Monday, December 26, 2011

CHERRY-BLUEBERRY ALMOND CRUMB PIE


Perhaps if I lived in Michigan, where sour cherries are grown, I would be more enthused about cherry pie.  
But truthfully, I'm so in love with apple, pumpkin, coconut cream, key lime, lemon and berry pies, I just never think about cherry pie.  

Cherry pie can be served all year long, but it's especially nice at Christmas time.  This one accompanied us to Christmas dinner with our friends, where the host, Tom, (who hails from Pittsburgh, PA, not Michigan) says it's his favorite.  Cherry flavor dominates this pie, even though it contains a pint of blueberries.  

Since I'm really not much of a cherry fan, I found this hard to rate.  Tom loved the pie.  I liked it, but didn't love it, because I found it too sweet for my taste.  Mickey, Tom's wife, liked it and said it would be perfect with chocolate drizzled over it.  My intent was to serve it with chocolate ice cream, but I left the ice cream home.  If you like cherry pie, you might want to give this a try.  If you've never tried cherry pie, here's your chance.

Cherry-Blueberry Almond Crumb Pie
Rating:  8 out of 10
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INGREDIENTS:  
Crisco Single Pie Crust:
1-1/2 cups low-protein flour (such as White Lily all-purpose)
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 cup Crisco shortening, placed in freezer 15 minutes
4-6 Tbsp. ice water

In small resealable sandwich baggie, combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar; place bag in freezer for 15 minutes.  Pour flour mixture into work bowl of food processor.  Pulse briefly to combine.  Add shortening, cut into 5-6 pieces.  Pulse several times, till mixture is like coarse sand.  Pour into medium-large bowl and drizzle water over the flour as you toss with a fork or with your hands.  Use as little water as possible.  (I used 5 Tbsp., but the amount will depend on the humidity and your altitude.)  The dough will be soft and pliable and easy to press into a flattish disc.  Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for at least 1/2 hour. This makes a sturdy but flaky, tender crust with nice flavor.

Almond Crumb Topping:
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour (or whole wheat, or all-purpose, if preferred)
1/3 cup almond meal or finely ground almonds
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. sea salt
6 Tbsp. butter, melted
1/4 cup sliced almonds

In medium bowl, whisk together flour, almond meal, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and salt.  Stir in butter with fork and mix till moistened.  (You can also put the ingredients in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse till combined and mixture looks like wet sand.)  Set aside.

Cherry-Blueberry Pie Filling:
1 (14.5 oz.) can pitted Montmorency red tart cherries, drained, juice reserved
1 (15 oz.) can pitted dark sweet cherries, drained, juice reserved
1 pint fresh or frozen blueberries, rinsed, drained
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. finely grated orange zest
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Michigan red tart cherry preserves

  In large bowl, combine cherries, blueberries, almond extract, lemon juice, and orange zest; set aside.  In small cup, combine 2 Tbsp. reserved juice with cornstarch; set aside.  In 2-quart heavy saucepan, combine remaining reserved juice with sugar; bring to boil over high heat and boil about 20-25 minutes, or till mixture is reduced by half and slightly syrupy.  Stir about 3 Tbsp. of the hot syrup into the cornstarch mixture, then stir the cornstarch mixture into the syrup.  Bring back to boil and boil for 5 minutes, or till mixture thickens.  Stir in the preserves.  Remove from heat and cool slightly.  Pour slightly cooled syrup over fruit, tossing to combine.  

Assembly:.  
1.  Fit 9" pie plate (or 8" deep dish pie plate) with your favorite pie dough.
2.  Refrigerate pie dough.   
3.  Make crumb topping.
4.  Heat oven to 400F.  Adjust oven rack to lower position.
5.  Make pie filling.  Fill pie dough with filling.  Bake 30 minutes.
6.  Spoon crumb topping over partially baked pie.  Use pie shield to protect pie edges.  Bake additional 20
     minutes. 
7.  Sprinkle almonds over top of pie, fluffing topping with fork if needed.  Bake additional 10 minutes, or till
     pie is bubbling.  

Saturday, December 17, 2011

WHERE TO SHOP FOR ORGANICS AND UPSCALE GROCERIES

Organic and upscale foods can be hard to find at competitive prices in New Bern.  I'm listing some of my favorite foods and where I buy them.

Plugra butter, salted and unsalted:  Wal-Mart, at around $2.24/half pound; Food Lion, at around $2.29/half pound.  Since these two stores started carrying Plugra, I noticed that Harris Teeter seems to be out of it.  Their price of $5.99/half pound could be why they're not reordering.

Bel Gioso Mascarpone:  Wal-Mart, at around $3.49/8 oz. compared to Harris Teeter, at around $6.99/8 oz. Wal-Mart doesn't always have mascarpone in stock.  Harris Teeter does run specials occasionally.

Prosciutto:  Harris Teeter runs specials on Citterio @ $3.99/3 oz..  Wal-Mart's price for a 3-oz. pkg. of Del Duca prosciutto is always $3.99, but you have to inspect the packages carefully.  Sometimes the ends of the prosciutto are discolored, meaning it will be dried out.

Good-quality chocolate:  You can find this in just about any store, but best prices are going to be at Wal-Mart, unless another store is running a good special.  Harris Teeter sometimes runs clearance prices on some of their good chocolate bars.  I like to occasionally shop at Fresh Market in Greenville where you can find high-quality Callebaut chocolate (about 60% cacao) in bulk bins for cheap, cheap, cheap.  It's fresh and doesn't sit around.  I always buy my white chocolate here, and once you taste it, you'll never buy it elsewhere.

Chicken:  I'm all about organics, but I've been turned off with big chickens that tend to be tough.  It used to be normal to find 2-lb. chickens in the grocery store that were tender and juicy.  Then farmers learned how to use growth hormones and antibiotics to grow their chickens super fast and keep them from getting sick.  So now the chickens grow fast, in fact too fast.  Their meat is just not tender and juicy any more.  Even the Smart Balance organic chickens found at Harris Teeter are disappointingly large.  So I'm now buying my chickens at the Bridgeton Poultry Market.  No, they're not organic.  But they're extremely fresh, tender and juicy.  You can ask them for a specific size chicken -- e.g., 2-lb. or 3-lb. or whatever -- and you will get it.

Seafood:  B&J's on Route 70 has the best seafood in New Bern.  It's not cheap but you can pretty much depend on them for good seafood.  Most of it is local, but not all.  Bridgeton Poultry Market also carries some local Pamlico Country shrimp that they freeze in 1-lb. bags.

Organic Foods:  Wal-Mart has some, but selections are limited.  You can usually find some organic veggies (green onions, green peppers, broccoli, zucchini, lemons, to name some), eggs and flours.

Harris Teeter has a good selection of organic veggies, fruits, herbs, dairy, eggs, flours, canned, bagged and boxed foods, but prices are high.  Harris Teeter also carries a good assortment of frozen organics.  Their own brand of frozen veggies in poly bags are especially good.  You'll have to search out their organic items though,  because they're mixed in with nonorganics throughout the store, except for the produce section where they have a dedicated space.

Food Lion has a surprisingly diverse section dedicated to organics in boxes, bags and cans as well as a good assortment of frozen organics, making for easy shopping.  I love that the organics are all together in one place.  You can find Arrowhead Mills here, as well as Bob's Red Mill and a host of other brand names.  Organic oatmeal is available at a good price, and it's where I buy mine.  They even have organic spices.  What you won't find is a lot of organic veggies and fruits.  In fact, be careful.  The section in produce that is dedicated to organics is misleading.  It used to house all organics, but evidently sales were slow.  Now half of that section (on the left side) is nonorganic.  They may be phasing out of organic produce.

New Bern Farmer's Market:  Scott Farms is the only true organic vendor here, but their prices are really high.  R Garden is not organic certified but they don't spray their vegetables with pesticides and they are trying to slowly phase into using organic fertilizers.  Their prices are more affordable and the quality of their vegetables is high.  Putnam Family Farms also doesn't use pesticides but they do use chemical fertilizer.  Moore's sprays with pesticides only if they have to, but try not to.  Our farmer's market is a true bargain if you want veggies that are not oversprayed with pesticides, but you have to get there early -- about 8AM -- for best selection.  Fresh and local is always your best bargain.  This morning I bought free-range eggs, green onions, baby carrots, green beans, white sweet potatoes, radishes and Swiss chard.

I'd love to hear your questions and/or comments.  Do you know of other places to shop for favorite foods?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

MY HOLIDAY COOKIE ENTRY


I won't be entering the New Bern holiday recipe contest because there are no judges, just online voters.  For the Nestle holiday cookie contest, where the winner is picked by judges, I entered Chocolate-Almond Snowballs.  These are fudgy treats covered in white chocolate ganache and coconut.  Two bites of deliciousness.  The dough is made in a food processor, so easy.  The recipe is now on the Nestle Facebook Ap.  You can get it by clicking here.  Once you are at the site, click on "view entries."  Scroll down till you see the above photo.  Unless, of course, you get sidetracked by some of the other great recipes.  I don't expect to win, but it was fun coming up with an original, easy recipe.  The extra bonus here is that I have a new Christmas cookie and, surprise -- it's one of my top faves.

BAREFOOT CONTESSA'S PECAN SHORTBREAD


This year was a bad one for New Bern area pecans, thanks to the unwelcome visit of one blustery Irene.  All the unripe nuts were blown off the trees before they could be harvested.  Fortunately, I found pecans at Sam's Club and I still have some in my freezer from last year.  I love the buttery flavor of pecans, especially in shortbread cookies where they can be the star.  Like this recipe from Ina Garten.  These are simple cookies, but oh, so very good, with a nice flavor from almond and vanilla extracts.  They would love to have a place on your holiday cookie tray.

Pecan Shortbread
Source:  The Barefoot Contessa
Rating:  9 out of 10
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3/4 lb. (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract (I used my homemade vanilla.)
1 tsp. pure almond extract
3-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. kosher or fine sea salt
1-1/2 cups small diced pecans

Heat oven to 350F.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, using low speed, mix together the butter and sugar until they are just combined.  Add flavorings.  In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter/sugar mixture.  Add pecans and mix on low speed until dough starts to come together.  Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk.  Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll  dough 1/2" thick and cut into 2-1/2" squares with a plain or fluted cutter, or cut into any shape you like.  Place cookies on ungreased baking sheet.  Bake 20-25 minutes, util edges begin to brown.  Cool on wire racks.  Yield:  about 20-24 cookies, depending on size.