Saturday, June 30, 2012

Pie on a Windowsill by Three Word Phrase

Pie cooling on a windowsill. I love that classic image of Americana. I've referenced it a few times on Nothing-in-the-House and its appeared in other moments in my life. It's in a lyric of 'Pie For Breakfast,' the song my friend Michelle wrote for our old 7-piece all-girl domestic noise band Home Items. It's in this "Pie Thief Hits Baltimore" shenanigans sent in by my friend and Plate-Lickers Club President, Jamie. And I had mini-pies a-cooling on the windowsill when my friends Ben and Angela made their first stop at my house in their going-away scavenger hunt. A photo from that also serves as the Nothing-in-the-House banner and logo!

So when my friend Lars posted this pie-on-the-windowsill edition of the Three Word Phrase comic, I wrote to the author Ryan to see if we could throw it up on the blog. He agreed. You may not want to do any heavy baking this weekend, let alone have the windows open, with temperatures as high as they are, but let this be an inspiration to you to set your pies out to cool on a windowsill one of these days. Or better yet, go find some a-coolin' to a neighborly way.

Friday, June 29, 2012

300th post!

It's the 300th post!!! I think that and the fact that we're celebrating our 7th year means that Nothing-in-the-House is beyond elderly in blog years. It's been fun to go back and see our progression from that first awkward post in 2005 (It reads 2006, but Margaret accidentally deleted some of the early posts and had to restore them) when Margaret and I were just writing for a few friends, or each other. It's also so lovely to have an extensive record of pies and songs and moments shared with friends and family; I think that archive of recipes, words and photos is one of the best parts of having this little site, and one of my primary motivations for keeping it chooglin' along

Since then, we've had lots of guest contributors and interviews with pie mavens around the country, archival photographs and stories, 4 Pi(e) Days (3.14) and over 100 recipes. We've expanded our reach and readership via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, outside writing, press, and baking endeavors (Tarts by Tarts!) and deepened the content with more storytelling, historical context, and other voices. With its community of writers, pals, and readers, the pie blog has also helped me, and hopefully others, grow as a writer, photographer, and baker. And perhaps most indicatively, the Plate-Lickers Club memership is forever increasing and the Pie Enjoyment Zone is occupied regularly!

So thanks for being a part of Nothing-in-the-House in whatever way you are--contributor, reader, baker, or just a pie enthusiast! As always, feel free to get in touch if you have a question, contribution, idea or whatever! And thanks for reading these missives and ogling these pie slices. Here's to many more helpings.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Blueberry Icebox Pie

Blueberry Icebox Pie

We used to go blueberry picking every summer. We'd pile in the red minivan with armloads of tupperware, drive out to the blueberry farm, and collect our buckets, strapping them around out waists with the old belts they had for borrowing. As the berries ker-plinked, ker-planked, ker-plunked into the bottom of the bucket, I imagined that I was a character in Blueberries for Sal, wandering off along the hillside, straying from my mother and happening upon a mama bear. Though these were farmed, high-bush blueberries (which I called bluebellies, since they look like little blue belly buttons), instead of wild low-bush berries, and there were certainly no bears nearby, it was still easy to pretend.

I haven't been berry picking yet this summer, though I have been picking berries out at the farmers' market, and a few weekends ago, it was fresh blueberries at the Takoma Park Market. I brought them home and whipped them up into a blueberry icebox pie, based on Nancie McDermott's recipe for a strawberry icebox pie, which I made about a month ago. As I said before, this recipe is a wonder, because it's super simple and incredibly versatile. Try it with raspberries or peaches, strawberries or bluebellies or some kind of summery combination--it'll always be good. It also requires little stove & oven time and a lot of refrigeration time, so you don't have to mess around with melted-butter crust dough while you sweat it out in your hot kitchen. Though it might not be a real berry-picking summer so far, I hereby declare this the summer of the icebox pie.

Blueberry Icebox Pie with Whipped Cream

Blueberry Icebox Pie
An adaptation of Nancie McDermott's Strawberry Icebox Pie recipe from Southern Pies

For crust:
1 1/4 c. gingersnap crumbs
3 Tblsp. sugar
1/3 c. butter, melted

For filling:
1/3 c. cornstarch
1/3 c. water
5 c. blueberries, ideally fresh (though frozen is okay too!)
1 c. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. lemon zest
2 tsp. butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 c. heavy cream + 1 c. (extra cup is for topping, optional)
1 c. additional fresh blueberries, (for garnish, optional)

For crust:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Put gingersnaps in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until crackers are finely ground into crumbs. Add sugar and melted butter and pulse until well mixed.

2. Pat the buttery crumbs into a 9-inch pie pan, pressing mixture into the bottom and sides to form a pie crust. Place in oven and bake until crust is lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Place on a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature before adding the filling.

For filling:
1. Combine cornstarch and water in a small bowl, whisking until all lumps are dissolved. Set aside.

2. Combine blueberries, sugar, salt, and lemon zest in a medium saucepan. Cook on medium heat until the blueberry mixture comes to a low boil. Stirring often, continue to cook the mixture until a sauce begins to form, about 5 minutes.

3. Re-whisk the cornstarch and water mixture and add it to the saucepan. Continue to cook and stir the sauce until it boils again, becomes thick and berries soften, approximately 3-4 minutes longer. Remove from the heat, stir in the butter and vanilla and set aside to cool to room temperature.

4. Meanwhile, whip 1 1/4c. cream in a large bowl until it becomes very thick and holds round medium peaks. Stir in the blueberry jam mixture and gently it in with the cream until evenly combined. Pour filling into the gingersnap crust and refrigerate for at least 3-4 hours, until pie is very cool and the filling is quite firm. Serve cold, with extra blueberries and topped with additional whipped cream.

Blueberry Icebox Pie Slice
Though this pie was originally intended for a Fort Reno picnic or a post-baseball game (Go Nats) treat, I ended up getting a wicked migraine that lasted for days, so was not able to partake in any of those summer activities, let alone this pie. However, it was at the ready in the fridge when my parents stopped by for a visit last week, and we enjoyed a slice after a delicious pizza dinner out at Two Amy's.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Lime & Raspberry Italian Meringue Pie

Last summer, in the airport on a work trip, I picked up a copy of Bon Appetit--I know because my boarding pass just fell out from between the pages. I normally don't buy magazines, but I had two good reasons. The first was that my chef friend Abra, and her venture, Bare Knuckle Farm was featured inside. With her business partner Jess, the two have established a diversified vegetable, fruit, pig and chicken farm on Jess' grandfather's cherry orchard outside of Traverse City, Michigan. Chef Mario Batali, who has a summer home up there, has taken a liking to them, and featured their stand in his round-up of the Leelanau Penninsla. Aside from friend-support and bragging rights), I was headed up to the farm for Abra & her beau Erik's wedding later in the summer, and wanted the scoop (at least Batali's take) on the area.

The other reason for picking up the magazine, was that it featured pie on the cover, and a few recipes inside that I wanted to try. Though I didn't get around to making any last summer, I kept the issue in a pile of books by my bed, and miraculously remembered I had it last weekend when I was fixin' to make a pie for my friend Marion's birthday.

Luckily there was quite a selection at the farmers' market that day, and though here were no blackberries for this featured Lime and Blackberry Italian Meringue Pie, there were raspberries, so I decided to swap them out for their sister berry in the recipe.

Lime & Raspberry Italian Meringue Pie
Adapted from the August 2011 Bon App├ętit


For lime curd:
1 c. fresh lime juice
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks (reserve whites for the meringue)
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1/2 tsp. unflavored gelatin
3/4 c. heavy cream, chilled

For raspberry compote:
1 c. fruity red wine, like Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon
1/2 c. sugar
3 c. fresh raspberries (about 1 1/2 pints)

For meringue:
3 large egg whites, room temp. (can use whites from the yolks used for the curd)
1 c. sugar
2 Tblsp. corn syrup
1/8 tsp. salt
1 c. raspberries (about 1/2 pint, optional, for garnish)

For crust:
1. Prepare half of the Nothing-in-the-House pie crust as per the directions. Chill dough at least 1 hour before rolling out and fitting into a greased and floured 9-inch pie pan. Return bottom crust to fridge for about 20 minutes while you prepare the rest of the pie and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Once you've let the pie crust chill (perhaps you've made the lime crust in the meantime), using a fork, prick chilled crust all over the bottom. Line crust with parchment paper and pie weights or dried beans and bake for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, remove weights, reduce temperature to 350 degrees F and bake until crust is golden brown, about 20 minutes more. Let crust cool completely.

For lime curd:
1. Stir lime juice, eggs, egg yolks, and sugar together in a medium metal bowl or top of a double boiler.  Set bowl over a large saucepan of simmering hot water  and whisk until mixture has thickened and thermometer reads 175 degrees F, about 15 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and add butter, cut into Tblsp. size pieces. Whisk between each addition to melt and blend. Once curd has cooled, place plastic wrap directly onto its surface, and chill in the fridge until cold, about 2 hours (Can be made about 2 days ahead).

2. Meanwhile, sprinkle gelatin over 2 Tblsp. of water in a small bowl. Whisk briefly and let stand until gelatin is soft, about 10 minutes. Set aside. With an electric mixer, beat cream until stiff peaks form. Add gelatin mixture to the cream and continue beating until just before stiff peaks form. Fold whipped cream into lime curd, cover and chill. 

For raspberry compote:
1. Pour red wine, sugar, and 1/2 c. water in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over high heat. Once at a gentle simmer, reduce heat to medium and simmer until mixture is reduced to about 1/2 c., about 20-25 minutes. Once reduced, let cool.

2. Add 3 c. of berries to the mixture and gently fold to coat. Spread the compote in an even layer over the baked pie crust. Then spoon lime curd over the berries, and chill for 1 hour.

For the meringue:
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form and set aside. 

2. Stir sugar, corn syrup and 1/4 c. water in a medium saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves. Insert a candy thermometer in the saucepan and increase heat to medium-high. Boil without stirring, occasionally swirling pan, until thermometer registers 238 degrees F, 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. Meanwhile, beat whites again briefly until soft peaks form. Slowly pour hot sugar mixture down the side of the bowl into the whites and beat until meringue is firm and has a glossy sheen.  Continue to beat until cool, about 4 minutes. Spoon meringue over the lime curd, leaving about a 1-inch border. Sculpt decoratively with the back of a spoon and tuck 1 c. raspberries in and around the meringue.

4. Bake pie until meringue is toasted, about 3-5 minutes.  Chill pie for about a half-hour before serving, if you can wait that long! Keep in the fridge until it's gone.

I like the simple but genius idea employed here--to add a fresh fruit compote bottom layer and berry garnish to a classic meringue. This is another one of those recipes that could be used with so many different variations--lemon meringue with blueberry compote! rhubarb meringue with strawberry compote! strawberry meringue with rhubarb compote! chocolate meringue with cherry compote! So many delicious combinations for sampling.

A word of caution for this pie though--it is time consuming. Make sure to plan ahead and consider making the dough and lime curd the day ahead. All the steps made me almost miss Marion's birthday picnic in the park!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sour Cherry Pie

It's getting to be that gloriously overwhelming time of year when just about everything is ripe. Just last week at the Mt. Pleasant Farmers' Market there were strawberries, raspberries, nectarines, apples, and sweet and sour cherries. So much fruit, so much pie-making potential. I wandered back and forth amongst the stalls a few times, caught, as I often am, in indecision. I bought some raspberries (I'll show you what I made with them soon), and then remembered that I had some dear Michigan friends coming to play a show at my house on Monday. Of course! Cherries. I had to get tart cherries.

It is a little-known (at least seems to be when I tell people) that Michigan, Traverse City, specifically is the cherry capital of the world. The mitten state grows about 75% of the nation's tart cherries. Thus growing up not too far from the capital, I was spoiled with an extended season of the fruit and all their products--jams and pies, salsas and syrups. This year, though, the Michigan cherry crop is sadly depleted, due to extreme spring weather, and down here in the mid-atlantic, tart cherries are harder to come by and the season is rather fleeting. All the more reason, then, to buy a few pints at the Farmers' Market, bring them home, put them in a pie to share it with true cherry natives. Just easing another bout of that Michigan summer nostalgia I've been feeling lately.

I perused a few different recipes and borrowed a little bit from each for my own sour cherry pie rendition. I highly recommend getting your hands on a cherry pitter--before I had one I'd pit them by hand, which was hand-staining and time-consuming, especially when you consider that there about 250 cherries in each cherry pie. A lattice top is traditional, but you could get creative, or opt for a standard double crust if you're pressed for time and not up for all that weaving.

Sour Cherry Pie
An amalgamation of several recipes including Lottie + Doof & Martha Stewart

Nothing-in-the-House pie crust recipe
1 c. sugar
3 Tblsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise and seeds scraped and reserved (vanilla bean is expensive, so if you're being frugal, substitute 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract)
1 tsp. lemon zest
6 c. fresh sour cherries, pitted (cherry pitter highly recommended!)
2 Tblsp. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 Tblsp. milk
Turbinado sugar (for dusting--can use granulated sugar, if necessary)

1. Prepare pie crust as per the directions here. Refrigerate dough for approximately 1 hour. Once chilled, roll out 1/2 of pie crust and fit into a 9-inch greased and floured pie pan. Return crust to the fridge while you prepare the lattice & filling.

2. Roll out remaining dough into a long rectangle. Using a ruler as a guide, use a knife or pastry wheel to cut 10-16 (depending on the size) strips of equal width for the lattice top. Place strips on a piece or parchment and refrigerate until cold, about 10 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Meanwhile, combine sugar, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, vanilla bean seeds, and lemon zest in a small bowl. Add cherries and toss with the dry mixture. Remove crust from the fridge and pour in the cherry filling. Dot the top of the filling with butter.

4. To make the lattice, lay 5-8 strips parallel across the pie and fold back every other strip. Weave the same number of strips perpendicular to the first strips, alternating over and under. Trim strips so that they leave a 1-inch overhang. Fold bottom crust over the lattice and tuck the excess under. Seal and flute edges decoratively. Brush lattice with the 1 Tblsp. milk and dust with Turbinado sugar.
5. Bake until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling, approximately 60-75 minutes. Once done, remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. Serve slightly warm with a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream.

On Monday night, after going back and forth whether to have the show in the backyard under storm-threatening skies, we settled into the Dollhouse living room for two sets of traditional music--ragtime jazz and string band numbers from Baltimore's Bumper Jacksons, and ballads, old-time tunes and such sweet harmonies from Michigander's Red Tail Ring. Though Michael and I have been friends for about eight years now and I've seen him play in so many bands--ska and loud bluegrass and quiet singer-songwriter, I think he's found his place here in this extremely tight and talented and duo.

After the show, I warmed the pie, and we dished it up with vanilla bean ice cream for the bands and remaining friends. The flavor was tart and just-sweet and complex, and just perfect. So good, that after Michael devoured the last sliver of a slice the next morning, I caught him unabashedly running his fingers through the leftover juice. The pie and pals and ping-pong (a rousing around-the-world session the next day) was the perfect antidote to my summer Michigan longing. Now I think it's just been postponed until fall.

Monday, June 11, 2012

"Levon Helm's" Lemon Icebox Pie

Levon Helm's Lemon Icebox Pie

I've seen The Last Waltz at least half a dozen times now. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down was a favorite sing-along selection in college. I'd always hoped to make it to A Midnight Ramble--my friends' farm where I spend a lot of time is right across the river--but the closest I got was a friend producing an album in the barn. I put The Band in heavy rotation as soon as I heard that Levon Helm was sick, and his death hit me hard, or as much as the passing of a personally-influential music legend who you've never met can.

Though I'd had This Wheel's On Fire on my shelf for a while, I didn't start to read it until after that sad April day. Prior to all the sex, drugs, and rock and roll (to put it simply, but accurately) in The Band's scintillating autobiography, there is this little story amid Levon's description of his upbringing in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas:

"Mom and Arlena would bake up a couple of big cakes: one coconut, one pecan. On special occasions the two moms would collaborate on lemon icebox pies, their own invention. They'd beat two cans of Pet milk until it was whipped to foam, adding sugar and lemon juice until it congealed. Then they'd freeze it in the icebox. I loved this beyond belief. It was so sweet your mouth would pucker. After I was old enough to work, they'd have to make three pies: one for each family and one for Lavon [Levon's birth name]. And I'd guard mine. Then we'd make the radio the main feature, maybe play cards, visit."

As soon as I read that, I wanted to make a similar lemon icebox pie--so sweet and tart your mouth would pucker-- in tribute to the lone American (and Southerner) of the legendary group. I wonder if that was indeed the actual recipe--nothing but sweetened condensed milk, sugar and lemon juice. Perhaps I'll try that minimalist variety at some point, but this time I opted to add a few other ingredients, and turned to Martha Hall Foose, via Francis Lam for guidance. Ms. Foose, as you'll remember, is the Mississippi chef who invented the genius sweet tea pie. With that serving as a fine recommendation, along with Francis' glowing review of her lemon icebox pie, I didn't think I could go wrong. I swapped 'nilla wafers for the graham cracker crust, upped the lemon content for a higher pucker-factor, and made a few other adjustments. Despite a few more ingredients than Mrs. Helm's, it's still a delightfully simple pie to make.

Levon Helm's Lemon Icebox Pie

"Levon Helm's" Lemon Icebox Pie
Adapted from Martha Foose via Salon

1 1/2 c. 'nilla wafer crumbs
1/8 c. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon (I ended up not using this because we were out!)
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 14-oz cans sweetened condensed milk (Pet brand if you're trying to be authentic)
4 large egg yolks
2 packed tsp. lemon zest (add more for more pucker)
2/3 c. fresh lemon juice
2 c. heavy cream
6 Tblsp. confectioner's sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In the bowl of a food processor, combine 'nilla wafer crumbs, sugar, cinnamon, and butter and pulse until well mixed. Pat the buttery crumbs into a 9-inch pie pan, pressing mixture into the bottom and sides to form a crust. Place in oven and bake for 6-8 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool.
2. In a large bowl, whisk milk, yolks, lemon zest & lemon juice until well combined. Pour lemon filling into cooled crust and bake for 10 minutes or until set. Remove from the oven and let cool. Once at room temperature, chill pie for about 30 minutes.

3. When pie is chilled through, whip cream and confectioner's sugar until stiff peaks form. Spoon the whipped cream on top of the pie and mound decoratively. Chill for an additional hour. Serve cold.

Levon Helm's Lemon Icebox Pie

Put The Big Pink on the record player, The Last Waltz (& Coal Miner's Daughter) on your TV screen, and Levon's favorite pie in the fridge, and you've got yourself the perfect tribute to this departed rock hero. Hell, you've got yourself the perfect night! Though there was no Band a playin', on the night we drove this Dixie pie down (terrible I know, I KNOW!), there were people a singin' and a bonfire in the country, a taco moon, and a field a light with disco fireflies. I might have even heard some Spike Jones on the Box.

Levon Helm's Lemon Icebox Pie with Whipped Cream

Friday, June 08, 2012

All Around the Mulberry Tree

It was a big week for me and my writerly pursuits. Both pieces I have been working on came out within two days of each other. The first one, for The Hairpin, was a quippy real-life rom-com about dating a Civil War reenactor. Aside from a hardtack reference and a somewhat era-appropriate supper description, it really has nothing to do with food. The second though, "The Mulberry's the Worst Berry There Ever Was" for Gilt Taste (with its wonder editor Francis Lam), is an ode to the little pesky berry that launched this whole pie making obsession and is essentially responsible for the existence of this here blog.

As I've talked a bit about before in Why I Like Pie, and as you'll read in the Gilt Taste piece, I started baking pies the summer after graduating college. I was discovering all these mulberry trees (and some black raspberry bushes) all over Ann Arbor, and used the free fruit to fill as many pies as I could make, often with other gal pals baking right along side me. When I moved to Vermont after that summer, my friend Margaret suggested we start a pie blog so we could still stay in touch via our baking endeavors. Et puis, voila.

I had such a nostalgia for mulberries, that it wasn't until I heard this recording, from the Coal River Project of the American Folklife Center (after scouring the Library of Congress archive for "mulberry" content) that I started to question their merits. Despite their drawbacks though, my feelings for the fruit remain, as do all the things that the mulberry set in motion. Here's a little musical ode to it that I came across in that mulberry search. It's a little torchy and a little cheesy, but somehow that feels right.

Cranberry Chess Pie

Fig Pistachio Tarte Tatin

Peppermint Pattie Tart

Whiskey & Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake

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