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The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book Arrived! It’s PIE BAKING DAY! (plus I find out that I am a Pie Crimp Gimp)

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A few days ago I was thinking about my grandfather’s chess pies and searching for recipes. I found a few websites that waxed poetic over a famous pie bakery in Brooklyn, New York known for their delicious chess pies. Four & Twenty Blackbirds also has a very well received cookbook

I’ve been waiting all week for The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book to arrive from Amazon and it’s FINALLY here!

The reviews were off the charts! The book is everything they said it would be: beautiful, glossy coffee table book-style photos, detailed and unusual recipes- it’s a well-written cookbook.

the old workhorse- my kitchenaid stand mixer

the old workhorse- my kitchenaid stand mixer

ANYWAY- I started the pie making endeavors with the Rhubarb Custard pie. Things went well until I realized all of my pie pans were missing- so I had to improvise with a Corelle round pan and a cake tin for the pies.

this was a really good pie

this was a really good pie

Rhubarb Custard was an unusual recipe- an oatmeal cookie type crust, a layer of rhubarb jam, and a delicately spiced creamy custard layer on top. Next time I will try it with a real pie pan!

rhubarb

rhubarb

I also hit another snag when I ran out of already ground cinnamon- so I had to dig out my cinnamon sticks from their jar and HAND GRIND them with a mortar and pestle… *that* was a pain in the ass.

this rhubarb custard pie may not be pretty plated, but it sure was good!

this rhubarb custard pie may not be pretty plated, but it sure was good!

Buttermilk chess tastes like the innards to a cheese danish

Buttermilk chess tastes like the innards to a cheese danish

The second pie I made was the Buttermilk Chess Pie (probably the reason why I bought this book). I had problems with it, as I had to rush the process (because I had to take my mother somewhere- she has early dementia and showed up BY HERSELF in her van- not something she generally does anymore). I didn’t prebake the crust long enough and didn’t bake the custard long enough- still set, though- and still delicious.  It just wasn’t attractive once plated.

not cute, but really yummy

not cute, but really yummy

After pie #2, I went out and purchased some pyrex pie pans.

ugliest crimp job EVER! I am a pie crimp gimp. Lemon Chess Pie.

ugliest crimp job EVER! I am a pie crimp gimp.
Lemon Chess Pie.

The THIRD pie I made today was the Lemon Chess Pie, which is a huge seller per the store’s website. I browned it a bit too long, but it turned out well. The pie custard itself contained heavy cream, lemon and orange juice, melted butter, etc… very decadent. I will admit that I SUCK at pie edge crimping, so there’s that ugliness. I need to watch some youtube tutorials soon, I think. I haven’t tried this pie yet, though. I was pie-d out by the time this one was done.

I also found 5 lb boxes of local blueberries on sale for $10.00, so blueberry pie will definitely be in my future.

I *will* master the Art of Pie. This is my new goal. I’m a really skilled cook- I just can’t bake worth a shit. I have no patience. I am going to force myself to love this and learn this.

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Dinner Tonight: Summer Pasta with Zucchini, Fresh Ricotta, and Wild Arugula- plus a Zuppa Toscana with Turkey Sausage and Turkey Bacon

the finished products

the finished products

Starting these recipes was a NIGHTMARE. Maisie is going through a horrible separation anxiety stage– I waited until she went down for her usual afternoon nap before starting to cook.  She is usually asleep for 1-3 hours after lunch, so I figured I had ample time to get dinner started.  SO wrong.  Not 10 minutes after I’d snuck away, I hear a piercing shriek from her pack n’ play… ah, the joys of motherhood!

ANYWAY, the same friend who sent the fresh ricotta idea, also sent this delicious looking recipe for a summer pasta.

Right now the basil growing in my garden is kinda skimpy.  I have a couple of varieties, which I started late in the season: sweet basil, cinnamon basil, and (I think) a Thai basil.

As fortune would have it, I DO have an abundance of wild arugula growing out of control in every nook and cranny of my yard- and I LOVE it for pestos and salads. This is the same arugula that I mentioned in an earlier post.  My mom smuggled it from Italy in her underwear (the seeds, not the plants). I am sure she probably violated a ton of laws, but now she has dementia, so they probably won’t throw her in the slammer.

I really love this variation of this plant more than the standard ones you find at the market. It has a sharper, cleaner ‘zing’ than the (legal) garden varieties you find commonly in the US. It also NEVER dies and never needs replanting. It’s as prolific as a dandelion, except easier to remove from the lawn and sidewalk.

More about this renegade version of arugula (also called ‘wall rocket’) here.

From this article on Wall Rocket:

“Unlike cultivated rocket, wall rocket is a perennial. The flavour is different, too: it has the spicy notes that salad rocket hints at, but they punch through with a powerful heat. By August, the leaves are so peppery they are best cooked for 30 seconds in boiling water, or a few chopped and added to a salad. I like the leaves torn on to a pizza just out of the oven as an alternative to chillies. The young leaves I like in warm salads with strong flavours – chorizo, parmesan or goat’s cheese; it also goes well with oily fish.”

this wild arugula was smuggled to America (by seed) about 14 yrs ago in my mother's underwear. It came from somewhere near Florence, Italy- where my cousin lives.

the renegade wild arugula was smuggled to America (by seed) about 14 yrs ago in my Filipino mother’s underwear. It came from somewhere near Florence, Italy- where my cousin lives.

At the local farmer’s market, while raiding my favorite Swiss baker’s stall for fresh quiches and Cannelés Bordelais, I was lucky enough to score some fresh zucchini (2 for a buck) from the next stand over. I had no idea then what I was going to do with zucchini, but it seemed like a good idea at the time to buy it. I am now so glad that I did.

gratuitous food porn shot of Cannelés Bordelais from Marianne at the Chalet Suisse Bakery here in SW Michigan.  They are one of maybe FIVE PLACES in the entire Midwest to even bake these morsels of sweet perfection- Eat your hearts out!

gratuitous food porn shot of Cannelés Bordelais from Marianne at the Chalet Suisse Bakery here in SW Michigan. They are one of maybe FIVE PLACES in the entire Midwest to even bake these morsels of sweet perfection-
Eat your hearts out!

When my son tasted the following recipe, he said: “Wow, this is like pesto and alfredo mixed together!”- it was!  I was very pleased with how this turned out.  The freshly made ricotta (I made a new batch this afternoon) really makes this dish. So creamy and garlicky and rich.

when I say I 'squish' the garlic, I mean I use the mortar and pestle- Filipino style

when I say I ‘squish’ the garlic, I mean I use the mortar and pestle- Filipino style

Summer Pasta with Zucchini, Fresh Ricotta, and Wild Arugula

  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch slices (a mandoline works great for this)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves, squished and chopped
  • 2 cups of wild arugula
  • 1 box of Ziti pasta
  • 8 ounces ricotta, about 1 cup (see earlier post for recipe)
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 ounces grated Parmesan, pecorino or a mixture, about 1 cup, plus more for serving
  1. Put a pot of water on to boil. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the onions in 3 tablespoons olive oil until softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat as necessary to keep onions from browning. Add zucchini, season generously with salt and pepper, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until rather soft, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat.

    sautéing the onions and zucchini

    sautéing the onions and zucchini

  2. Meanwhile, use a mortar and pestle to pound garlic, arugula and a little salt into a rough paste (or use a mini food processor). Stir in 3 tablespoons olive oil.
  3. Salt the pasta water well and put in the pasta, stirring. Boil per package instructions but make sure to keep pasta quite al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of cooking water.
  4. Add cooked pasta to zucchini in skillet and turn heat to medium-high. Add 1/2 cup cooking water, then the ricotta, crushed red pepper and lemon zest, stirring to distribute. Check seasoning and adjust. Cook for 1 minute more. Mixture should look creamy. Add a little more pasta water if necessary. Add the arugula paste and half the grated cheese and quickly stir to incorporate. Spoon pasta into warm soup plates and sprinkle with additional cheese. Serve immediately.

    aa

    YUM

I’ve been wanting to make a Zuppa Toscana for the longest time.  I am almost embarrassed to admit that the first one I ever tried was from the chain Olive Garden, but I loved it.  It’s probably the only thing on their menu I actually liked. We have a ton of Tuscan kale growing in the garden right now, which is a major ingredient in this soup. I am a kale freak- I like it juiced, fried, in soups, in salads (especially the raw vegan massaged kale salads- yum), you name it.

Kale fresh from my garden

Kale fresh from my garden

I don’t eat pork, so I had to substitute turkey Italian sausage and turkey bacon for the regular versions.

Jess’ Zuppa Toscana

  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 small onions, finely diced
  • 2 Sweet Italian turkey sausages, chopped
  • 4 slices of turkey bacon, chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, squished and chopped
  • 2 cups of tuscan/black/dinosaur kale, sliced/chopped
  • 3 Idaho potatoes, roughly chopped.
  • 2 boxes chicken stock
  • 1 quart water
  • Pinch of saffron (I used Persian saffron)
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • salt and pepper, to taste

1. Add a little olive oil to a soup pot and use to fry the sausage and bacon, crumbling even further as you fry. Cook until well browned then drain any excess oil. Add garlic and onions and fry til soft.

2. Add the water, stock, pinch of saffron, and potatoes to the pot. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until the potatoes are tender (about 25 minutes). Add the kale. Cook for 10 minutes then stir-in the cream and season to taste.

3. Remove half of the soup to another large bowl. Puree half of the soup with an inversion blender. Return reserved soup to pot to combine.  Simmer for 5 minutes longer and then ladle into warmed soup bowls and serve.

Zuppa Toscana

Zuppa Toscana

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White Truffle Stracotto (Italian Beef Pot Roast) with Fresh Sage, Mushrooms, Fig Balsamic, and Brandy

Truffled Stracatto with fresh sage, mushrooms, fig balsamic

Truffled Stracotto with fresh sage, mushrooms, fig balsamic, and brandy

I was fascinated by this recipe by Giada De Laurentiis, but did not have everything on hand, so I improvised (recipe provided after the history lesson):

I am OBSESSED with food history.  I have to search for the history of every bit of food that I eat.  I don’t know if there is a name for this particular oddity, but I am sure there is one somewhere.

Per this page I learned the following: http://www.inparma.it/english/parma-food/traditional-products/who-invented-stracotto-pot-roast.aspx

History of Parma Cuisine
Footnotes to Parmesan Gastronomy
“Who invented Stracotto pot roast?”

That braised beef or Stracotto (pot roast) is a typically Italian dish, savory and worthy of the best in our culinary tradition, goes without saying. One might debate its origins, if it comes from Piedmont and the way they prepare it in Saluzzo with Barolo, or from Tuscany, in which case it is called “stufato”, or whether it is from Parma. Obviously, because the famous anolini of Parma require Stracotto in their preparation, it could be solemnly stated, once and for all, that Parma is the home of this dish. In any case, among collections of old recipes, I found one that is also listed by Cougnet and which, perhaps to make everyone happy, is simple called “Stracotto all’Italiana”.

Here is that early version of this dish: “Lard a nice fillet of beef, marinate it in a dish with marsala, salt, pepper, fines herbes and truffle trimmings for at least four hours. An hour and a half before serving, in a casserole with butter and lard, brown thinly-sliced onion, carrot, celery and bouquet garni, add the fillet, moisten with the marinade garnish, add rich meat stock, cover with greased paper and simmer, basting occasionally. Remove the fillet, place in a oven-proof dish and pour the braising juices, pour over the meat and add two cups of velout? sauce, place in the front of the oven and moisten to reduce the temperature.

“Prepare a long elegant bed of rice, artfully sculpted and place on a long serving plate. Cut the center piece from the fillet, leaving a base one centimeter high, return the cut piece to its original place, place the fillet on the rice, edged Italian-style with spinach, celery and carrot, alternating the colors. Toss with Madeira sauce, white truffles and serve with the rest of the sauce on the side.”

It goes without saying that Moreau de Saint Mary, Napoleon’s governor of the Parma States from 1802 to 1806, also found it difficult to resist the joys of Parmesan cooking and its stracotto and anolini “dont on est très friend dans les Etats de Parme” and of which he was very fond. He certainly was not the first Frenchman to be won over by the delicacies of Parma.

From G. Gonizzi, Le memorie del Ciambellano. Storie di cucina nel Ducato. I, in Parma Capitale Alimentare, 43, 2000, pp 45-61.

Although I had red wine on hand, I ALSO had a 10 month old child pulling all the pans out of the cupboards as I tried to cook. I *did* have an open bottle of brandy and some truffle oil and balsamic fig vinegar in my ‘vinegar, cooking booze, and fancy schmancy oils’ cupboard, so I improvised.  I also have fresh sage, chives, thyme, and other herbs growing outside in my garden.  I opted for sage today, because it’s delicious paired with fig and truffles… and the sage in my garden looks beautiful right now.

sage

fresh sage from my garden, growing in a wild tangle of arugula- my mom smuggled the arugula seeds back from Italy in her underwear some years ago and now it’s a delicious weed.

The result was a delicious, savory, melt-in-your-mouth/knock-yer-socks-off pot roast that I served over basmati rice.

  • White Truffle Stracotto (Italian Beef Pot Roast) with Fresh Sage, Mushrooms, Fig Balsamic, and Brandy
    adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
  • 4-5 lb. beef chuck roast
  • Pink Himalayan sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper (mine was brought back from the pepper farms in the Philippines by my mom)
  • 1/3 c olive oil
  • 3 onions, chopped
  • 8 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 16 ounces of low sodium beef broth
  • 3/4 c. brandy
  • 1/4 c. fig balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha
  • 1 package of sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh sage or 1 tsp dried sage
  • 4 tablespoons white truffle oil

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Generously season the beef on both sides with salt and pepper. In a heavy 6-quart pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the beef and cook until browned on all sides, about 12 minutes. Remove the beef and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onions. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute until aromatic. Add the brandy and balsamic fig vinegar and scrape up the brown bits that cling to the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Stir in the broth and sriracha. Return the beef to the pot and bring the liquid to a boil. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Add mushrooms about 2 hours into cooking time- Cook until the beef is fork-tender, about 3 hours, turning the beef over halfway through and adding more beef broth, as needed.

ready to come out of the oven

ready to come out of the oven

Transfer the beef to a cutting board. Tent with foil and let stand for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, spoon any excess fat off the top of the pan juices. Using an immersion blender, place about 1/2 of the pan veggies and juices into another bowl and blend the remaining pan juices and vegetables until pureed but with a good texture. Add the sage and truffle oil and the reserved whole veggies and juices. Bring to sauce to a simmer and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Additionally, you can drizzle more fig balsamic on as well…

the pan veggies and juices all whizzed together with the stick blender

the pan veggies and juices all whizzed together with the stick blender

Cut the beef into 1-inch pieces and place on a platter. Spoon some of the sauce over the meat and serve the remaining sauce on the side.

ready to be cut in 1

ready to be cut in 1″ pieces and drenched in the sauce

I served this over basmati rice, with a wild arugula salad on the side (I needed to weed the beds and wild arugula is my primary ‘weed’).

this arugula became the accompanying salad...

this arugula became the accompanying salad…

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Maisie tries sushi for the first time… and gets a porterhouse steak for dinner.

 
 
She tried sushi for the first time today for lunch.  I decided to go easy on her and only gave her some California rolls and some Inari.

Inarizushi was her FAVORITE.

The dinner menu tonight for her was as follows:

Porterhouse steak
Sauteed baby bella and oyster mushrooms in a garlic cream sauce
Basmati rice
Sliced local strawberries
Local sweet corn on the cob
a pouch of organic baby fruits and veg

I am cutting back on the gluten in this house starting this week. Red meat is going to be the next to go, very soon.