Monthly Archives: November 2014

Pumpkin Pie for the Holidays

Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. It’s a great way to end the holiday meal.  And, if we listen to the songs, pumpkin pie works for Christmas as well:

I met a man who lives in Tennessee
And he was heading for Pennsylvania
And some homemade pumpkin pie 

shellSo, it’s no surprise that I’ve made my share of pumpkin pies. I’ve also made several for friends and family. After tasting the pie, many people have asked me for my recipe, and I always chuckle. For me, the tried and true recipe is Libby’s. That’s right, I use the recipe right off the can, but it works! This year, like every other, I made Libby’s famous pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.

To start, whisk together 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon cloves in a large bowl. Add 2 large eggs to the mixture and whisk to combine. Add 1 15 oz can pure pumpkin. Next, add 1 12 oz can evaporated milk and whisk to combine.sugar and spiceeggspumpkinevaporated milkall combinedFor the pie crust, I use my standard pie crust recipe. I roll out the crust the crust before making the filling.  Line a greased 9 inch pie plate, and crimp the edges. Place in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

ready for the ovenPlace the pie plate on a cookie sheet close to the oven. Pour the filling into the shell, and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees, and bake 40-50 minutes longer until a knife comes out clean from the center. Oh, and one trick to cover up the knife holes, cut out some extra pie dough using a festive cookie cutter (leaf or pumpkin), and bake for about 10 minutes until golden. Just place it on top, and your pie looks perfect.

If you haven’t tried this simple recipe, give it a try. It’s so easy, and so good. I’ve also tried making the pie from fresh pumpkin, and it just wasn’t worth it. Go for the can, and enjoy.

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and are ready for a fabulous Christmas season!

Perfect Pie Crust for Thanksgiving!

This Year's Pies!Thanksgiving is one of those tough holidays as far as the menu. Sure, everyone wants to try new recipes and experiment, but there is so much tradition wrapped into the holiday, it’s often hard to do. Thanksgiving is all about nostalgia and family, and nothing else can bring back memories like food. One of those traditions in many houses, and certainly ours, is ending the meal with pies…delicious pies. The fillings may vary, but you always need a buttery, flaky pie crust, and that’s another place tradition comes into play for me.

ingredientsSeveral months ago, I shared a recipe for crab quiche, and mentioned I used my Aunt Angie’s recipe for pie crust. I know several were not thrilled about my withholding, but it just felt right to talk about pie crusts before Thanksgiving. Aunt Angie was my grandmother’s sister, and she was the pie maker. No matter what occasion or holiday, she brought the pies. From lemon meringue to coconut cream, from apple to cherry, and everything in between, they were amazing. Sadly, I don’t have many of the recipes for the fillings…well… that’s not completely true, I have the recipes, but it’s really a list of ingredients, making it a little hard to follow. J But, thankfully, I do have her pie crust recipe.

flourThere’s always lots of talk about pie crusts and how difficult they can be. I have to tell you, I think it’s pretty easy, if you follow a few rules. Keep the butter and water cold, work quickly, and chill often. Several years ago I started making pies using a food processor, and I have to admit, it makes the process even easier. But, don’t worry, you can still follow the recipe without a food processor.

Start by adding 2 cups all-purpose flour, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon baking powder to the bowl of a food processor, or any bowl if butteryou don’t have one. Stir to combine. Next, cut 2/3 cup butter into small pieces, and add to the flour mixture. Pulse a few times to combine and integrate the butter thoroughly, or use a fork to mash the butter into the flour. You want to end up with tiny pieces of butter all throughout the flour. This is how you get a flaky crust. And you want the butter cold. I find if you’re combining by hand, cut the butter into very small pieces before adding to the flour, almost slivers, so it’s easier to combine.butter addedbutter combinedNext, you want to add about 9 tablespoons ice water. Don’t add all 9 to start. I usually start with 6, give it a whirl then add more if needed. Depending on the humidity and moisture in the doughflour, you may need more or less. For the food processor, just run until the mixture forms a ball. It should happen in a few seconds. If it doesn’t come together just add more water. If by hand, just stir with the fork until it sticks together but isn’t too wet.

Divide the dough in two, wrap in plastic, and store in the refrigerator. I usually make the dough the night before I’m going to use it, but you can refrigerate for an hour or two to cool it down. In a pinch, I have been known to stick it in the freezer for a little while to speed things up, but don’t forget about it!

dough readyRoll out the dough about an inch or two bigger than your pie plate. Also, spray your pie plate liberally. You don’t want the crust to stick. Then just fold it to transfer to the plate, and you’re set. I like to refrigerate the dough again once in the plate to firm it up before baking, especially if it is a 1 crust pie. Just stick it back in for a little while as you prepare the filling.

dough rolledplatein plateready for crimpingNo matter what the filling, this one is a keeper, and I think Aunt Angie would be proud her crust lives on. This year, her crusts will be filled with caramel apple, pecan, and, of course, pumpkin. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sausage Stuffing for Thanksgiving!

celery onions pepperIt’s almost here, and I can’t wait.  Thanksgiving!  It’s my absolute favorite holiday.  I know, I know, people love Christmas, or can’t get enough of Halloween, and I like them too.  However, as someone obsessed with food, you shouldn’t be surprised that the food fest is my favorite. And for me, one of the crown jewels of that Thanksgiving table is the stuffing.

Growing up in an Italian-American household, there was only ever one type of stuffing. There was no chestnut or cornbread, no pecan or, heaven forbid, Stove Top. Instead, butterit was always sausage stuffing. Amazing, delicious sausage stuffing. I know for some, that may seem strange, however, if you’ve never had it, give it a try. The sausage adds incredible flavor, and the addition of plenty of onions and some green peppers only enhances it. It has ruined plain stuffing for me.  It seems so, well, plain without the sausage.

To start, melt 1 stick butter in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add in 2 medium to large red onions, chopped. Saute for about 5 minutes until they start to soften and have some color.oinionsAdd to the saute pan 4 stalks celery, chopped, and 1 large green bell pepper, chopped. Stir to combine, and continue cooking for 5 more minutes, until the vegetables are cooked. Pour everything into a large bowl, and return the pan to the heat.celerypeppercookedCook 1 lb mild Italian sausage. If you can get loose sausage meat, get that. However, I can never find it at Wegmans, so, instead if just cut the casing and add it to the pan loose. Cook for about 5 minutes, breaking up as you go until thoroughly cooked and no longer pink.sausage

breakingI’ll let you in on a little tip here. When I make this stuffing, I can never seem to break the sausage up small enough while cooking it. You really want small pieces that get incorporated into every bite of the stuffing. Once it’s cooked, I add it to a plate to cool, then I just break it up with my hands into the bowl that has the vegetables. It’s so much easier than trying to break it in the pan. So break it up and add the sausage and any fat or juice from the pan to the bowl.

breadNext, you want to add the bread. I use bagged cubes of bread for my stuffing. I find it much easier then cutting, and I get the Martin’s potato bread that stands up well to the moisture. If you prefer, you could cut up white bread, or get a loaf of Italian bread or even ciabatta would be nice. Feel free to experiment. In total, you’ll want about 24 oz cubed bread, which is about 22 cups, or two bags of the pre-cut stuff.

I add the bread in stages. As it absorbs the liquid, it will start to shrink and some will even fall apart, so I find it much easier. Add half the bread, then add about 2 cups chicken stock. If you have it, use homemade. On Thanksgiving, we always have holiday soup…or you may stuffingknow it as Italian Wedding or Escarole…so I always have stock on hand. If you’re buying it, that’s fine, just get a low sodium variety. The Wegmans store brand is great, and it’s lower in sodium than many others. Also add 1 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Stir to combine, then add the remaining bread. You may need a little bit more stock to make sure everything is moist, but you don’t want it too wet. Pour into a greased 13×9 pan, and cram it in to fit. Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes until hot throughout, and ready for the ovenbrown on top.

One note, for Thanksgiving, I usually make the stuffing the night before and just cook it on Thanksgiving. If you’re doing that, take it out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you’re putting it in the oven, and it may take up to an hour to cook through. You want it hot all the way through.

Well, there you have it, my tried and true, favorite Thanksgiving stuffing. Oh, and you’ll notice I didn’t stuff the bird. You certainly can with this stuffing, but I love the crunchy top, and you get much more when you cook it in a pan. However, if you’re a stuffer, go for it!

Birthdays with Chocolate Cake and Salted Caramel Milk Chocolate Frosting

finished cakeLast weekend, I had the pleasure of getting a birthday cake for someone special.  There is a great bakery near where I live, Bakers of Buffington, that makes amazing cakes, so I had planned on ordering from them.  However, one thing led to another at work on Friday, and I never placed my order.  So, instead, I had the opportunity to try something new.

I went searching for a recipe that involved salted caramel.  I wanted it to be the star of the cake, but had some trouble finding something that worked well.  I finally found a frosting recipe that had great reviews, but the cake itself had bad reviews.  I combined the best of both worlds and used the frosting fromparchmentAnne Thornton of the Food Network and the cake from Robyn and her “add a pinch” blog. The cake had amazing reviews for being moist, and that’s exactly what I was looking for. The results were…amazing!

The cake is a pretty simple one bowl recipe.  Start by adding to the bowl of a mixer (or any bowl really) 2 cups flour, 2 cups sugar, 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon espresso powder.  Give it a good mix with the mixer, on low of course, or just whisk together.

eggs and batterTo that mixture, add 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 2 eggs, and 2 teaspoons vanilla.  Give that a good stir on medium until combined.  Then, with the mixture on low, add 1 cup boiling water to the mix.  Beat for 1 minute to add air to the batter.  She says to beat on high, but I had to keep it around medium otherwise there was chocolate flying everywhere in my kitchen.

Flour and butter two 9-inch cake pans. I also added disks of parchment paper after buttering to the bottom so it wouldn’t stick.  Then I buttered again and floured.  Actually, I say buttered, but really, I used a spray! 🙂 Pour the cakesbatter evenly into the two pans, then bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean from the center.

Allow to cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, then turn them onto a cake rack to cool completely.  While that’s cooling, let’s make the frosting.

I will admit, this wasn’t the easiest recipe for frosting, but it is delicious. Start by putting 18 oz milk chocolate chips and 10 oz semisweet chocolate chips in a large bowl and set aside.  Next, add 1 1/2 cup sugar to a heavy bottom saucepan with 1/2 cup water.  Place sugarover medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves and the mixture starts to boil. Boil until the mixture starts to turn caramel in color, about 8-10 minutes.  Don’t stir during this process though, or the sugar will crystalline.  You don’t want the sugar to burn either, you just want a caramel color.

Once it’s a good color, turn down the heat and carefully add 2 1/4 cups heavy cream.  The mixture will bubble up, so be careful.  Stir over medium heat to combine the cream, and melt any sugar that may have hardened from the cold cream.  Once it’s all incorporated and smooth, stir in 1/2 tablespoon sea saltcaramelShe calls for sea salt, but I’ll admit, I just used kosher salt because it’s what I had. It still turned out great.

Pour the caramel over the chocolate.  As the chocolate starts to melt, stir to combine.  It will start out looking like a mess, but quickly come together.  Put the mixture in the refrigerator until it is completely chilled, about 1 hour.

Once it’s chilled, take the frosting out and beat it with a mixer until it becomes a spreadable icingconsistency.  Add 1 1/2 sticks butter at room temperature, about 1 tablespoon at a time.  Use the mixer to combine well with the frosting.

The recipe says to refrigerate the frosting again for an hour, but I found it got too hard.  If it’s soft, then you can refrigerate it.  If it’s a good consistency, I say go ahead and start frosting.first layerfrostingsecond layerfinished cakeOne thing to note, it did make a LOT of frosting.  I probably had enough for another cake.  Feel free to keep it in the refrigerator and sneak a spoonful every so often, or you could just cut the recipe in half.leftoversEnjoy this delicious cake.  The cake itself is rich and super moist, and the icing is so good, caramely, chocolatey, and salty…perfect!  I got rave reviews for this one, and a very happy birthday boy!