Monday, November 30, 2015

Pear and Cranberry Hand Pies

Are you over pie yet?  Have you had your fill over the Thanksgiving weekend?  Gosh I hope not because I've got just one more pie recipe for you.  This one makes a bunch of little pies that can satisfy any afternoon sweet tooth craving.  And maybe help you use up some of those lingering leftovers at the same time.  But first, the story of our unorthodox Thanksgiving....

For the third year in a row we spent our Thanksgiving somewhere other than our home.  We take advantage of the opportunity to travel as often as possible.  It's the best part of living in Europe, I think.  So you can imagine that our Thanksgiving dinners are anything but traditional.  Our first was a so-called "traditional American Thanksgiving" dinner in an Irish pub in Rome.  Just let that irony sink in for a moment.....

It was an experience, let me tell you.  Those Irish folks tried, but it wasn't exactly what we had been hoping for.  So that first Thanksgiving abroad we didn't quite have the most authentic dinner, but we were with friends and the company completely made up for the quality of the food.  Last year we had a quiet dinner (ha!) in one of the busiest brew halls in Munich.  Pretzels, schnitzel, beer, the works. 

For our third Thanksgiving in Europe we went a little further afield.  This year we ate outdoors on a warm evening in the heart of Lisbon.  A very different experience from our first two Thanksgivings, to say the least.  Our table had grilled tri tip and seafood paella on it and we ate to the music of street performers on the mosaic covered sidewalk.  It was one of our best trips so far.  That's not to say that I don't miss the American standards.  I do.  I even picked up a small turkey to roast for us later on this week with maybe one of two of our most favorite sides.  And pie.  There should always be pie.

In the meantime, I'll be dreaming up a new adventure for us next year.  Maybe seafood on Santorini or gyros in the shadow of the Acropolis.  Can you guess where the Navy is sending us next?

Pear and Cranberry Hand Pies
Makes about 15 little pies.  Crust recipe adapted from Food Gift Love by Maggie Batista.
For the printable recipe, click here

These are wonderful little pies for an afternoon snack (or, shhh don't tell, breakfast).  They're a great post-Thanksgiving treat to make because they're just a bit different from all the apple and pumpkin and you can use leftover whole berry cranberry sauce you have lingering in the fridge.  The crust is lovely and flaky and just the tiniest bit nutty.  It's my go-to crust and it even gets my non-crust eating hubby to grab a pie of two.  It's easy to whip up in a food processor but you can also just as quickly mix it by hand.  I didn't add any spices to the pears because I like a nicely spiced cranberry sauce and don't think it needs any more.  But if your cranberries are light on the spice you can add a teaspoon or two of mixed spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves or cardamom.

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour
1 tbs granulated sugar
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 cup (2 sticks or 16 tbs) cold, unsalted butter cut into small pieces
3-5 tbs cold water
3-5 tbs vodka

3/4 lb (about 3 medium) pears, peeled, cored and diced
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tbs lemon juice
1/4 cup whole berry cranberry sauce (try to leave as much juice out of the measuring cup as you can), like this recipe or your own favorite

For finishing:
1 egg
coarse sugar for sprinkling on top

Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the flours, sugar and salt.  Add the butter to the bowl and pulse until the butter is in pea size pieces.  Add 3 tbs of water and 3 tbs of vodka and pulse a few times until the dough begins to clump.  To test if it is ready, pinch a bit between your fingers.  If it holds together it is ready.  If it does not, add another tbs of water and/or vodka (up to 4 tbs) until the dough holds together.  Try not to add too much liquid because it will make the dough tough so only add 1 tbs at a time and no more than 10 tbs total.

Turn the dough onto a clean surface and gently press it into 2 equal sized discs.  Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours.

In the meantime, make the filling.  Add the pears, sugar and lemon juice to a medium saucepan.  Over medium heat cook until the sugar has dissolved and the pears have begun to soften, about 8 minutes.  Remove from the heat and cool completely.  Once cool stir in the cranberry sauce.

Remove one disc of dough from the refrigerator.  Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to 1/4 inch thick.  Using a 4 inch diameter round cutter, cut out as many circles of dough as possible.  Dollop 1 heaping tablespoon of filling in the center of each circle.  Carefully fold one side of the circle over the other and crimp the edge with your fingers or the tines of a fork.  Transfer to the lined baking sheet, placing each pie about and inch from the next.  Re-roll any scraps of dough and continue cutting and filling the pies.  Repeat with the second disc of dough.

Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator to chill the pies for 30 minutes.  While chilling, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Whip up the egg with a splash of water to make an egg wash.  Brush the egg wash over the chilled pies and sprinkle with the coarse sugar.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden and flaky.  Cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Cider-Chai Syrup {From Food Gift Love} + A Giveaway!

Sometimes things just come together in the most meant-to-be ways.  This is one of those times for me, a confluence of several things that I love all wrapped up in one beautiful book-shaped package.

As someone who imagines herself a food writer, I enjoy reading other blogs, magazines and books dedicated to the same.  I read cookbooks cover to cover like I'm reading a great novel.  I borrow stacks of them from the library only to be sad when its time to return them.  I've been guilty of hoarding stacks and stacks of food magazines because there's just one recipe in each of them that I might use sometimes.  Then there's the ever expanding list of food blogs that I love.  And it's not necessarily the recipes that draw me in, it's the voice of the writer.  The way that you can get a sense of the person in the stories they tell and the food that they share.  It's partly why I do what I do- that sense of the person and history I could always feel in the generation of women before me and that was itching to find a home on a page, screen and photograph.

One serendipitous day about a year and half ago I was reading one of the blogs that was delivered to me via email.  This lovely woman with a talent for giving was writing a book and would anyone care to be a part of a community of recipe testers?  I had a moment of pause, thinking about all the reasons that I shouldn't or couldn't- the fact that I was pregnant and exhausted, living outside the US where some ingredients might not be available and just not knowledgeable enough to give feedback on someone else's recipes.  Then realized that this would be an opportunity to have a little fun, maybe use my brain for something other than remembering my kids' schedules and just maybe learn a thing or two about recipe writing and the process of book development.  And the theme of the book interested me- recipes for food gifting- a thing that I happen to enjoy doing with a passion.  So I signed up and was selected.

I was right.  It was all of those things and more.  Because as I tested I learned how to make my own recipes better while helping Maggie perfect hers.  I found recipes that have actually become part of my regular repertoire (batch after batch of the granola that I tested has been in a jar on my counter since the day I first made it) and I became invested in the project.  It became a little bit mine.  So now that the book has become a reality and I have it in my hands, I can't put it down.  Nearly every page is tagged with a reminder that I want to make that recipe, like now.

I started with the one that might just be the most "me".  It's no secret that I am a bit obsessed with tea and have at least a half dozen recipes dedicated to my favorite drink on this page already.  Chai being my favorite way to shake up my tea, I knew that this Cider-Chai Syrup was right up my alley.  Food Gift Love might be a book about gifting, but I'm not sure that I'm going to share this with anyone.  At least not this first batch.  It's all mine.

But I am sharing something besides the recipe today.  I pulled together a few little bits and baubles from my favorite stores here in Germany.  Some pretty little Weck jars, stickers, gift tags and decorations that will give one lucky reader's holiday food gifts a little German flair.  All you have to do is leave a comment telling me about your favorite food gifts to give (or receive!) by Tuesday, November 10.  I'll pick a winner at random and send my gift to you on its way.  Please only US addresses, sending from my military post office is limited! The contest is now closed.  Congratulations to Monique P for winning.

Cider-Chai Syrup
Makes about 3 cups.  Recipe from Food Gift Love, by Maggie Batista
For the printable recipe, click here

This is a lovely little gift to give the tea lover in your life.  Find a pretty jar, a bit of old ribbon and a fun tag to present the syrup in.  Maggie suggests  adding 2 tablespoons of the syrup to a cup of hot water for a delicious warm drink.  A splash of whiskey makes it into a hot toddy.  I didn't happen to have loose chai tea in my cupboard so I used my favorite loose leaf black tea (assam) and added in ground spices typical of chai.  I've added my variation to the recipe for those of you who can't find loose chai tea.

4 cups (32 ounces) apple cider
4 tbs loose chai tea*
1 cup light brown sugar, loosely packed

*If loose chai tea isn't available, you can substitute 4 tbs loose black tea, such as assam, 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground ginger, 1/4 tsp ground cardamom, 1/8 tsp ground cloves and few grinds of black pepper.

Place the apple cider and chai tea in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil and let boil until the liquid is concentrated and reduced by half, about 30 minutes.

Strain out the chai tea through cheesecloth and return the cider to a cleaned saucepan.  Add the sugar to the cider and boil over medium-high heat until dissolved, about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat.

Let the syrup cool at room temperature before bottling.  Strain it through a coffee filter 1 or 2 times to remove any extra tea or spice bits for the cleanest presentation.

The syrup can be stored in the fridge for up to one week.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mom's Chocolate Pear Upside Down Cake

Tradition [truh-dish-uh n] noun : 1. the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction 2. characteristic manner, method, or style

I've been struggling with this post, which is why it has taken so long to arrive in this space.  I keep sitting down to write and coming up blank.  I love this recipe, I love its origins and what it has become.  So what's the problem?  And what does that have to do with the definition of tradition that I wrote above?  Both valid questions.

The thing is, I really don't know.  I can guess, sure, but it's not clear to me yet what the block is about.  Too many things to list here, I suppose- maybe in a future post.  Probably all boiling down to life, kids, responsibilities.  You know, the stuff that distracts from really living fully.  Buuuuut...... I try not to make this blog a personal diary so much as an exploration of the thoughts that run though my day with enough frequency to make them relevant.  It's not a true confessions page though.  So lets keep it lighter, shall we?  

In the meantime I'm trying to overcome my blogging block by going back to my roots.  Which always leads me to my Mom.  Hence the nod to tradition referenced earlier.  The cake I'm offering up today is one of those cakes that I can remember her making since I was a small child.  She grabbed the recipe from a magazine long ago and it was one of those total 70s recipes.  Canned fruit, maraschino cherries, you know the kind.  She did away with the cherries from the start but pretty much stuck to the recipe otherwise.  I thought I might take it a step further (and kick tradition to the curb, if you will) and modernize it just a bit more.  So gone is the can of sugar-laden fruit; replaced instead by gently poached pears who's poaching liquid is also used to make the caramel-ly goodness that is characteristic of an upside down cake.  It's a nod to tradition without being strictly traditional.  And maybe just the thing to kick my blogging butt out of its funk.

Chocolate Pear Upside Down Cake
Makes 1 8x8 inch square or 9 inch round cake.
For the printable recipe, click here.

This update of my Mom's classic is enhanced with poached pears but its still a simple cake at heart.  If you don't have time to poach your own pears, by all means use pears canned in their juices (not in syrup!).  The recipe has pecans in the ingredient list but you won't see them in my photos because my little family doesn't appreciate them.  So I guess they're optional but really great if you have them.

For the pear topping:                   
1/4 cup (4 tbs) unsalted butter           
1/2 cup packed brown sugar               
2 tbs pear poaching liquid                

4 poached pear halves (recipe to follow)                       
1/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans           

For the cake:
1 1/4 cup sugar    

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour                        
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
10 tbs softened butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the 1/4 cup of butter and pour it into a 9 inch square cake pan.  Drizzle the corn syrup over the butter and then sprinkle the brown sugar in the pan. 

Cut the pear halves into 4 equal portion lengthwise and arrange the pieces in a sunburst pattern over the mixture in the baking pan.  Sprinkle the chopped pecans around the pears.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl (fitted to a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer with beaters attached), beat together the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating fully between additions.  Add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk in three additions.  Mix until thoroughly combined.

Pour the batter into the pan gently so as to disturb the pattern of the pears as little as possible.  Bake for 45-55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean of batter or very wet crumbs.  Cool the cake for about 5 minutes and then run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen.  Invert the cake onto a serving platter.  Cut into squares.

Poached Pears
2 ripe but still firm pears
1 quart water
1/2 cup honey

Stir the water and honey together in a 2 quart pot.  Bring the mixture to a boil over a medium heat.  In the meantime, peel, quarter and core the pears.

When the water/honey mixture comes to a boil add the pears.  Turn the heat down to medium and simmer the pears for 20-25 minutes or until the tip of a sharp knife easily pierces the pears.  Remove the pears from the poaching liquid and cool making sure to reserve 2 tablespoons of the poaching liquid.

Pears can be stored in the cooled poaching liquid in the refrigerator until use.