Thursday, March 17, 2011

Strawberry Cream Pie

Edit : so cool!   What Pi sounds like

It all started on Pi day. You know, 3.14. I was walking around the park, enjoying the beautiful weather and noticing the signs of a returning Spring, like 8 turtles lined up on a log, sunning themselves, and the new, fresh and tender foliage on the trees and in herb pots. It was gosh darn inspirational!

So I went in search of Spring at the market, and guess what? There were berries berries everywhere-y.  (Sorry). After sending the scientist son his annual Happy Pi day greeting, I began my search for a pastry cream recipe. This took longer than I thought it would and before you could calculate Pi out to the 8th decimal place, the day had passed.

Anyway, I intended to make a strawberry cream pie like they used to serve at a tiny little restaurant where I grew up named the Char House. If memory serves me well, it was a family run business. They made a really good burger, but the thing that anyone who ever tasted it remembers about the Char House was their strawberry pie. It was housed in a regular (but super flaky delicious) pie crust, had a layer of pastry cream (like custard or pudding) and gorgeous sliced strawberries. However, I was already late on my Pi Pie so I took a few shortcuts. I intended to make a graham cracker or chocolate cookie crust but I couldn't find the cookies I needed (and I refuse to dismantle that many Oreos) so I bought pre-made crusts. Let's just pretend I made them.

The pastry cream recipe was really easy.

Scald (warm) 3 c milk with the seeds from a vanilla bean.

Vanilla Bean -- split lengthwise and scrape out seeds

All the little tiny vanilla seeds float to the top of the milk

Meanwhile whisk 8 egg yolks and 3/4 c sugar together until light in color.

Stir in 6 T cornstarch into the egg mixture.
Pour 1/3 of the heated milk mixture into the egg mixture and stir it up to temper the eggs. Then pour the egg mixture into the milk pot and cook on medium heat until it comes to a slow boil stirring gently with a whisk the whole time.

Strain your custard mix into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap touching the surface. Refrigerate. This can be done 3 days ahead.
I had expected my yummy pastry cream to set up overnight like a pudding. I was was a bit more liquid than I'd expected  BUT it still tasted wonderful, so I made the Spring Pi Pies anyway. I cleaned the berries and shaved a little dark chocolate and tried my best to make them pretty. (I need a food styling class to go along with a camera and phtography class). Anyway here's how they turned out. The smaller ones are in graham cracker crust and the larger in a chocolate coookie crust. The larger pie was the one presenting a challenge. I decided to freeze it for a bit and then cut it. That worked perfectly.

Thanks so much to my neighbors who helped eat these! I think I got a seal of approval:

Happy Spring!

See you soon

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Meatballs ... and some pasta

We used to travel to New Jersey once or twice a year to visit my adoptive Mother. It wasn't Trenton or Newark, it was the beautiful rolling hills and streams and trees in Hunterdon County very close to Pennsylvania. The dirt there is different. It is gorgeous! That's why it's called the Garden State... but I digress.

Every now and then we had a chance to get out and sample some local cuisine. In a strip shopping center we found a jewel: Frank's. I hear there are places like Frank's all over New Jersey, Italian-American restaurants that are not what experts would call AUTHENTIC Italian but rather, a cuisine that has evolved over time from Italian immigrants using the ingredients available in America.  Frank's had everything you could want, but most impressive on the menu was anything involving Meatballs. During the past 10 years or so any time we sampled a meatball dish anywhere, it was judged as follows: "Are they as good as Frank's?"  So when I watched Ina Garten making spaghetti and meatballs on Barefoot Contessa with the simplest of ingredients, I had to try it.  By the way, I have made a resolution to try to be more like Ina Garten, she is ALWAYS smiling, frequently laughing and seems to genuinely appreciate the people and wonders around her.

Back to the meatballs Adapted from Ina Garten Back to Basics (this recipe makes 16 good sized meatballs)
1 lb ground chuck
1/2 lb ground veal
1/2 lb ground pork
1c fresh bread crumbs
1/4 c dried bread crumbs
2T Italian parsley minced
1 egg beaten
1/2 c grated parmesan
2 tsp salt
1/2 t ground pepper
3/4 c warm water
Ina throws in 1/4 tsp nutmeg... WSH has issues with nutmeg.. that's all I'm sayin.

Mix it together with clean hands but handle it gently. Don't squish it through your fingers, just gently mix and fluff it. Form the meatballs and heat 1/4 in oil in a skillet. I used half olive oil and half canola for a higher smoke point. Cook them about ten minutes flipping over about halfway through. You want to brown the outside.,, not cook them through. When browned remove to a platter. Depending on the size of your skillet you most likely will need to do this in 2 batches to avoid overcrowding the pan.
Once all meatballs are browned, pour off the excess oil but leave the brown bits in the pan. Add a little fresh olive oil to the pan and scrape up the bits. Then add the following:

1c onion diced (cook ten minutes) then add
1 1/2 tsp garlic minced (cook one minute do not brown)
1/2 c red wine (I used veal stock instead)
28 oz can of chopped, diced or pureed tomatoes
1 T chopped Italian parsley
1 1/2 t salt
1 1/2 t pepper
* I added about 2 T tomato paste for body and a little sweetness

Place the browned meatballs in the sauce and cook for 25-30 minutes.

Heat water in a large pot and add salt, then cook your pasta of choice as the meatballs reach the end of cooking.
 I like to marry the pasta with the sauce in the sauce pan for a few minutes before serving. Reserve a cup of pasta cooking water in case you need to thin things out. I used Montebello Linguine and plated with a little extra parsley and some chopped basil leaves, also a sprinkling of parmesan.

Kind of a messy plating but we were hungry!  And the verdict? Are they as good as Franks? I am happy to say they are even better! That's a very good thing because as far as I know, there's nothing like Franks in the Atlanta area.
Happy Meatballing!
See you soon.