Zeny’s Chicken à la King Hand Pies

Kristina

Today, I’m so excited to have my dear friend Kristina Alto as my guest. I met Kristina almost three years ago, when we were working for the same company in downtown Chicago. We worked in the same department and hit it off quickly, bonding over our love of food, pop culture, and our not-so-secret dream of leaving our office jobs for careers we were more passionate about. Kristina has a dual degree in international politics and political science from Loyola, but while pursuing jobs in that field, she “began craving something else,” she told me. “I found that I really wanted to do something creative, that I wanted to make something. I found an outlet for that in writing and baking.”

She has always loved being in the kitchen. “I remember begging my mom to let me wash the dishes after dinner when I was young and didn’t know what I was doing,” she recalled. “I still remember the first thing I tried making on my own – some sort of weird chip dip that was more mayonnaise than anything else. But I was probably 9 and anything tasted good on Ruffles potato chips.” Amen.

Baking, on the other hand, is newer to her. “I started playing around with scones. From there, I found more recipes I wanted to explore.” Her husband’s enthusiasm helped her follow her interest. “Conrad encouraged me to take the plunge and just go for it. I can’t say what made me decide to go to pastry school as opposed to jumping right into a kitchen but I’m so grateful that I did.” At the end of 2015, she left her office job, and by early 2016, she was enrolled at the French Pastry School, studying to become a pastry chef. “School was the perfect transition from cubicle to kitchen,” she told me. After finishing her program, Kristina started working for one of Chicago’s most popular bakeries, Hoosier Mama Pie Company.

Kristina and I have been trying for over a year to get together to cook. A while back she told me that she was interested in making one of her Filipino grandmother’s recipes. There are two recipes that Kristina remembers especially fondly: Puto, a Filipino steamed rice cake, and Chicken a la King. “I can still picture her in the kitchen of our Skokie apartment, standing at the stove while I sat at the table – or under it,” she said.

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Her grandmother, Zenaida (Zeny for short), grew up in Quezon City, in the Phillipines, the second youngest of eleven siblings. Kristina told me, “She loved to sew and she was incredibly dedicated to family – especially to my mom and uncle. She made it a point to visit us in Chicago as often as she could and I can’t tell you how much I loved having her around. Her stays always meant lots of great food and new play clothes. She was a whiz on the sewing machine so I always had a solid stash of fun play clothes – they were usually ridiculous skirts.” A girl after my own heart.

The recipe that Kristina decided to share with me and you is Chicken à la King, which is often served over rice, or the way Zeny made it, served with slices of French bread. “It was one of my absolute favorites because not only was it delicious but it was pretty much the only meal we could have without rice.” Instead of either rice or bread, Kristina wanted to bring her Hoosier Mama experience to the table and try to bake the mixture into a hand pie.

She told me, “Chicken à la King is definitely not a family recipe but I wish I knew how my grandma came by it. When my mom moved to America from the Philippines, my grandma gave her a Filipino cookbook. It was a slim paperback with a bright yellow cover with brown pages and she used it every time she came to visit us in Chicago, writing notes and recipes in the blank spaces. Her Chicken à la King recipe is handwritten in one of the blank pages and my mom had to text it to me, with a few clarifications.” The ingredient “cherry wine” Kristina decoded to mean “sherry wine.” She summed up her choice: “Chicken à la King is demonstrative of my grandma’s love of cooking and trying a new recipe, and the hand pie dough is a nod to my own kitchen adventures. Strangely, even though this isn’t a Filipino dish, it’s what I always think of when I remember her.”

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Chicken à la King Hand Pies

Ingredients:
Dough:
Enough pie dough for two two-crust pies. You can use your favorite recipe. I provide a link to instructions on how to make the dough we used, below.
Chicken à la King:
2-3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp flour
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup evaporated milk, scalded
1/4 tsp salt
Black pepper, to taste
1 cup cooked chicken, diced
1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup pimiento peppers, diced
1/4 cup green peppers, diced
1 egg yolk, slightly beaten
2 tbsp sherry wine
Egg wash:
1 egg
1 tbsp milk or cream

Instructions:

For this recipe, Kristina used the Hoosier Mama Pie Company pie dough.

Melt butter in saucepan.

Add chicken stock, flour, and milk gradually, stirring constantly. Cook slowly until thick. Season with salt and pepper.

Add chicken, mushrooms, peppers, and pimientos.

Blend in egg yolk and wine, and continue cooking until the mixture thickens.

Allow to cool in the pan while you roll out your dough. Roll the dough out to about 1/8-inch thick. Using a bowl, trace 5-inch circles in the dough and use a knife to cut them out. You’ll have enough dough for 12-15 of these.

Line one large cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Beat an egg and milk in a small bowl. Brush the egg wash all over one side of one of the rounds, particularly coating the edges of the circle. Spoon about 2 tbsp of the Chicken à la King mixture, being careful not to overfill. Fold the circle over, pressing the edges together, and sealing the edge with a fork. Place the rounds on the parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Continue with all of the remaining dough rounds. Place the hand pies into the freezer for 15 minutes, while you preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Bake the hand pies for 30 minutes, or until golden brown, turning the pan 180 degrees about halfway through.

Allow to cool, and enjoy!

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These were really, really delicious, and Kristina and I put away several before they had even cooled. But my favorite part of making this recipe with Kristina came after we finished the filling. Kristina told me that she had never made this recipe, and hadn’t had it since her grandma made it. She said she was worried it wouldn’t turn out. After we mixed everything together, she tasted a bite and said, “Oh! That’s exactly like I remember it!” It was so nice to see how happy she was to remember that flavor. That’s the magic of a family recipe!

Thanks so much for sharing your grandma’s recipe with all of us, Kristina!

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L.M. Montgomery & Mock Cherry Pie

Lucy_Maud_MontgomeryLike many girls, I was a big fan of the Anne of Green Gables books growing up. My grandma had the movies starring Megan Follows. And I think those old VHS tapes are still in a box at my mom’s house. However, I realized in the last few years that the author of the Anne of Green Gables books was a woman, though she often used the shortened and more gender-ambiguous L.M. Montgomery.

Canada’s favorite daughter, L.M. Montgomery preferred to go by her middle name, Maud (without an “e”), and was born and raised on Prince Edward Island. Her mother died when she was very young, and she was sent by her father to live with her grandmother. She spent much of her time by herself, and she would often describe her upbringing as lonely.

Montgomery got the idea for Anne of Green Gables when she was looking through an old newspaper and found a story of a couple who had sent a request to an orphanage for a boy, but received a girl instead. And she used a fictional version of Green Gables, an actual farm that was once owned by Montgomery’s cousins. In 1908, the book was published and was almost immediately a hit. (A story for those of you out there dealing with rejection: The first time Montgomery sent the manuscript for Anne of Green Gables out to publishers, it was rejected by all of them. She put the manuscript at the bottom of a trunk for three years before she sent it out again in 1908.)

However, Montgomery’s success did not translate to her personal life. In 1911, after her grandmother died, Montgomery married her husband Ewan McDonald, a Presbyterian Minister. The marriage was not a happy one, and they shared few interests. Even so, she and her husband had two sons, and one son who was stillborn. And, even though she had a successful writing career, as a woman of her time and of her strong religious conviction, Montgomery believed that it was her duty to be a good wife and mother. Part of this, of course, meant providing meals for her family, and Montgomery was an excellent cook. Years ago, one of her nieces even compiled a cookbook of her aunt’s recipes.

One of her younger son’s favorite recipes of his mother’s was mock cherry pie, which is composed of raisins and cranberries instead of cherries. I originally thought that “mock cherry pie” was probably one of those awesome depression-era recipes, where home cooks somehow fashioned a roast beef dinner out of an old shoe. Not so. Mock cherry pie was popular around the turn of the century, and the first mentions of the recipe seem to come from the Chicago Record Cook Book, published in 1896. Then the recipe was picked up by New Englanders and Canadians, probably because of their ready access to fresh cranberries during the colder months.

So, in honor of Lucy Maud Montgomery, born on this day 143 years ago, I’ve made a mock cherry pie. I looked through several recipes in old newspapers and all are very simple and almost exactly the same: cranberries, raisins, sugar, flour, vanilla. I used the same here, except I increased the portions slightly (most recipes call for about 1 1/2 cups of filling total. The recipe below more than doubles that and it’s still a rather small pie).

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Mock Cherry Pie
Makes one 8-inch pie.

Ingredients:
1 two-crust pie crust (I prefer this one)
2 1/2 cups cranberries
1 1/4 cups dark raisins
3/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
For egg wash:
1 egg
1 tbsp milk or cream
2 tsp sugar

Instructions:

Slightly chop the cranberries by hand or in a food processor, just enough so they are no longer whole. To a saucepan, add the cranberries, raisins, sugar, flour, lemon zest, and salt. Mix together and then bring to a boil over medium heat, for about 15 minutes total. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Prepare the bottom half of your pie shell. Fill with cranberry raisin mixture. Place in refrigerator while you prepare the top of the crust.

Prepare the top of the shell. You can make this into a traditional lattice-top, or just a solid layer over the top. Either way, be sure there are holes in the top crust to allow steam to escape. Place top crust over the mixture and crimp the edges. Place in freezer for about 15 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Beat together the egg and milk or cream. After the pie has been in the freezer for 15 minutes, brush the top crust of the pie with the mixture. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of sugar. Place on a cookie sheet and bake pie for about 25 minutes, turn 180 degrees and continue baking for another 25 minutes. If the edges of the crust begin to get too dark, cover them with foil and continue to bake.

Remove from oven and serve warm, or at room temperature.

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How about that? Very simple, and in the winter months this recipe will provide you with the sweet-sour, cherry-like flavor you’ve been craving. Would a cherry-pie-loving person be fooled? No, probably not. But the fact is, this pie is absolutely stands on its own two feet. It’s delicious. And, if you are a fan of cherry pie, I think you’d be hard pressed to find something as satisfying during the winter months.

Two quick tips: 1) The bigger the raisins, the better. They plump up and provide you with the bite you would get from a cherry, as well as the sweetness. 2) I always have trouble getting my foil to stay on my pie crusts while baking. This time I used one of those throwaway foil pie pans, but I cut the bottom out and just placed it over my crust. It worked awesome! Maybe everyone already knows this trick, but I really impressed myself.

Happy 143rd birthday, Lucy Maud Montgomery!

Penelope Nejad’s Banana Meringue Pie

Emily Nejad

Emily Nejad and I met last spring when we sat next to each other at a Forth Chicago event for female entrepreneurs. When I sat down and realized who she was, I immediately began fangirling. I had never had one of her cakes, but I had already been following her on Instagram for months, regularly admiring her colorful, textural masterpieces. I asked if she would be interested in sharing a family recipe with me, and I’m so pleased that she said yes!

If you live in Chicago or the surrounding areas, you may already know Emily as the powerhouse behind Bon Vivant Cakes. Emily grew up in southern Indiana, attended Ball State for musical theater, and moved to Chicago. A musician before she was a baker, she and a friend started a band called Celine Neon, whose bright and theatrical videos and energetic electro-pop sound could easily be considered the sonic version of one of Emily’s cakes.

Even though her cakes might seem the product of years of baking experience, the Bon Vivant story is only about two years old. “I was baking for friends and it occurred to me that there might be a market for the cakes I was making. I put up a website and started an Instagram account and went from there,” she says. She was still waiting tables at the time, but after making a cake for a baby shower for a well-known Chicago blogger, her business blew up.

Elegant, whimsical, and each totally unique, Emily tries to ensure that her cakes represent the person ordering them. When you order a cake on her website, she wants to know everything about you. She describes her method on her site: “I want to know your hobbies, your passions, and your favorite band so that I can blast it in my kitchen while I’m baking your cake.”

Emily insists that she does not come from a long line of amazing cooks. “My maternal grandmother is not known for her culinary skills,” she says. “She used to make something called ketchup salad. Holy cow, it is BAD.” Emily’s mother, Penelope, however, has been cooking since she was young. “My mom was the sixth of nine kids. By the time she was a teenager, she was making meals for her whole family.” During college, Penelope met her future husband, an Iranian engineering student with, as Emily describes it, “a gregarious personality and a purple velvet disco suit.” They were married and the couple settled into their roles of bread-winning dad and stay-at-home mom. But in 2009, when the family hit some financial hardships, Penelope decided to go back to work. With her experience cooking for her family and baking during college, she decided to open a restaurant. Emily emphasizes that her mother decided to this “with no experience, in a bad economy, in a one hundred-year-old building, in southern Indiana.” Needless to say, things could have gone badly. “There are many reasons that this was risky, but she did it anyway, because her kids needed health insurance and a college education. So she went to work.” Things have grown quickly for her mother, just as they have for Emily. “Today she owns 3 restaurants, has around 50 employees, and works harder than anyone I know,” says Emily proudly.

Penelope Nejad

The recipe that Emily wanted to share is not a long-held family recipe. Instead, it’s her mom’s banana meringue pie that her mother used to make for holidays and Emily’s birthday. It originated from a recipe in a Presbyterian cookbook from Knox, Pennsylvania, that her mom has tweaked over the years. “Banana cream pie is my favorite pie, hands down,” Emily says. “My favorite time to eat it is at breakfast. There is nothing better than waking up and knowing that there is leftover pie from the night before.”

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Penny’s Banana Meringue Pie

Filling Ingredients:
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups
whole milk
4 egg yolks, slightly beaten
2 tbsp butter, room temp
1 tbsp, plus 1 tsp vanilla
2-3 bananas

Meringue Ingredients:
3 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
6 tbsp sugar
1/4
tsp vanilla

Pie Instructions:

Make 1 pie crust of your choice and set aside. (Emily says she prefers an all-butter pie crust. I prefer, and almost always use, this recipe.)

Mix sugar, cornstarch and salt in ½ quart saucepan, making sure that the sugar and cornstarch are mixed thoroughly so that they don’t clump once heat and liquid is added. Add milk.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir one minute.

To make your pudding, you’ll temper the hot mixture into the egg yolks: stir half of the hot mixture gradually into the egg yolks, being very careful not to scramble the eggs. When the yolks are warmed, add the hot mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the hot mixture. Boil and stir one minute.

Remove the pan from heat and stir in butter & vanilla.

Right before you add the hot pudding to the pie shell, add the sliced bananas to the bottom of the pie crust.

Pour pudding into pie shell to set; press plastic wrap over filling.

Refrigerate at least 2 hours but no longer than 48.

After the pudding has set, add the meringue to the pie. Make whatever swirly pattern you’d like with the fluffy meringue. Bake at 375 for no longer than 5 minutes on the bottom third of the oven, checking constantly. It can burn really easily. It’s done when the peaks of meringue start to brown.

Meringue Instructions:

Beat egg whites and cream of tartar, add the sugar 1 tbsp at a time until very stiff and glossy, and then stir in the vanilla. You must use very clean stainless bowl and stainless whisk.

Banana Meringue Pie

Seeing as how Emily and her mom both started their own businesses around food, I wondered if her mom had influenced Emily as an entrepreneur. She says, “My mom and I started growing as entrepreneurs at relatively the same time. There were a lot of parallels in our lives. The advice we pass back and forth to each other is, ‘Trust yourself. Trust your vision. You have something special.'”

If you want to keep up with Emily, follow her on Instagram @BonVivantCakes, where she showcases her cakes, and new creations, like cookie dough chocolate pops (WHAT?!), which you can sample this Saturday, September 23, at Chicago’s West Elm on North Avenue. AND she will be creating edible art for the MCA’s 50th Anniversary celebration on Oct 21st!

Emily, thank you so much for sharing your story, your mother’s story, and this delicious recipe with me! I’m so excited to see what’s next for you!

Raspberry Peach Galette

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The big news this week: the eclipse! Did you watch it? Great! I didn’t. I had jury duty. (I didn’t get called.) But I did get to watch live coverage of the eclipse on the jury waiting room TV, preceded by The View, and followed by General Hospital. That’s a good day.

Inspired by everyone’s excitement for the eclipse, I made a solar-inspired raspberry peach galette. Galettes are, in fact, my freaking favorite. If you come to my house for dinner, you’re likely going to get a galette for dessert. It’s so easy to make, it’s great served at room temperature, and it’s even better loaded up with whipped cream or ice cream. It’s perfection, really. This little late-summer galette is especially perfect because it’s positively loaded with sweet, juicy peaches.

Native to China, the peach is a member of the Rose family. Eventually it was widely cultivated in Persia, present-day Iran, which is where it received its scientific name “persica.” From Persia, the peach made its way to Europe, and by the 1500’s, Spanish Franciscan monks had introduced the peach to the Americas. Peach trees were planted all up and down the Eastern Coast of the United States. But the fruit did not take off in America until the 19th century.

Georgia, now known as the peach tree state, received that distinction after the Civil War ended. Fruit growing had not been pursued by many farmers in the South. However, in the 1850’s, a Belgian father and son, Louis and Prosper Berckmans, purchased land in Augusta, GA, in hopes of showing the importance of fruit and ornamental plants as an industry in the South. By the time slavery was abolished, the Berckman’s orchard had grown considerably and needed laborers. Freedmen, now needing employment, began working in the orchards. This work allowed the industry to grow considerably throughout the country. And though the peach is synonymous with Georgia, it is also the state fruit of South Carolina and the familiar phrase “Georgia Peach” is actually in reference to a woman’s complexion, rather than where she is from. Today, California is the largest producer of peaches in the United States.

Raspberry Peach Galette

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Raspberry Peach Galette
Makes one 8-in galette. Serves about 4. I always use this recipe from Jacques Pepin as a general galette-making guide.

Ingredients:

Crust:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed and very cold
3 tbsp water, very cold

Filling:
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp ground almonds
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
8 oz. raspberries, washed and dried
2 large or 3 medium yellow peaches, washed, pitted, and thinly sliced

Topping:
2 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed
2 tbsp sugar

Instructions:

In a food processor, mix the flour, salt, and butter for a few seconds. Add the ice water and process again for a few more seconds. The butter should be smaller than pea-size. At this point, the mixture will still look crumbly.

Pour the contents of the processor out onto a lightly floured surface. Begin pulling the mixture together until it forms a ball.

Roll the dough out into a 10-inch circle. You can trim the edges if you like, but it’s not necessary. Place the dough onto a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the sugar, ground almonds, and flour and sprinkle over the center of the dough, leaving an inch and a half of dough naked at the edge.

Lay the peach slices in a single layer over the sugar mixture, being sure to still leave an inch and a half edge. Then arrange the raspberries on top of the peaches in a single layer. Add another single layer of peaches over the top of the raspberries.

Sprinkle the cubes of butter over the top of the fruit. Sprinkle most of the 2 tablespoons of sugar over the fruit and butter, reserving about one teaspoon.

Fold the sides of the dough up over the fruit and sprinkle the remaining teaspoon of sugar over the edge of the crust. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Bake for 45-55 minutes, until the fruit is soft and juicy and the crust of the galette is golden brown.

Allow to cool to room temperature, slice, and enjoy!

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This galette was maybe piled a little high with fruit. The beauty is, galettes are perfectly imperfect. As long as the fruit is tucked enough inside the fold, it will cook down. You might have some juice overflow, but it’s still going to come out fantastic. And, obviously, we’re spoiled right now with the abundance of fresh, beautiful peaches in the grocery store. Quite honestly, I made a peach and blueberry galette last winter for Christmas dinner, completely out of season, and it was still delicious. My guess is that it had something to do with a lot of sugar and an hour of cooking that makes pretty much any fruit incapable of being anything except delicious. It’s nearly impossible to mess up. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Lemon Atlantic Beach Pie

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What? It’s July now? Where is time going?? As amazing as summer is in Chicago, it can sometimes feel like a sprint. Almost every single one of our summer weekends are already booked. I’m not complaining, of course. It’s just always amazing to me how, when warm weather finally arrives, Chicagoans rush to pack in every ounce of living that we can. It’s because we know that in a few months it will be dark and cold again and, as much as you’ll want to see your friends, you’ll want much more to stay inside, curl up on the couch, and watch TV. Anyway, we’re now in summer-mode, which means we’ve been outside far more than we’ve been inside, and baking seems like a distant memory to me. However, also with summer comes a slew of backyard BBQs, and the tricky question of what to contribute. Luckily for me, I have discovered the perfect potluck dessert solution: Lemon Atlantic Beach Pie.

My initial interest in this recipe sprung from my love of superstition. Along the coast of North Carolina, where seafood is a staple, an old wives’ tale says that eating dessert after consuming seafood will make you terribly sick–with the single exception of a lemon pie, made from condensed milk, with a cracker crust.

Atlantic Beach Pie is known up and down the North Carolina coast. Sometimes it is called Harker’s Island Pie, and sometimes Down East Lemon Milk Pie. While searching for recipes, I came upon many variations. Some used Ritz crackers for the crust, instead of saltines. Most recipes were topped with meringue, instead of whipped cream. And all recipes called for condensed milk, but some were very, very particular that Eagle Brand condensed milk had to be used.

What was once just a local favorite has been brought into the national spotlight by Bill Smith, chef at Crooks Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In 2014, Chef Smith’s recipe for Atlantic Beach Pie made its way around the internet and was featured on food websites, from NPR’s Found Recipes to Food52’s Genius Recipes.

Once you have a bite of this pie, you will understand why. It’s as though a key lime pie and lemon meringue pie had a baby. Salty, sweet, tart, and buttery; it’s a magical mix of simple flavors. Summer in a bite!

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Atlantic Beach Pie

Lemon Atlantic Beach Pie
Makes 1 9-inch pie. Slight variation of this recipe from NPR.

Ingredients:
For crust:
1 1/2 sleeves of saltine crackers
1/2 cup melted butter
3 tbsp sugar

For filling:
14 oz. sweetened condensed milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup combination of lemon and lime juice (about 2 large lemons, 1 small lime)

For whipped cream, optional:
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp powdered sugar
Sprinkle of sea salt, for garnish

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For crust:
In a food processor, or with your hands, crumble saltine crackers into very small pieces, but not into a powder.

Add sugar and combine. Add the melted butter and mix with your hands, continuing to crumble the saltines.

Pour into a pie pan and press with your hands until the crust is shaped to your liking.

Chill for 15 minutes, then bake for 18 minutes. Leave the oven on at 350 degrees.

Allow the crust to cool as you make the filling.

For the filling:
Add condensed milk and egg yolks to a bowl. Beat with a hand mixer (or in a stand mixer) until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute.

Add lemon and lime juice to the mixture and continue to mix very thoroughly, approximately one more minute.

Pour the filling into the pie shell and bake for 16 minutes, just until the filling has set.

Chill for at least an hour and a half. If topping with whipped cream, beat together 1 cup of heavy cream, vanilla, and sugar until soft peaks form.

Top cooled pie with whipped cream and a sprinkling of sea salt.

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In terms of pie, I really feel like I’ve found my “one”. It’s a perfect balance of flavors, and, honestly, one of the easiest desserts I’ve ever made. Little baking, very little fuss, and only 6 ingredients! Sheesh, you probably already have most of the ingredients in your house!

I already took it to a July 4th BBQ and I can’t imagine that I won’t be making it several more times this summer. If you’re looking for a simple dessert to impress people, give it a try. And, if you do, let me know. I want to see if other people are as impressed with it as I am. Three cheers for summer desserts and easy living!

Homemade Strawberry Hand Tarts

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Picture this: It’s the first week of summer vacation. I am a scrawny kid, probably 80 lbs., soaking wet, likely wearing uneven, homemade jean cut-off shorts and an oversized Marlboro shirt that my dad got when he bought a carton of cigarettes (don’t smoke!). More than likely barefoot and even more likely, eating Pop-Tarts. That was me, every summer, from approximately 1993 to 1998.

Alex and I stopped by my hometown on our way to and from a wedding in Cleveland on Memorial Day weekend, which was bringing up all kinds of warm feelings. On Memorial Day weekend, if I were 11 again, I would have been running around in my friends’ back yards, with all of the other neighbor kids, until the very last second before the sun went down. Then my dad would yell my name or, more likely, my nickname out the backdoor and it would be time to come in for the night. It was making me all nostalgic for childhood and, of course, Pop-Tarts.

For the most part, I try to lead a healthy life. I work out, I eat lots of vegetables, and yes, I make a lot of desserts for this blog, but for the most part, but I usually end up giving a lot of what I make away (after I taste it of course–quality control, you know). On top of that, I really try to avoid eating too many overly-processed foods now, which is a real struggle for me. Being a 90’s kid from small town Indiana means that I am, as my friend Kristina puts it, “90% Ecto Cooler and other preservatives.” For example, nowadays, I never buy Pop-Tarts, even though I love them so much.

Incidentally, the Pop-Tarts that we know and love may never have been. In early 1963, Kellogg’s competitor, the cereal company Post, had announced a plan to release a new breakfast item called Country Squares. However, Post was still months away from releasing their item, which allowed Kellogg to swoop in and develop their own version. In their attempt to best their competitor, Kellogg reached out to Keebler, the famous cookie makers, to create a quick breakfast that could be heated in the toaster.

Perhaps we owe our greatest debt to Bill Post, a plant manager at Keebler during this time who was tasked with creating a toastable treat. (Bill Post appears to have no relation to the Post corporation, but I’m looking into whether there’s a cereal gene in the Post family.) He tested out versions, originally called “fruit scones,” on his children and they were a hit. Pop-Tarts were first tested in markets in Cleveland at the end of 1963. People loved them and they were released to the general public in 1964. They were unfrosted at the time, and only came in four flavors: blueberry, apple-currant, brown sugar cinnamon, and (my personal favorite) strawberry. A few years later, after Bill Post convinced executives that there was a way to create a toaster-safe frosting, frosted versions were made available.

Though I might not buy Pop-Tarts anymore, my cravings for warm, frosted, strawberry goo-filled treats have not diminished. Especially in the summer. I don’t know what it is. So, I made my own version at home.

Strawberry Hand Pies

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Homemade Strawberry Hand Tarts
Makes about 10 2 1/2 x 4-inch tarts.

Ingredients:

For the crust (using this recipe):
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
9 tbsp (1 stick, plus 1 tbsp) unsalted butter, cubed and very cold
1/4 cup-1/3 cup very cold water
3/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
Egg wash, optional:
1 egg
1 tsp water

For the filling:
1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
1-2 tbsp water
1/2 tsp cornstarch
2 tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp lemon juice
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp vanilla

For the glaze:
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
1-2 tsp milk

Colored sugar or sprinkles, optional

Instructions:

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Briefly pulse to mix. Add cold, cubed butter and process again until small clumps form, about 5-7 seconds. Add in 1/4 cup of water and apple cider vinegar. Pulse for an additional 5 seconds to combine. If the dough is still dry, add cold water one tablespoon at a time, not exceeding 1/2 cup.

On a well-floured surface, pour out the contents of the food processor. Gather the mixture, separate into two piles and form a disc out of each pile. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour, preferable overnight.

In a saucepan, combine strawberries, water, cornstarch, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. Heat on medium, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is boiling. Boil for about 15 minutes. Lower the heat and continue to cook for an additional 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Set aside to cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

On a well-floured surface, roll out the pie dough. The pie crust should be quite thin, only about 1/8-inch thick, but you shouldn’t be able to see through the crust. You should be able to get about 10 rectangles from each disc, if you cut them 2 1/2 x 4-inches.

Place each rectangle on two large parchment paper-covered baking sheets. Spoon about one tablespoon of the cooled strawberry mixture into the middle of 10 of the rectangles. Place an empty rectangle over the top, carefully pressing down the edges. Then, seal the edges with the tines of a fork. Continue until all 10 tarts are filled. If using an egg wash, beat together one egg, with one teaspoon of water. Using the same fork, poke several holes into the top of each tart. Brush egg wash lightly on each tart.

Bake for 30 minutes, turning the baking sheet 180 degrees halfway through baking.

Remove from baking sheet to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

Mix together the powdered sugar, vanilla, salt, and milk in a small bowl. Spoon one teaspoon of glaze over each cooled tart. Sprinkle with colored sugar or sprinkles, if desired.

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No, they’re not healthy per se. They are basically made from butter and sugar, but I guess you’re replacing the high-fructose corn syrup? Pick your poison, I suppose. I also don’t feel bad about not buying Pop-Tarts because their sales have increased every year since they were introduced. There are plenty of latchkey kids out there, like I was, looking for an easy snack. Then those kids become adults and say, “No, I’m too good for Pop-Tarts, I’ll make my own.” But they’ll secretly have a moment of yearning, every time they walk by them at the grocery store. Or, so I’ve heard…

Sweet Cherry Pie

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“Do I watch too much TV?” part of myself often wonders. “No, TV is amazing,” says all the other parts of myself. And then I “Play next episode” until I, I don’t know… die? I know it’s not great for me, but there is just so much good TV to watch. For example, on Sunday, the new Twin Peaks premieres on Showtime and I couldn’t be more stoked. Last month, while Alex and I were visiting the Pacific Northwest, we visited several Twin Peaks sites, like a couple of tourists. We even got cherry pie at Twede’s Cafe, a.k.a. the Double R Diner. If you’ve ever seen the show, you know how much Agent Dale Cooper loves his snacks in general, but cherry pie in particular. Cherry pie and a “damn fine cup of coffee” served “black as midnight on a moonless night.” 

There are actually two other reasons I’m making cherry pie now. The first is, I’ve never made one and I really wanted to. I count it among my favorites, if not as my favorite pie. (Cherry anything for me, really.) Secondly, I recently found out that it was my grandpa’s favorite dessert. A few days ago, my grandpa would have turned 90 years old, but he passed away just over four years ago. Gruff, quite honestly, is the very best word to describe him. He and my grandma were the parents of three rowdy and mischievous boys, whose rowdiness and mischievousness never really subsided. He probably wasn’t the easiest man to have as a father, but he was a super grandpa. And he gave the best bear hugs. I actually don’t know if he ever realized he was bear-hugging. He was a burly man, so I assume that his default hugging mode was “bear.” Anyway, I like the idea of him having a favorite dessert. As much as I think about food and my grandparents, I unfortunately don’t often think of the things that gave them joy. I think of them along with terms like “stoic” and “hard-working”, but I wish I more often thought of them more in terms of “musician” and “cherry pie-lover.”

Anyway, for me, those were enough good reasons to make cherry pie (even though it’s not quite in season). So, then, it’s cherry pie.

Sweet Cherry Pie

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Sweet Cherry Pie4

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Sweet Cherry Pie
(Makes one 9-inch pie)

Ingredients for the crust:
Slight variation of this recipe.

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out dough
2 sticks (16 tbsp) unsalted butter, cubed and very cold
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
8-12 tablespoons ice water
1 1/2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

For egg wash:
1 egg
1 tbsp milk
1 tbsp sugar

Ingredients for the filling:
5 1/2 cups of sweet cherries (frozen or fresh; pitted)
3 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
2/3 cup sugar
5 tbsp corn starch
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed and very cold

Instructions for the crust:

In a food processor, or large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt.

Add the cold, cubed butter and process for about 5 seconds. If not using a food processor, incorporate the butter into the dry mixture until the butter is pea sized.

Add in 8 tbsp. of ice water and apple cider vinegar. Pulse for 5 more seconds. If the mixture is still quite dry, add 1 tbsp. of water at a time until the mixture holds shape when you pinch it together. Do not exceed 12 tbsp. of water.

Pour out onto a floured surface. Separate the dough into two equal parts. Gather one of the parts and form a disk shape. Wrap in plastic wrap. Repeat with the second portion.

Refrigerate for at least an hour, or up to two days.

When the dough is ready, roll out on a well-floured surface until it’s large enough to fit into a 9-inch pie pan. Lay the dough across the pan, with the edges hanging off. Cover with a dishtowel and refrigerate while you prepare the top crust.

On a well-floured surface, roll out the second disk of dough, making sure you roll your dough out to a diameter of 12 inches.

Using a pizza cutter or a knife, 5 zig-zag cutouts across the diameter of the dough, about 1-inch thick.

Place each line on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, cover with a dishtowel, and refrigerate until you’re ready to cover your pie.

Instructions for the filling:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

If using frozen cherries: Place into a colander over a large mixing bowl to thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Discard the juice that is released from the thawed cherries.

In a large bowl, add the cherries, lemon juice, vinegar, and vanilla and stir to combine.

Add the cornstarch and combine well. There should be no streaks of cornstarch. Add the sugar and stir to combine.

Allow the mixture to sit for about 20-30 minutes.

If using frozen cherries, use a slotted spoon to add the cherries to the bottom half of the pie crust. Discard any leftover liquid. If using fresh cherries, pour entire mixture into the pie shell. Arrange the cubed butter over the cherries.

Arrange the zig-zag cutouts over the top of the cherries. Trim away all but about a 1/2-inch of the edge of the dough. Form a decorative edge.

Cover with a dishtowel and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.

Beat together the egg and milk. Using a pastry brush, paint egg wash on all exposed pie shell. Sprinkle the crust with 1 tbsp of sugar.

Bake for 25 minutes at 400 degrees. Then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for approximately 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. If the pie edges are browning too quickly, cover with a foil tent for the remaining baking time.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 2-3 hours before cutting and serving.

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Sweet Cherry Pie8

As I said, we’re not fully into cherry season yet. I used frozen sweet cherries, because that’s what I had access to, but I came to the (expected) conclusion that I prefer a tart cherry pie. If you’re starting with tart cherries, you will certainly need to cut down the lemon juice and increase the sugar a bit. Sometime this summer, when I can fully take advantage of Chicago’s farmer’s markets, I will work on perfecting my tart cherry pie recipe. In the meantime, I think this sweet cherry would satisfy the quirkiest of agents, and the gruffest of grandpas.