CHERRY CHEERWINE PIE

20th August 2016

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This is our sixth Saturday in North Carolina. Each one (minus last week when I had my wisdom teeth removed) has been spent walking to the co-op grocery for biscuits and iced coffee then to the local farmers’ market. We stock up on milk, beer, dry goods, and less local produce at the co-op, and then pack our woven basket (a local preference in lieu of reusable bags or canvas totes) with farm eggs, blueberries for Aves, and lots of tomatoes. Last week, without our normal farmers’ market trip, we were swayed into buying a few too many pounds of on-sale late-season cherries at the co-op. With my sore gums and Aves lack of teeth, we couldn’t very well manage to eat them as is. So we did what we normally do in crisis situations: we make pie.

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Bottles of local North Carolina Cheerwine , the Old North State equivalent to Texas’ Dublin Dr Pepper, had been calling from the back corner of the fridge for days. With its subtle cherry flavor – like real honest-to-goodness cherry flavor, not candied and saccharine – I figured it might be a nice little twist on the traditional cherry pie. And then things went full Carolina when my new Ateco alphabet cutters arrived in the mail. Who knew that my two favorite words in the correspondents’ vocabulary are a kind of state saying here: Cheers, y’all.

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Note that the Cheerwine serves as a source of sweetener AND an acid in this recipe. If your cherries are extra ripe and therefore extra sweet, reduce the amount of sugar.

cherry cheerwine pie
makes one 9-inch pie

1 bottle of Cheerwine
one recipe double-crust pie dough
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons KAF ClearJel
about 2 pounds ripe cherries, pitted and halved
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg + splash of water
sanding sugar

Set oven to 400 degrees.

Roll out half of the dough into a large circle and cover the bottom of the pie pan. Roll out the second half and cut out steam vents on top (I used my alphabet cutters, but simple slits or holes will do fine, too). Set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, reduce the entire bottle of Cheerwine until thick and syrupy and about only 1/4 cup remains. Set aside.

While the Cheerwine reduces, prepare the filling. In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, salt, and clearjel. Add the cherries and toss to combine. Add the slightly cooled Cheerwine and the vanilla and fold together with a wooden spoon. Pour the cherry filling into the pie shell and smooth into an even layer. Carefully place the second piece of rolled dough over the filling. Trim the edges as necessary and seal the two crusts together with the tines of a fork. Brush the crust with the egg wash and sprinkle with sanding sugar.

Place the pie on a large sheet pan in the middle of the oven. Bake for 15 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350 and continue to bake for another 45 minutes or until the crust is a rich golden brown and the filling begins to bubble. Let the pie cool completely before cutting.

 

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PIMM’S CUP CAKE W/ BOOZY BUTTERCREAM

13th August 2016

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The Olympics are on in the other room and Aves is obsessed with watching the swimmers and gymnasts (here’s hoping she has more grace and agility than either of her sports-challenged parents). There’s flashes of American-earned gold, silver, and bronze and supercuts of slow-motion victory smiles with the best parts of the national anthem in the background; and here I am in the other room watching The Great British Baking Show and dreaming of Pimm’s Cups. I love America and I root for all our folks every time I watch, but watching Simone Biles slay her floor routine after I just licked leftover buttercream off the spoon is just a bit sad. So just know, I’m very much Team USA, but currently wrist-deep in boozy Pimm’s laced buttercream and quite happy about it.

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I shot this cake earlier this summer and have dreamt about it over and over again ever since. Tangy buttermilk cake, soaked with Pimm’s and layered with citrusy Pimm’s laced buttercream, and then topped with traditional Pimm’s Cup fixins’. I really tried to figure out where to put the cucumber, but saved it for the side. It’s like having a side of vegetables (erm, fruit?) with your cake. Simone would be proud, I think.

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So here’s to international cooperation and conviviality! I’m sure there’s some Brit out there, equally nation-proud, but baking up a Boston Cream Pie and watching old episodes of America’s Test Kitchen in between her favorite Olympic events. Totally possible.

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pimm’s cup cake with boozy buttercream
makes one 6-inch layer cake

For the cake:
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons, sugar
1 1/4 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons Pimm’s
1/4 cup boiling water

Set the oven 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 6-inch cake tins.

In a large bowl, combine the sugar, flour, salt, and soda. In another bowl combine the egg, buttermilk, coconut oil, vanilla, and Pimm’s. Add the wet mixture to the dry. Add the boiling water and stir until just incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between the cake tins and bake in the middle of the oven until the top of the cakes spring back when touched or a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 25 minutes or so. Cool in pan for a few minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the buttercream frosting and assembly:
1 cup butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon Pimm’s
1 teaspoon orange water
salt
grated orange rind
additional Pimm’s for each layer
lemon and orange slices, cucumber slices, strawberries, mint leaves

In a large bowl, combine the butter and powdered sugar and beat with an electric mixer until lightly and fluffy. Add the Pimm’s, orange water, salt and orange rind and mix for a minute more to incorporate. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to use.

Assemble the cake: Using a sharp knife, even cake layers if necessary. Gently dab each layer with the extra Pimm’s until slightly soaked. Place bottom layer on plate, top with about 1/4 of the frosting, and use an offset spatula to smooth. Add the second layer and repeat with another 1/4 of the frosting. Add the final layer and the remaining frosting, smoothing the buttercream down the sides and on the top into an even layer. Arrange citrus slices, berries, and mint leaves on top and let set for at least one hour before serving. Serve with chilled Pimm’s Cups, obviously.

 

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HAM + PEA CHEESY GRITS

4th August 2016

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I’m fairly certain one of new year’s resolutions year before last was to eat more grits. I’m sad to say I didn’t quite fulfill that goal then, but I’m making up for lost time now. Frankly, I’m being forced to now that we live in the land of grits and honey (not together, mind you) in the smokey woods of North Carolina. Though grits for breakfast still isn’t my cup of morning tea, I’ve been keen on savory grits any other time of day. Grits with salsa, grits with stock, grits with lots of spices, and, most especially, grits with cheese.

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This recipe came about before we even moved south, back in my old New England kitchen where grits had to be imported and kept in a special jar in the freezer so other cooks wouldn’t confuse them for regular old cornmeal. But where the pea shoots twirl around their stakes long through summer, because it doesn’t get too hot and sultry. Now that I’m firmly planted in the south, I figured it was time for this sort-of, kind-of throw-back post. A nod to my recent Northern home and a warm cheesy embrace for my new Southern roots.

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ham + pea cheesy grits
serves 2

2 cups water
1/2 cup grits
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
salt and pepper to taste
1 ham steak, cut into small 1/4-inch or so cubes
1 cup fresh English peas, shelled
1 cup fresh pea tendrils and shoots, washed and patted dry

In a saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the grits and turn the heat to low, simmering and stirring occasionally until the grits are thick and tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add the butter and cheese and stir to combine. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover until ready to serve.

In a hot cast iron skillet, add the ham cubes, browning on all edges, about 4 to 6 minutes. Add the fresh peas and sautee for another couple minutes until the peas are just tender.

Assemble: Divide the grits between two shallow bowls. Top with additional shredded cheese, ham, peas, and a pinch of pea tendrils and shoots. Serve hot.

 

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WEEKLY SUNDRIES + TEA ICE CREAM FLOATS

24th July 2016

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sundries, n.

Pronunciation: /ˈsʌndrɪz/
Etymology: plural of sundry adj. used subst.: compare odds n.
Definition: Small articles of a miscellaneous kind; esp. small items lumped together in an account as not needing individual mention.

Though its definition can be a little misleading, I really enjoy the term sundries. It fits well within the Southern vernacular and seems to be a word that is slowly coming back into style. It has an assortment of applications and more or less means a collection of bits and pieces. Which is exactly what this post entails. Bits and pieces from around the world, web, and my frame of reference that I thought might be good to share. I’ve always been fond of little collections – stamps, vintage books, bottle caps, ticket stubs – this is just another one of many (albeit a much less cluttered curation). This week’s sundries are all fairly recent pieces of news, but sometimes an old standby might slip through. The term weekly is also subject to change because weekly is sometimes just too aspirational.


Well it’s been a while since I posted one of these and quite a bit has changed since the last one in the spring. For starters, we just finished moving down to North Carolina. While the husband and I are relishing in the warm weather, and the nice Chaco-tan our feet have developed, my little kitchen assistant isn’t so keen on the heat. I blame it on her being born in New England. In attempts to keep cool, we’ve been sampling a few flavors of Tea-rrific Ice Cream and turning them into ice cream floats with small batch sodas and seltzers.

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The tea-rrific ice cream tastes a bit lighter than normal ice cream (I credit the tea) so we paired the four flavors we had with similarly lighter kinds of soda like English-style carbonated lemonade, sharp ginger beer leftover from making southern mules, and flavored seltzers.

Our favorite combinations:

chamomile ice cream + fizzy elderflower lemonade
ginger green tea matcha ice cream + ginger beer
chunky london mist (chocolate and earl grey) ice cream + cream soda
green tea matcha ice cream + lime seltzer

Simply fill a cold glass with a couple scoops of ice cream, top with soda, and add another scoop of ice cream and a straw. I recommend making a small glass of each flavor and have yourself a flight of floats.

Thanks for sharing your awesome ice cream with us, Tea-rrific!

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We’ve been in North Carolina a whole week and have eaten fairly high on the hog (I’m still getting used to these slightly different pig-barbecue related phrases, so bear with me). Some of our favorite places so far (in case you are taking a whirlwind trip to our neck of the woods anytime soon):

Mama Dips for true southern cooking with the option to add gravy and/or a piece of fried chicken (priced per cut) to your meal.
Johnny’s Gone Fishing for hot biscuits, iced coffee, and live music and cookouts on weekends with guest chef Sheldon Hall.
Allen and Son for real North Carolina barbecue, which isn’t anything like what we grew up with, but somehow it already feels like homecooking.
Weaver Street Market co-op owned grocery for all your crunchy pantry needs as well as Avery’s new favorite sweet potato muffin.

farmers market finds from left: asian water spinach, purple garlic, local corn, purple new potatoes, and tomatoes, NC whole grain miche, purple hull crowder peas.

farmers market finds from left: asian water spinach, purple garlic, local corn, purple new potatoes, and tomatoes, NC whole grain miche, purple hull crowder peas.

It took less than 24 hours to meet most of our neighbors, some of whom keep chickens, and everyone is eager to give us tips about local breweries, great cafes, and the best spots for barbecue. Whenever anyone finds out what I plan to study during my PhD, they all say the same thing: you MUST go to the Carrboro Farmers’ Market on Saturday. And so we did and now we have all the local produce, a couple new friends, an egg-guy, a cheese-lady, and the prettiest loaf of bread I ever did see. There were less ornate loaves at this booth (wonderfully called Chicken Bridge Bakery, named after a creek-crossing I’ve been told is great for kayaking), and less expensive ones, too; but this perfectly dusted loaf just hollered “welcome to North Carolina, y’all.”
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HALLOWEEN IN JULY | ALL THINGS PUMPKIN

19th July 2016

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If given the opportunity, I would spend my rent money on pumpkins. I would gather them around me, piled on top of each other, and create a little squash igloo. There’d be a pie pumpkin tea kettle and little penny pumpkin tea cups, one of those giant state fair pumpkins as a bath tub, and tall skinny green veined ones tucked with candles for light. This past fall I partially fulfilled my dreams on an 8-month pregnant whim, buying all the pumpkins in all the sizes, shapes, and colors my car could afford, carrying each on top of my big round belly. We tucked pumpkins everywhere, filling the porch, the kitchen counters, the living room bookshelves, and more. The week of Halloween, one week from my due date, my Dad and I put up pounds upon pounds of pumpkin – cooked down in our big antique cast-iron Dutch oven that I pretend is a cauldron – with visions of a little ginger baby gumming on homemade pumpkin puree in a few months time.

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Fast forward 8 months: that little ginger baby is eating anything and everything in sight, we’re packing up to move back south, we had been eating and drinking out at our favorite New England haunts one last time, and forgot about our stockpile of local pumpkin waiting in the freezer.

And that’s how our final dinner party theme – Halloween in July – came to be. Follow menu below, just add smudge sticks and a viewing or two of Hocus Pocus.

the menu
pumpkin bread
white bean + pumpkin hummus w/ spicy chorizo
chile & cinnamon dusted homemade tortilla chips
pumpkin spice roasted nuts
pumpkin mac-n-cheese w/ toasted pepitas + black sesame seeds
fresh pumpkin pie
pumpkin & spiced rum granita w/ molasses cream + cacao nibs

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pumpkin bread
I like this recipe from King Arthur Flour.


white bean + pumpkin hummus w/ spicy chorizo
1 can cannellini beans
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
2 cloves garlic
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 link spicy chorizo, cut into small bite-sized pieces and heated in a skillet

Blend the beans, pumpkin, garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor until smooth. Add a tablespoon or so of oil and blend for a few seconds more. Pour into a bowl. Top with a pool of olive oil and the warmed chorizo.


chile & cinnamon dusted homemade tortilla chips
corn tortillas, cut into quarters
chile powder
cinnamon
salt
oil

Set oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly coat a large baking sheet with oil. Spread tortilla quarters evenly over the pan. Lightly brush each quarter with oil. Sprinkle with chile powder, cinnamon, and salt. Bake until crispy. Cool on a wire rack until ready to serve.


pumpkin spice roasted nuts
1 1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup macadamias
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 heaping teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
salt

Set the oven to 400 degrees.

In a bowl, combine the pecans, macadamias, honey, oil, and spices, tossing to evenly coat. Spread in an even layer over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast in the oven until the honey bubbles and begins to caramelize, about 15 minutes or so. Stir and toss the mixture during cooking if necessary. Let cool in the pan, break into pieces, and serve.


pumpkin mac-n-cheese w/ toasted pepitas + black sesame seeds
1 pound of macaroni, cooked al dente
4 tablespoons butter
2 cups pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 to 2 cups cream or half and half
2 cups sharp cheddar
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup pepitas, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds

In a heavy bottomed dutch oven (big enough to hold all the pasta) set over medium high heat, add the pumpkin and cook – continuously stirring – until some of the moisture has evaporated. Add the butter and stir until melted and completely combined with the pumpkin.

Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and whisk to combine, cooking for about one minute. While continuing to whisk, add the cream, creating a smooth sauce. Add the cheese in small handfuls, stirring until melted. Add the pasta and gently toss to coat in the cheese and pumpkin sauce. Turn off the heat. Add more cream or half and half if the pasta soaks up too much of the sauce and seems too dry.

Evenly sprinkle the bread crumbs, pepitas, and sesame seeds over the top of the pasta. Place under a high broiler until the bread crumbs just begin to brown – moving the dutch oven around as necessary. Serve hot.


fresh pumpkin pie
this is my go-to recipe here.


pumpkin & spiced rum granita w/ molasses cream + cacao nibs
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup spiced rum
1 1/2 cups pureed pumpkin
1/2 cup heavy cream
pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon molasses
cacao nibs

In a small saucepan, bring the water, sugar, and rum to a simmer and cook until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is syrupy. Add in the pumpkin and stir to combine. Pour into a large flat dish (like a cake tin) and freeze for one hour. Check the mixture and scrape any formed ice crystals with a fork. Continue to check on the mixture every 45 minutes to an hour until completely frozen and all the crystals are scraped up.

Combine cream, sugar, and molasses in a mason jar and shake until a soft-peak whipped cream forms. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Divide granita into cups or dishes, top with a spoonful of molasses cream, and a sprinkle of cacao nibs.

 

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I think I just found my new favorite holiday.