A Pie for Pi Day

Vegetable TartToday is Pi Day! Celebrate the beauty of the mathematical constant for the ratio of the circle’s circumference to its diameter! Yeah, beautiful. Geometry class was a circle, too…a circle of Hell. Just thinking about pi conjures up a curious mixture of anxiety and ennui. Perhaps I’ll join the Tau Movement.

Celebrating 3/14 by baking a pie is much more fun than thinking about circles and ratios and angles. Although most pies are round. And those wedges…they’re triangular! Oh, for the love of a2+b2+c2! There’s no escaping pi! This is why I’m a math athiest.

I chose a savory tart for this year’s pie – mostly because we have a lot of grilled veggies hanging around (this tart is perfect for leftover veggies) and because I like to use my tart pan with the removable bottom, for a classy look.

The press-in pastry is a favorite, especially for people who don’t have a lot of experience with rolling pie crusts. A little rye flour – just a couple of tablespoons – makes the crust seem more rustic. Or something. Now, I know that some of you will drag out one of those refrigerated, pre-rolled things. As a pie snob, I would never use one; as a pragmatist, I understand that we’re all busy, etc. What worries me is, how does Pillsbury achieve that smooth, Play-Dohesque consistency?

It’s a mystery, like math itself.

Grilled Veggie ‘n Feta Tart
(9” or 10” tart)

1 recipe Press-in Tart Pastry (see recipes)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion, sliced
1-1/2 Cups grilled veggies (peppers, zukes, etc.)
2 large eggs
¾ Cup heavy cream
Small handful fresh herbs, minced
Fine dry breadcrumbs
4 ounces feta, crumbled

Preheat oven to 400OF.  Prepare the pastry and press into the tart pan. Partially blind-bake the pastry for 10 minutes; remove weights and bake 5 minutes longer. Cool.

Saute onions in oil 5 minutes. Add the veggies and stir for about 1 minute – just to warm them through. Season with salt and pepper.  Remove from heat and cool.

In a bowl combine eggs with cream, herbs and salt and pepper.

Place the tart shell on a baking sheet. Sprinkle bottom of pastry with breadcrumbs. Spread veggies in the shells; crumble cheese on top. Pour egg-cream mixture over the top.

Lower oven temperature to 350OF. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until set. Cool 5 minutes before cutting.

Press-in Pastry
(9” or 10” tart shell)

1 1/2 Cups flour
1/2 Cup cold butter or solid Crisco, or a mix of the two
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
1 large egg

Mix together dry ingredients. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender until fine crumbs form.  Add egg; mix with fork until dough begins to hold together.  Add 1-2 t. very cold water if mixture seems too dry.  (You can do this all in the food processor, too.)

Spray a 9″ or 10″ tart pan with removable bottom with Pam.  Press dough into bottom and up sides of pan.

TO PARTIALLY BLIND BAKE:  Dock pastry well with a fork.  Line tart shell with foil, shiny side down.  Weight shell with 1 Cup dry rice or beans.  Bake @ 425 degrees F for 10 minutes; remove foil and weights; bake 5-10 minutes longer.

Out of the Salad Bowl

Radishes: red-skinned stepchild of the salad bowl. They always look so promising in the produce section, but somehow they always wind up in the bottom of the salad bowl, sliced and sad and shunned. They are delicious with sweet butter on a slice of bread, but how many radish sandwiches can a person eat?

Because of their salad-bowl-only status, we never think to cook them, but they really take well to methods like pickling, pan-frying and oven roasting. And the green tops are edible, too.

Don’t limit yourself to the scarlet globes; the daikon radish – that gigantic white carrot-shaped thing – is great, too. I love the crunch curlicues of white radish that garnish the plate at Asian restaurant (gotta get one of those veggie spiralizers!). Because they are so large, thick rounds of the daikon are perfect for braising. And we like to make pesto from the green tops (well, we like to make pesto out of just about anything).

Braised Daikon Radish
(4 servings)

1 large daikon radish (about 1 pound)
2 Tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 Tablespoons sake or dry Sherry
2 teaspoons sugar

Scrub the radish, peel it, and slice crosswise into 1” rounds.

Place the daikon in a single layer in a high-sided sauté pan. Add enough water to come halfway up the sides of the radish. Add the remaining ingredients.

Bring to a boil; lower the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until all of the liquid is absorbed and the radish is tender, about 30-45 minutes.

Radish Green Pesto
(about ½ Cup)

3 Cups daikon radish greens
1/3 Cup slivered almonds
1/2 Cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/3 Cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Wash the greens in cold water, swishing them around to remove any grit.

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil; drop in the radish greens and blanch for 30 seconds. Drain well, squeezing out excess water.

Stuff the radish greens to a food processor. Pulse 10-15 times or until roughly chopped. Add the almonds and pulse 15-20 times until the almonds and radish greens are very finely chopped. Add Parmesan cheese and pulse a few times to combine.

With food processor running, slowly drizzle in olive oil. Taste for seasonings and texture and add salt, pepper, and olive oil as desired.


Pie Friday: Tomato Pie

This one's a mini pie!

And now for a savory pie. The tomatoes were ripening so quickly that after making sauce and jam and roasted tomatoes, we froze a whole bunch and then looked around for other ways to use them.

This recipe is a favorite, as well as its source – the late, great writer, Laurie Colwin. She was a gifted novelist but is mostly remembered for her two collections of cooking essays, Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. Her fans are legion, and I count myself among them. Colwin’s recipes are homey and humorous, with a simplicity that goes right to the heart of what home cooking really means. Read more

Attack of the Zombie Tomatoes!

Still warm...mmm...

Some of us are ga-ga over our cast iron collection – and not just because a “double-tap” on the noggin with one of these would stop a zombie in its tracks. We have lots of them – skillets, that is. A little one for a perfectly round fried egg, a slightly larger one for a searing steaks, and a big one for frittatas and Potatoes Anna. Yeah, cast iron takes a little bit of care – but it rewards you a thousand times over.

Now that tomato vines are producing, we are overrun with the things, no unlike zombies when they run amok. When we’re not oven-roasting tomatoes or chopping and freezing them, we’re making tomato-pesto salad and raw tomato sauce for pasta or slicing some for a BLT. Read more

Chasing the Dragon Grilled Corn

Dragon corn, monster steak!

Okay, the title is a tad dramatic. After all, grilled corn on the cob is nowhere near as addictive as opium, right? Wrong!

There are people who would happily eat COTC everyday during its season. And grilled corn takes things to a whole ‘nother level. Just ask the people of Mumbai or Mexico City – it’s a popular street food in both countries. Indian vendors swab the charcoaled-ears with lime and dredge in spices; Mexican cooks slather the cobs with mayo, lime, chili powder, and top with cojita cheese. Read more

A Honey of a Hummus

Rosh Hashanah is here! 

Okay, it arrived last night, but I’ll share one of my favorite recipes to celebrate the day, since there’s tons of it left! This is a variation on that old stand-by, hummus. Everyone seem to like the ubiquitous chickpea mash: it’s great for the GF and vegetarian crowd and it’s easy to make. (It’s even easier to buy, but commercial varieties manage to be creepy, bland, and expensive.) The original recipe here was from an old National Honey Board recipe pamphlet picked up at some long-ago aggie fair. As usual around here, the original recipe has been tweaked!

Tahini is an essential ingredient in hummus, a sesame seed paste – sesame “peanut butter”,  so to speak. Because honey has the same viscosity as tahini, it’s a great substitute. This hummus has a little kick, too, from the harissa, a North African condiment that can be pretty fiery. If you can’t find harissa, use ground cayenne pepper or Sriracha sauce to taste.

Because honey and Rosh Hashanah are traditional (for a sweet new year), this hummus is my favorite variation for this fall holiday. Good Yom Tov!

Hummus for the New Year
(1 Cup)

15-ounce can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
2 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon (or more!) harissa
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon salt
Chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

In the food processor, puree garbanzo beans, honey, lemon juice, garlic, harissa, cumin, and salt until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning – it should be sweet and a little spicy. If the mixture is too thick, add a tablespoon of water to thin to the consistency you like.

Scrape into a bowl and stir in the cilantro or parsley. Serve with apple slices for dipping.

Spice Babies

These little Spiced-Stuffed Baby Eggplant look like alien life forms – and not the benign humanoid kind that want to be our friends. But these ‘plants are delicious and perfect for this kind of presentation.

I used Thai green eggplants, but you can get the standard purple version, too. While they’re very sweet, a short immersion in salted water helps draw out any lingering bitterness, and they are really best when super-fresh. I get them at the Indian grocery, but baby eggplant have been popping up in farmer’s market and CSA baskets this year. If you can’t find these little babies, you can use small Italian eggplants; just slice them lengthwise, make 3-4 shallow cuts lengthwise, and stuff the cuts with the nut mixture.

Here’s the finished dish; no, it’s not particularly beautiful. But they’re spicy and delicious and alien. What’s cooler than that?

Spiced Stuffed Baby Eggplant (Bharvaan Baingan)
(6 servings)

12 Thai eggplant or other “baby” eggplant
¼ Cup ground cashews or peanuts
3 Tablespoons unsweetened coconut
1 teaspoon grated ginger root
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes (preferably Indian)
½ tablespoon salt
3 Tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 Cup water
1 Tablespoon tomato past
Salt to taste
Fistful of chopped cilantro

Use a small sharp knife to cut an “x” through the root end of each eggplant – but don’t cut all the way through. Put them in a bowl of cold water, stir in 1 teaspoon of salt, and let them stand for 30 minutes.

Combine the nuts, coconut, ginger, garam masala, salt, turmeric, chili flakes, salt and 1 T. of the canola oil in the bowl of the food processor. Pulse until fairly fine. You don’t want nut butter, so watch it!

Drain the eggplant and pat dry. Gently pry apart the eggplant sections and stuff each with about ½ teaspoon of the nut mixture. Press closed. Reserve the remaining nut mixture for your sauce.
In a 12” skillet, heat the remaining 2 T. oil over MEDIUM heat.

Arrange the eggplant in a single layer; cover and cook 3 minutes. Uncover and flip the eggplant. Cover and cook 3 minutes longer.

Stir in the remaining nut mixture, water, and tomato paste. Bring the mixture to a simmer; cover and simmer 7-8 minutes, or until eggplant are tender. Taste and adjust sauce seasonings: you may want to thin the sauce with a little more water.

Serve hot or cold, garnished with fresh cilantro.

Cleaning’ The Fridge: Dinosaur Quiche

This entry is the first in a series of blogs that I’ve been contemplating for a while, to wit: what recipes come from ingredients that are just lying around? Some of the most innovative meals around CU come from a rummage through the fridge or from ingredients culled from the weekly clean-out. Our students always tell us that they want to cook with what’s on hand, and we’re no exception. And throwing away food makes my blood pressure rise dangerously. Playing the game of “what if” always yields surprisingly great results. Frugality and Creativity are my muses! Why not invoke them yourself?

Anyway, this week’s forage found the following:

Pie crust (pre-made frozen; don’t know why these were in the freezer, but they’re from Whole Foods, so maybe we were just doing some product testing)
Heavy cream dregs (of course!)
Lacinato kale (aka dinosaur kale)
Odds and ends of feta and Parmesan cheese
Too many eggs

Do you see a pattern developing? It really wasn’t much of a creative leap to quiche; without the pre-made crust, a frittata would probably have been in the works. But I hadn’t made a quiche in a while and thought it would be a nice veggie lunch.

The kale is one of my favorites and it’s very abundant in the market right now. This Italian variety of kale is typical in minestrone; in fact, it’s what makes a true minestrone so great. While the oven preheated, I simply tore the leaves off the stems and steam-sauteed it in a little olive oil and garlic until limp. Very limp. It only took a few seconds to whisk up the milk and eggs with some seasonings. One trick I do use to avoid disgusting soggy crust goo is to scatter some dry breadcrumbs in the bottom of the pie crust. The kale is spread on the bottom and topped with crumbled feta and grated Parm. The egg mixture is poured over and the whole thing popped in the oven for about a half hour.

The result? With a side salad, a pretty sexy use of leftovers. My only gripe: the pie crust was a little too sweet. Okay, it was organic, blah, blah, but for some reason, Whole Foods sweetens their frozen crusts. Well, that’s why we test these things; it is usually just a way of reinforcing what we already know: that our homemade stuff is just that much better.

Dinosaur Quiche
(6-8 servings)

9″ pre-made pie crust
1 small head lacinato kale, trimmed and torn into bite-sized pieces
Olive oil and a smashed clove of garlic
A little water, salt, and pepper
4 large eggs
1/2 Cup milk
1/4 Cup heavy cream
4 ounces crumbled/grated cheese
1 teaspoon each dried mint and oregano
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Sprinkle the bottom of the pie crust with a couple of tablespoons of breadcrumbs. Set the crust on a baking sheet. Set aside.

In a 12″ skillet, heat a couple of dollops of olive oil and the clove of garlic over MEDIUM heat. Throw in a big fistful of kale, and begin stirring. As the kale wilts, add another handful. Keep stirring and adding kale until it’s all in the pan and wilted nicely. Add about 3 Tablespoons water, cover, and steam until the water is gone and the kale is very soft and wilted. Remove the garlic and throw it away. Season with kale with salt and pepper and cool a little.

Spread the kale in the pie crust; top with the cheese.

Whisk the eggs, milk, cream, and seasonings in a bowl. Carefully pour into the crust, filling to just below the rim. Transfer the quiche on its baking sheet to the lower rack of the oven. Bake for 3-40 minutes. Test with a kinfe: it should come out clean. Cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Groovy Banana Bread

Yes, the berries are very nice right now. The peaches are beginning to show themselves, and the plums aren’t far behind. But even if the fruit changes seasonally, bananas rule in my house, a constant in the fruit bowl year ’round. The warm weather, though, ripens these babies so fast that within a day or so, they’re no fun anymore – soft, black, and funky. You can put them in the fridge to delay the inevitable, but cold bananas aren’t the same treat. (Robed in chocolate and frozen, however, is another matter).

So, when the ‘nanners start to go south, I pull out my bread pan and commence baking. This is my favorite banana bread recipe, adapted over the years from a recipe I found in an old vegetarian cookbook back in the days of tie-dyed caftans and love beads. It’s made with whole wheat flour only, along with some wheat germ (wheat germ ruled back in the 70’s), a small amount of brown sugar, a lone egg (which I sometimes skip), and canola oil. With the addition of walnuts, you have a real powerhouse of healthy ingredients here. I sometimes add some mini chocolate chips, but skipped them this time. For a real flashback, try sunflower or pumpkin seeds.

Even easier is to just mix up a couple of batches of the dry ingredients – including nuts and chocolate chips – and store it in freezer bags. That way, it’s easy to mash up the bananas, grab a bag of pre-measured ingredients, and put together a loaf, pronto. Because you know: there are some funky bananas in your future.

It’s not a light and buttery loaf, but a tad dense and incredibly nutty and banana-y. It’s what a healthy snack should taste like. As with any quick bread, it’s better if left to sit until the next day. But do you have that kind of self-restraint? As soon as my husband smells it, he starts brewing a pot of herbal tea. A slice of this bread, a cup of Red Zinger, a little sitar music…close your eyes and be transported back to your first yurt.

Groovy Banana Bread
(1 loaf)

1 Cup ripe bananas, peeled (2 medium bananas are good)
1 large egg
1/2 Cup packed brown sugar
1/3 Cup canola oil
1-1/2 Cups whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 Cup chopped walnuts or mini chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly spray an 8″ x 4″ loaf pan.

In a big bowl, mash the banana and stir in the egg, sugar, and oil until well-mixed. In a smaller bowl, stir together the dry ingredients – along with the nuts or chips, if you’re using them. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ones, mixing just enough to bring the batter together – don’t overmix! This makes a stiff batter.

Spread in the pan and bake for 35-40 minutes. The toothpick test should come out clean. Taking a temp with an instant thermometer is more accurate; you should be in the 200 to 220 degree F. range. Turn out onto a rack immediately.

American Panzanella Salad with Grilled Peaches

American Panzanella Salad with Grilled Peaches
(4 servings)

1/4 Cup white wine vinegar
1/4 Cup honey
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh mint or basil
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1 Tablespoons olive oil
4 large ripe peaches, halved and pitted
4 Roma tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 large shallot, cut into 8 wedges
8” square day-old cornbread, cut into 12 pieces
10-15 fresh basil leaves, sliced

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a sheet with foil.

Whisk together vinaigrette ingredients in a bowl. Taste and adjust seasonings. Set aside.

Arrange cornbread cubes in a single layer on one baking sheet. Toast for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer to a large bowl. Remove the foil from the baking sheet and discard.

Toss the peaches, tomatoes, and shallots with olive oil until coated. Arrange on the same baking sheet, cut side down. Roast for 20-25 minutes or until tender. Let cool, then slice peaches and tomatoes into quarters. Transfer to the bowl with the cornbread.

Just before serving, drizzle the cornbread mixture with vinaigrette and basil. Toss gently and serve.