes you can find new foods to love, but you can never replace what you have lost. You will always remember those dishes. Always want them.

I learned a new one this week:

SOMETIMES (the sometimes is important) you can recreate them

I moved from Minneapolis to San Diego. I ate out A LOT, so there are a lot of foods I miss and I can't even come close to fitting all of them in on any given visit. One place that I will always miss is Pizza Luce. Their food, all of it, was delicious. Pasta, pizza, sandwich's, dessert. And they DELIVERED. But of all their super duper good items the one I ordered the most, the one I miss, the one I cannot replace is the Baked Potato Pizza.

Really good pizza crust topped with mashed potatoes, broccoli, tomatoes, cheese, and then spread some sour cream on it when you eat it – it's amazing. So I decided to try and make it myself.

I'm not gonna lie, the first time did not work. But I got it. So let me share.


1 ½ cups Mashed potatoes (about 1lb. If you are making them just for this)

1 cup broccoli

½ cup chopped tomato

1 cup shredded cheese, I like cheddar for this

your favorite pizza dough

Sour Cream for topping

How To:

Make your favorite pizza dough, or take it out of the package if your scared of yeast like me. I bought mine at Trader Joe's. Don't judge me, I make pie crust.

Roll out to about 12”, building up the edge a bit for the crust. Poke holes all around the middle with a fork.

Bake as directed until the center just starts to turn golden brown. I really recommend using a sheet with holes in the bottom or a baking stone if you want a crispy bottom. And check it about half-way through. If the holes baked closed and your crust is all puffed up, poke it a few more times with a fork.

Meanwhile, steam the broccoli 10-12 min until it is soft.

When the crust is done spread the mashed potatoes evenly over the center.

If you need to make some, a basic recipe is fine. I simply diced my potatoes and boiled until soft, then mashed with 2 Tbsp sour cream and a couple splashed of milk until they were smooth and creamy.

Sprinkle broccoli and tomatoes over the potatoes.

Cover everything with cheese.

Continue baking until the cheese is melted, about 10-15 minutes.

I might not be remembering the real thing correctly, it has been over a year since I last had Pizza Luce's Baked Potato Pizza, but this really hit the spot for me. This is one less food I have to miss and I couldn't be happier with the results.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Lemon Pie, Keys Style

After missing the season last year, I am really trying to take advantage of meyer lemons while they are around. I made the Shaker Lemon Pie I had been waiting for so long to try but had a couple lemons left over when I was done. My first idea was to take a key lime pie recipe, and replace the key limes with meyer lemons.

Although I liked both of the Key Lime Pie's I made this summer, I decided to go with the egg yolk recipe because I didn't have any sour cream around.

I had 4 average sized meyer lemons on hand when I made this. They left me a little short on juice. I supplemented with some regular bottled lemon juice from my fridge and it was just a little so I don't think it made much difference but I would recommend having 5 or 6 on hand for this recipe.


2 cans Sweetened Condensed Milk (14 oz each)

1 cup Meyer Lemon Juice

4 whole Egg Yolks (discard Whites)

1 teaspoon Lemon Zest

Prepared Graham Cracker Crust

1 Cup Whipped Cream (use stabilized whipped cream if you need to top it before serving)


Preheat oven to 350º. Beat egg yolk together with lemon juice and zest

Add the entire two cans of sweetened condensed milk and combine completely.

Fill prepared graham cracker shell. Note: I used my 9 ½ inch pie plate and it was pretty full, so you will probably have excess filling in a standard 9 inch plate.

Bake for about 5-10 minutes, until small bubbles appear in the custard. The top should not brown.

Serve alongside or top with whipped cream if desired.

This pie came out really well. It is not too tart and not too sweet, the kind of pie that can really be a crowd-pleaser. Since the recipe uses 2 cans of sweetened condensed milk it would probably doesn't require meyer lemons, and is worth giving a try with regular lemons.

But don't hold me to that yet. I will have to try it another time.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I ♥ Macaroni and Cheese

Who doesn't really? Actually, I have met a person or two who doesn't appreciate the stuff and I cannot comprehend it.

I love pasta. I love cheese. I love all kinds of mac and cheese, from the kraft box to the fancy schmancy stuff. Creamy varieties and baked varieties. With vegetables or rpoteind mixed in, or just pasta and cheese. Each version holds a place in my heart (and stomach).

If you agree with me on this topic then you MUST go check this out. The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board is assembling a Macaroni & Cheese Blog - 30 days 30 ways with macaroni & cheese.

These 30 recipes have been posted by an awesome assortment of food bloggers, and then span anything your heart could desire. The range of ingredients is really impressive. And I just needed to spread the word.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Good Enough To Be Dinner: Zucchini Almond Sauté

For most people this would constitute a side dish. I, however, consider this a perfect light dinner.

I have smitten kitchen to thank for this recipe. I have never prepared a recipe so soon after seeing it posted. But I absolutely love zucchini (seriously, I can barely cook anything without it. Not in the recipe? I will find a way to get it in).

It is a minimalist dish. You barely need anything to make it - zucchini, almond slices, and parmesan cheese.

And if I don't have it on hand, I often make it without the cheese. Still good, but with cheese is better. But thats no surprise since with cheese is ALWAYS better.

Anyway...getting back on track. Don't let this short list of simple ingredients fool you. There is sooo much flavor in this preparation.

Ingredients (all approximate):

2 medium zucchini

¼ cup sliced almonds

½ Tbsp olive oil

¼ cup shaved parmesan




Heat oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over med-high heat.

While oil is heating slice your zucchini into matchsticks. I will show you how I like to do this not because I think you are dull, but because it quite honestly took me several tries to figure out a good way to do this.

When oil is hot, add almond slices to pan. Mix around to coat with oil, and heat until most pieces are golden brown and the nuts become fragrant.

Add zucchini to pan and toss with nuts. Add a bit of salt (I usually do about one turn on my grinder) and generously pepper.

Cook, tossing frequently, until zucchini just warms thru and softens slightly. It should still be somewhat firm and not completely translucent.

Transfer to bowl and top with parmesan. Serve (or eat) immediately.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I'm An Options Girl. Fruity Soft Cookies, 2 ways.

I have been going thru a thing. I'm not going to elaborate because this is supposed to be about food, not my personal psychoses. I just bring it up because I almost never make cookies. But this thing...last week it wanted cookies. So I baked a whole lot of cookies.

I had some leftover pineapple and coconut, so I got this idea to make some soft cookies filled with with pineapple, coconut, and cherries- I added the cherries cuz I thought they'd be really cute topped with little maraschino cherries.

The only problem I had was it took a bit of searching to find one that didn't rely on shortening or margarine to make soft cookies. I feel strongly about baking with 100% butter whenever possible, because IT HAS FLAVOR. Shortening does not have flavor, so it just seems like a waste of calories to me. (And no, I will never stop commenting on my dislike of shortening whenever it comes up).

According to my research, butter tends to make a crispier cookie. But you can still get soft cookies with butter if you balance it with some egg. But even following this reasearch, I just didn't feel confident enough in my cookie abilities to wing it (I mean, I haven't made cookies in about 2 years. And those were the cake mix kind).

Luckily I found this pineapple cookie recipe that was 100% butter, so I went with that recipe and just jazzed up the mix-in's a bit.

It made a ton of cookies.

And when I was done, I decided I thought they would be really good with a chocolate cookie base. So I found this recipe and adapted it to suit my fruity mix-ins.


Chocolate Cookie

White Cookie

1 1/4 cup butter, softened

1 cup butter, softened

2 eggs

2 eggs

2 cups sugar

1 cup sugar

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 tsp vanilla

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp baking soda

1½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

½ tsp baking powder

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

4 cups flour

4 cups flour

For Both:

½ cup canned pineapple, drained

1/3 cup maraschino cherries, chopped

(plus approx. 36 whole ones for topping cookies)

1 cup sweetened coconut flakes


Preheat oven to 400°

Combine softened butter, sugar, and eggs and beat until smooth.

Add salt, baking soda, & vanilla and baking powder or cocoa powder. Mix thoroughly.

Add flour 1 cup at a time and combine. The dough will become VERY thick and dry. If it is too thick to work with reserve last cup until after mixing in the fruit.

People with stand mixers are very lucky at this point. I am not one of those people.

Chop the pineapple chunks to desired consistency. I chopped them pretty fine for one batch of cookies, and then left them in bigger chunks for the second batch because I thought it was too subtle. Both ways worked fine. I like it chunkier, but go with your personal preference.

Combine into cookie dough with chopped cherries and coconut flakes.

Dough will be much more moist after mixing in the fruit. If it is too sticky to work with put it in the fridge for about 10min before spooning it out and it will be much easier.

Use a medium scoop or spoon to make approx 2 Tbsp sized balls You should get about 36 cookies.

Place on cookie sheet (I rubbed a little butter on mine to prevent sticking.)

Make indent in the top of the ball with your finger and place whole cherry.

Bake at 400° for 8-10 minutes or until done. The white cookies will be golden over the top when they are finished.

The Verdict: The cookies came out very well and co-workers gobbled them up, a good thing since I had so many. They were just as I envisioned them, perfectly soft (almost cake-like) with bits of fruit. I am more of a crunchy cookie girl, but I enjoyed them thoroughly and declare them a must-bake for soft cookie lovers. I will hold onto this recipe.